Sacred Art with Josiah Henley

A convert to the faith, Josiah Henley has used his skills as an architect to create beautiful sacred art. He also lives right here in Portland! Listen to his powerful story and fascinating process of creating modern sacred artwork.

Check out the Heart of IESVS Etsy shop and Instagram page!

You can also currently find Josiah’s artwork on our Hail Mary Media app as part of the audio and video series to accompany the “Return” Lenten journal.

Interview with Josiah Henley

This summary has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Brenda: Good morning, Josiah. Thank you so much for joining us on the Morning Blend!

Josiah: Good morning! Thanks for having me.

Brenda: I must say that when I received copies ahead of time for both Sister Miriam’s and Father Burn’s books, all of us here at the station noticed these incredible, beautiful pieces of art that were on the cover and that accompanied each page.

I think our listeners would be excited to know that you’re right here from Portland! First, tell us about yourself and your family.

Memento Mori Image created for the Lenten “Return” Series

Josiah: Let’s see, I’ve been living in the Pacific Northwest / Portland area for, shoot, probably about 27 years now. I grew up in Bay Area, California, and moved here when I was a child. But yes, you know, lived here for a while. I am a Catholic convert, so converted from Protestantism in about 2016.

I’ve always been fascinated with art and design, and wanted to do something with that, so I studied architecture in school. That is actually what I do full-time! I work in architecture here in Portland –  a lot of apartments, multi-family housing, all the new stuff that you see going up around town. That’s a lot of fun!

It’s an interesting part of my story, I think: I went to Portland State University and studied there for a while and studied the modern method of art and design, so I was really steeped in that theory. When I converted to Catholicism, I became really fascinated with some of the more ancient art within Catholicism. And so I wanted to sort of explore that!

You know, it was kind of new for me, being primarily familiar with a lot of modern stuff. So I think that’s where the convergence happened in my artwork. A lot of it is an exploration for me – using modern methods and tools to create artwork. Really looking at more ancient stuff as inspiration and learning a lot from that, whether it’s the position of the figures or the symbolism in it.

Brenda: Well, Josiah, in the time before you entered the Church, did you ever find that you looked at art within the Catholic church? I think many people would be familiar with the Sistine Chapel or the beautiful Renaissance artwork that depicted faith. Even back then, did it strike a chord with you, or was it since you began your conversion that it opened up this whole new world of art?

Josiah: You know, I think I always found it really interesting and fascinating. It was one of those things where I was sort of drawn to it, I didn’t know why. The more you study it and look at it, you start to recognize the theology behind it. So I think I was always drawn to it, but I didn’t really understand it.

I wouldn’t say I fully understand all the aspects of it, but now have a glimpse at the depth behind a lot of the artwork from the Renaissance, or even before that. I think icons have always been really fascinating to me as well. Those are theologically rich and and interesting to look at.

And I think after joining the Catholic Church, you really start to understand the history of those and the meaning behind it too. That’s the part I find really fascinating.

Brenda: I’d love for you to explain your inspiration in drawing these things. In looking at your online artwork, that you take familiar, historic, and renaissance type of artwork of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and different saints. And then you really kind of bring them forward in a more perhaps modern eye. Tell our listeners how you’re inspired by looking at different images, and then how you put that into a more current view of Catholic faith.

Image of the Holy Family created for the “Behold” Advent Series

Josiah: It’s really the tools that I have at home, which are very digital based. They’re modern. It’s what I already had coming out of architecture school and design. I was already equipped to create art like that. Then becoming interested and fascinated in ancient and historic art, and looking at that as inspiration and trying to replicate that with the modern tools that I had. It almost happened by accident that the more experimental modern style is now influenced by the older artwork. That’s the best way I can explain it. It’s a little bit unintentional, but also interesting!

Brenda: Many people have talked how they pray while creating their own artwork or even in writing. Do you find that when you are contemplating a new image and you begin that process, do you think about bringing that saint to you to help you serve as inspiration for the holiness that you’re about to put on the screen?

Josiah: Yes, definitely. I usually get an idea and am inspired to do some artwork around a certain theme or a saint. There’s usually a period of research that does involve prayer and meditation in my daily devotionals. So I sort of fold that in. I do believe that that really helps inspire the artwork.

Brenda: Again, they’re absolutely incredible. Can you tell us how people can look at your artwork or bring some home.

Josiah: I am on Instagram. I’m not very good at curating it or keeping up on the marketing aspect of that. It’s not a particular skillset of mine, but I do my best. The shop name is Heart of IESVS, the Latin stylized version of Jesus. From there there’s a link that goes to my Etsy shop where you can buy cards, prints, and some other fun stuff with my designs on it.

Brenda: I encourage all of our listeners to look these up today! It’s incredible art! Well, Josiah, I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for sharing it with us, and thank you for sharing this gift of your art with all of us to see.

Josiah: Yes, thank you!


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