July 2017

Divinely Inspired: Two Talents, One Source

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

André Gide, French author and 1947 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature once said, “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” Local writer Jody Reichel and artist Martha Hughes would agree. Reichel is quick to praise God for the words He speaks to her, many times in the wee hours of the morning. And although Hughes pours vast amounts of energy into her painting, praise for the outcome always belongs to the Lord. There is no question in either of these artists’ minds that their talents are mere tools in the hands of God and that He is the creative force behind their respective arts. ‘’

God’s paintbrush
Martha Hughes’ interest in art was sparked in childhood, when the foundation of her faith was also taking root. But it was her art teacher at North Central High School in Indianapolis who fanned the flame and ignited her confidence. “She really encouraged me,” Hughes said, remembering the day her flag design won out over 200 other entries, giving her the courage to believe in herself. “That gave me the confidence to say, maybe I’m a designer at heart.”

Hughes went on to study color theory under well-known Indiana University artist, Bill Itter and later learned watercolor from Leah Traugott at the Indianapolis Art League. Ed Manetta at John Herron School of Art taught her to paint the human form, she said.

Hughes, who has always made her living through art, got her career start in an unusual way—designing T-shirts. “I started working for a young Christian man named Kevin Dougherty. He was very much a perfectionist and was also good to encourage and teach me. He was a gifted artist, and I was amazed to watch him work,” Hughes said.

With increasing confidence and many prayers behind her, Hughes later applied for a job with a Japanese start-up company in Bloomington, Indiana, producing auto body striping artwork for major automotive companies. In a highly competitive bid for the position, she submitted designs and went through a four-hour interview. To her amazement, she got the job and was sent to Japan for training. “I did countless designs, and it was an exciting time in my life,” she said.

After leaving the auto industry, Hughes continued designing T-shirts, doing calligraphy and accepting commission work, trusting God to direct her path. In 1999, she moved to Hilton Head Island and opened a trompe l’oeil business, quickly building a name for herself with her wall paintings, now featured in restaurants, businesses and private homes throughout the Lowcountry.

Inspired by a trip to Israel, she went on to produce a body of work based on biblical characters and settings. With encouragement from Christian artist Sandra Snowden, she exhibited the collection at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island in 2014. Hughes donated one of her largest paintings to that church, where it is currently displayed; another of her religious paintings is featured at First Baptist Church.

Although not specifically focused on painting religious themes now, Hughes continues to travel once or twice a year to Israel, where she carries out missionary work and immerses herself in a culture of praise and worship, which further informs and directs her artwork.

Today, Hughes surprises and delights her fans with a new adventure that honors her calling in a more abstract form. “The paintings I’m doing now, I really feel the Lord is in,” she said. “They are contemporary—not constrained by tradition. I want to do something that can express different things to different people.”

Describing her recent paintings as “almost cosmic,” Hughes said, “If you’ve ever seen images from the Hubble Telescope, they are pictures of the universe. The beauty and the majesty of it, to me, is very spiritual and very inspirational—to glimpse what God has out there that we can’t see with our naked eye.”

She has given herself the freedom of painting with bold color, glitter, using objects from nature and found objects such as sea shells, butterflies, driftwood and cut glass. “I want my paintings to be joyful and happy. I want others to feel the beauty of the Lord and experience his love for us to create something so wonderful. Through the color and the glitter—glitter can also represent stars and planets—there is constant movement. Nothing is static,” she explained.

Hughes describes her process as a creative outlet and expression of faith. “I do not study what I’m going to do. I love listening to praise and worship music while working, and my paintings are born out of prayer and the joy I have in my heart for the Lord.”

Hotline to a higher power
When God speaks to Jody Reichel, He doesn’t hand her a paintbrush, but a Bible, a pen and a journal. Today, a collection of her journal entries, based on her prayers and devotions, is available in a stunning hardcover coffee table-style book, Still Before the Dawn, filled with inspiration, comfort, strength and hope.

The road to the printing press has been a spiritual journey for Reichel and a private walk with the Lord.
In 2007, struggling with a series of challenging personal circumstances, Reichel felt a nudge. “I kept waking up at three or four o’clock in the morning. I was wiped out for a couple of weeks, and I said, ‘Alright, God, it’s gotta be you.’ So, I gave into it and got up. I took my Bible and journal and started praying out loud. On the screen porch, I cried out to Him. And when I was done praying, I looked at what I had written in my journal, and it was in the form of rhyming prose.”

Reichel, who has journaled since childhood, said she had always recorded her thoughts but the words had never come out like this before. “The pain I was feeling in my heart was coming, and it was amazing how God was giving me these words to comfort me,” she said. “It happened sometimes two or three times a day—while riding my bike or walking on the beach.”

Reichel took her little red journals everywhere, always praying for someone or something she was dealing with, she said. “I had journals all over the place and papers everywhere. I was writing all the time—I just couldn’t help it.”

When her husband Rob asked Reichel what she was going to do with all of it, she began getting ideas—creating her own cards, plaques and framed watermarks for friends who needed encouragement. Never thinking of herself as a “writer,” in 2009, she mustered the courage to contact greeting card company, Dear Cards. Since that day, hundreds of her submissions have been accepted with approximately 10,000 of each card in print. “God just opened the door to get some of these words out to others,” Reichel said.

By this point, she recognized the duality of the process. “This was therapy. It was a way of soothing me, yet He was giving me these words to encourage and comfort others,” she said. For several years, she wrote cards and songs and produced plaques, giving some away and offering others for sale in local gift shops, all the while continuing to pray and fill her journals.

After a bicycle accident and concussion in 2010, Reichel experienced a dry spell. An unrelated surgery the same year forced her to slow down, and God began waking her again. “He took my busyness away and gave me quiet. I had a lot of time alone with Him,” Reichel said.

She met publisher Lydia Inglett of Starbooks in a writing group in 2011, but “life got busy,” and she didn’t pursue it further until she got another strong nudge. Following her mother’s death in August of 2014, Reichel continued finding words of comfort through her devotionals. “I started going through my journals and finding the poems and typing them and putting them in a binder—just for myself,” she said. During this time, she discovered a list of potential book titles she had made back in 2008 as well as a foreword she had begun writing. She ultimately submitted approximately 370 of her poems to Inglett, who connected Reichel with noted portrait artist Lucy McTier to illustrate the book. McTier was a perfect match, bringing the pages to life with watercolor, capturing not only the spirit of the book but the values of the author.

The artwork is based on items from Reichel’s home and personal interests and is also a reflection of McTier’s own life experiences and faith. “I have felt drawn to the Lord and was able to give my life over to him when I was 12,” McTier said. “Every step along the way, not only in my life, but also in my painting, I have come before Him for guidance. I think it was Leonardo da Vinci who said, ‘Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.’ I truly believe that. It’s been so encouraging to me to see how God has used the talent He has given me.”

From the powerful blending of Reichel’s poetry and scriptural references, to the synchronicity of the images, God’s fingerprint is apparent. “I’m not a poet. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a counselor,” Reichel said. These are the words God gave me. This is His masterpiece.”

To see her currently available art or to commission artist Martha Hughes, contact her at artimarti222@Yahoo.com or (843) 682-3289. To get a copy of Jody Reichel’s book, Still Before the Dawn, visit starbooks.biz. To book the author for discussion groups, talks, interviews and book signings, contact Stephanie@starbooks.biz.

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