Painting, Poems, and Pageants: Guildmaster John Folley and the Sacred Art Guild | Thomas More College

Painting, Poems,
and Pageants:
Guildmaster John Folley
and the Sacred Art Guild

With Torrey Culbertson, ‘22

Each semester, Thomas More College offers students participation in a series of guilds that enable them to gain practical skills in areas such as woodworking, sacred art, sacred music, and folk music. The College’s guilds derive their spirit from those earlier voluntary communities of men and women who advanced their trades and arts while responding to the needs of their local communities.

This year the St. Luke Sacred Art Guild, led by Guild Master Mr. John Folley, has begun work on an exciting book project presenting St. Thomas More’s Pageant of life poems and sections of his Fortune poems, each with illuminated letters and alongside a full-page pen, ink, and watercolor illustration. The Guild students, drawing inspiration from medieval manuscripts and classical paintings, will spend the semester composing the illuminations and illustrations to accompany More’s poems. “My goal for this semester,” explains Mr. Folley, “is to produce a high-quality book with the corporation of the Guild Members, one that will be a joy for members of the Thomas More College community to own and share with their friends.” The completed book will be unveiled at Guild Night, an evening in the spring dedicated to sharing the work of the year completed by the various guilds. 

In conjunction with the tangible side of the guild–composing, sketching, painting– Mr. Folley plans to integrate into guild life the skills needed to employ one’s art in a professional context. He is offering private training with cast drawing, an essential technique to beginner classical artists.  He is also focusing on practical aspects like marketing, working with software, and building a network. “I want to give the students the opportunity to learn skills and habits that will be useful to them as professional artists or illustrators,” says Folley. 

In addition to serving as Guild Master, Mr. Folley teaches the course The Way of Beauty, taken by all freshmen at Thomas More College. The course introduces students to the principles of pattern, harmony, symmetry, and order in Creation. Through lectures, discussions, and workshops, students consider how these principles are instantiated in art, music, and architecture. “The pursuit of beauty is a service to others,” says Mr. Folley.   “As John Paul II emphasizes in his Letter to Artists, beauty gives us hope, refreshes us and makes us willing to endure the hardships of life. Art—sensory, man-made forms—actually changes the way that individuals and societies think and act. The harmony and beauty—or the ugliness and discord—that are present in the forms with which we surround ourselves inevitably mark us.”

Mr. Folley is at the vanguard of Catholic art both in New England and nationally. Having first studied art and philosophy at Notre Dame University, he received artistic training in the “Boston School” tradition, whose leading exponents included Edmund Tarbell and William Paxton. In addition to receiving commissions for still life paintings and portraits, Mr. Folley frequently conducts live painting demonstrations for corporate events and private gatherings, including a recent live painting demonstration for the Patrons of the Vatican Arts. He is also the illustrator of several children’s books, including God’s Wildest Wonderment of All and Colors of Creation with author Paul Thigpen. He will be a panelist at the upcoming Connect Boston conference, where he will speak about his profession and vocation as an artist.

For further reading:

Visiting Fellow and the Guild of Boston Artists

Freshmen visit Museum of Fine Arts for semester project

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