By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Two portraits of St. Margaret of Scotland are now on display at Sacred Heart Cathedral. One is a 19th century painting displayed near the sanctuary and the other is a newly dedicated 21st century painting by a local artist displayed in the cathedral’s chapel.
St. Margaret’s importance to the cathedral dates back to its origins as St. Marguerite Church, named in honor of the wife of one of the founders of Davenport, Antoine LeClaire. When the church was elevated to a cathedral and dedicated in 1891 with the new name of Sacred Heart Cathedral, the Vatican stipulated that a chapel be maintained and dedicated to St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland.
The 19th century painting, refurbished some 30 years ago, was moved from the chapel to the sanctuary area and remains there. When Father Thom Hennen became the cathedral’s pastor, “I felt we needed an image of St. Margaret in the chapel named for her,” he said. However, “Images of St. Margaret aren’t just falling out of closets or all over Amazon. I knew that if we wanted something truly worthy, we would need to commission it. I also really wanted to use a local artist if possible.”
Artist Gabrielle Schadt of the Quad Cities came highly recommended. Father Hennen also knows the artist and her family. The two met to discuss ideas, “but I really let her run with it.” Schadt, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Hampton, Illinois, decided a portrait format that allowed for a vertical composition would fit the space best.
“There were very few artworks completed of St. Margaret of Scotland, many of which are not completed in oil paint, which made it exciting to create a new work of her,” said Schadt. Her painting, she added, “is completely original.”
“In the beginning stages, I seek out and ask a model to pose as the saint for the work. I will look to add other elements to support the figure. For example, in this case, the ionic column in back of the saint, St. Margaret’s prayer book, the coat of arms behind her, and the prie-dieu she is kneeling upon, and her flowing garments.” Schadt used her imagination to create some elements, such as St. Margaret’s crown, ring and clothing.
She shared ideas with Father Hennen before proceeding. “She incorporated a version of the family crest of St. Margaret, which is the same as her great-uncle, St. Edward the Confessor (Anglo-Saxon king from c. 1003-1066), which I liked. I love that it shows St. Margaret at prayer and that this is in the chapel, which is a more intimate space for prayer and where we have eucharistic adoration every day but Saturday.”
“I also like that her scepter is resting on the kneeler, as though her power depends on prayer. Her position as queen is secondary to her place in the Kingdom of God and in service to it,” Father Hennen said. “I love that her wedding ring is prominent on her left hand, covering her heart, showing her as a married woman. Of course, the overall composition is beautiful and the youthful face of St. Margaret, as though caught up in a moment of heavenly inspiration, is stunning. I also like that she is barefoot — as though on holy ground and a sign of her simplicity.”
“As an oil painter, I strive to adopt and use the traditional techniques of the masters, to achieve the style of academic art and naturalistic realism,” said Schadt, who is doing a mentorship with Jeff Hein of Art Renewal Center. “I enjoy studying the masterworks from my favorite painters and strive to incorporate their techniques into my process.”
The painting underwent several stages: thumbnail sketches, more detailed preparatory sketches, small color studies and finally the beginning of the actual painting. Oil paint is the preferred medium for sacred artworks, Schadt said. Creating a background that would add to the piece without taking away from St. Margaret as the focal point, also took time to contemplate. After she completed the artwork, Father Hennen worked with a framer. “It turned out beautifully,” Schadt said.
Schadt is working on other commissions and sells prints of her works. “Being able to create art for the Church is one of the greatest joys for me and is a way I can give praise to God the Father for the gift to be a reflection of his beauty and to give glory to him through my calling and vocation,” she said. “I am so grateful to have been able to complete various sacred art paintings for several other parishes, priests and seminarians, as well as for families.”
She remembers as a child praying in the Sacred Heart chapel with her family and said she is grateful to her parents for setting an example of faith that has inspired her desire “to create art to glorify God.”