Senior priest finds mission in creating art

FRAMINGHAM -- With the curtains of its large windows open, the studio was bright. Light shined down on the dozens of paintings and sketches hanging on the walls and sitting on easels, casting shadows that almost seemed to be art in themselves. Father Albert Stankard sat at a small table in the center of the studio, looking at all the artwork he had created over the decades.

He pointed to a painting hanging off a shelf filled with books on art and books on faith. It was an acrylic, like most of his art, and it was colorful, filled with blues and yellows, greens and reds. But mostly, it was filled with orange; a large orange sun filling almost a third of the canvas. Underneath the sun, dozens of people look up at the sky, their mouths open in shock and reverence and fear as the star emits a rainbow of colors. In the very center of the painting, gazing heavenward with hands held in prayer, stand Lucia Santos and her cousins, Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto.

"See that?" Father Stankard asked. "That's the miracle of Fatima."

Like many of his other paintings in the small Framingham studio, the painting is not quite finished. Some of the people don't have faces, and the sun, he said, isn't as bright and fiery as it should be.

"Many things inspire me," he says, explaining why so much of his artwork could use just "a little more work."

"When I get a new idea in my head, I start on that!"

At 84, Father Stankard has been creating art longer than most people have been alive. He started when he was a young child, and likes to tell people, "I was born with a paintbrush in my hand."

He recalls drawing cartoon characters, like Mickey Mouse, Batman, and Prince Valiant, as a child, before moving on to recreating images in photographs. In high school, most of those photographs were of "the war," World War II, being waged in another part of the world. He looked at pictures of the war in newspapers and magazines, and copied them as best he could. He entered contests, too, during that time, and "won a few, lost a lot," he said.

After high school, he attended Boston College before entering St. John's Seminary to study for the priesthood. Shortly after his ordination, he volunteered to join the then newly emerging Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, which whisked him off to Peru, where he lived and worked for 15 years.

He was busy, there, so busy that he never once opened the box of painting supplies he had brought with him. But, he purchased a pen and ink set, and when he had free time in between the countless Masses, marriages, and baptisms, he would sit in a quiet area and sketch the scenery.

"I really needed to do that," he said. "I got so busy, that I said I've got to take a break here, because I could go all day without stopping."

After sketching for an hour or two, he said he would "go back with a happy frame of mind and continue to do more Masses, or whatever we had to do."

Though his time for creating art was limited in Peru, he did "dozens of pen and ink sketches," even selling some in Lima with the help of the St. James Society.

The society used some of his artwork as well, he said, pulling out a flyer advertising the work the organization did in Peru. A sketch of a priest, created by Father Stankard, adorns the cover.

The sketches, he said "gave me a lot of practice."

He began creating art more earnestly when he arrived back in the states, and eventually would set up the studio in Framingham.

The studio, fairly close to St. Stephen Parish, where he served as pastor for a number of years, consists of a fairly small room in a much larger warehouse. The warehouse is old, rundown, and serves now as a place where artists and local businesses can set up shop for comparatively inexpensive rents. However, in March of next year, the artists there will be forced to move, as the space presumably undergoes renovation.

That's concerning to Father Stankard, who has rented a studio there for years, and who has been having trouble finding a new and affordable space. He's 84 now, a retired priest living at the archdiocese's Regina Cleri residence in Boston, and while he still drives, getting around, he said, is not as easy as it once was.

Lately, he has been trying to pack up some of his belongings. A number of them, neatly labeled, sit outside the studio door, while many more lie in boxes inside. The studio room, while small, is filled with years of art supplies, canvases, paintings, sketches, and even furniture, including chairs and a table. He has a small TV and a mini-fridge there as well, and the space almost looks like a second home, and in many ways, it has seemingly served as one -- as a place to relax, to create, and to pursue passions.

He pointed to a painting resting against an easel on the floor, depicting Mary anointing Jesus. The art style is different from many of the other paintings in the room -- somewhat less refined. "My cousin, Roger Levasseur, painted that," he said, joking that Levasseur would be upset if Father Stankard failed to mention his name to The Pilot.

In most of his images, the figure of Jesus can be seen, often seeming to offer a lesson to the viewer in subtle ways. One painting shows Christ standing in a Vatican building. A thin beam of light shines down on Him, and He seems to glow in it. People, tourists, walk around Him, not noticing the figure as they admire the architecture and the atmosphere.

The painting was inspired by a trip Father Stankard took to the Vatican, where he saw that the people there were tourists, not interested in finding Christ but interested instead in simply taking in the material beauty. On the bottom of the painting is written "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him."

As he stood up to leave the studio, Father Stankard surveyed the boxes, surveyed the many pieces of artwork and personal belongings he had filled the room with over the years. He sighed. Lately, he hasn't been able to do much painting, as he has been tirelessly packing up the studio and looking for a suitable place to move his things to.

"I hope there is a patron of the arts somewhere," he said, adding that he doesn't want to give up on his artwork.

"I still want to do something that will give glory to God and help the evangelization of the world. So, I said, I think God wants me to continue to develop and produce paintings."

Father Stankard may be reached at Regina Cleri at 857-243-6231.