(Fort Washakie, WY) A collection of contemporary iconic art celebrating the life and work of the Reverend John Roberts was presented during a special program, ceremony, and commemoration at the 2nd Annual John Roberts Festival held at St. David’s Church, Shoshone Episcopal Mission in Fort Washakie on Saturday.
The festival celebrated the initiation of an international art tour of “White Robe: The Story of the Sacred Journey of the Rev. John Roberts among the Native Americans” by acclaimed Irish artist Brian Whelan.
Saturday’s festival opened with a welcome address given by The Reverend Roxanne Friday, Indigenous Minister, followed by opening remarks by The Rt. Reverend Paul-Gordon Chandler, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Wyoming. A special address was given by John Washakie, Eastern Shoshone tribal elder, historian, and great-grandson of Chief Washakie.
Rev. Chandler introduced Whelan who was commissioned by Chandler through ArtSpirit, the arts initiative of the Episcopal Church in Wyoming, and CARAVAN, an international arts non-profit organization…to produce 13 paintings depicting the life of Rev. John Roberts, the renowned Anglican priest who served for 66 years among the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. The “White Robe” exhibition premiers on the 140th anniversary of John Roberts’ arrival on the Wind River Reservation in 1883.
Whelan was born to Irish parents, grew up in London, and was trained at the Royal Academy of Arts. He lived and worked in the East Anglia area of England near the North Sea. His works follow the tradition of East Anglian medieval narrative painting, and his paintings have been exhibited in noted arts spaces, cathedrals, and religious institutions around the world.
The “White Robe” exhibition is currently on display at the Pioneer Museum in Lander.
“An aspect of Robert’s life that feeds into his Celtic roots was his relationship with Chief Washakie. In my research on the early Christian Celtic church, I believe that Celtic spirituality introduced the practice of guidance known as ‘soul friendship’…a bond that goes far beyond, a spiritual bond in celebration in understanding, in passion, and in peace…something I feel sure that John Roberts had for Chief Washakie.” – Brian Whelan
Also on the program was the Blessing of Mission Chapel at Sacagawea Cemetery. Rt. Reverend Chandler said there was a 1931 report where John Roberts mentioned that the chapel had already been condemned in 1917. “Nothing had been done until this [late last] year,” Chandler said.
The chapel was restored by Carl Olson and his son, Rob Olsen, who were approached with the project last year and began the work in July. “We were going to restore the building as much as possible to be historically accurate,” Carl said. “Due to the condition of the logs, we were not able to do that. There was technically no foundation, the logs were rotting on the ends, and we just couldn’t save them. So what we did is took them to a local sawyer and he cut them down an inch thick, and then we put the original logs back as close as we could to where they were. So what you’re looking at is the Mission House, Part Two.”
“Probably the neatest experience is knowing the history of the building as you’re trying to recreate what somebody 100 years ago created,” Rob said. “With modern technology, you can’t really replicate the precision that they had back then. It’s amazing, the intricate detail that they went through with their hands…we noticed this as we were taking the building down log by log to try to resurrect it, restore it. We just couldn’t do it, so we found the next best thing…a usable building that will hopefully last for the next 200 years.”