How did Fr. John Van Wiel spend the duration of the pandemic? Painting, and he has a large body of work to show for it. By his own estimate, he figures he created at least 80 watercolor paintings since March, 2020.
Traditionally, he tends toward landscape scenes, reflecting his love of nature and being outdoors, with many of them on display in the parlor of the Province Center. But he drew inspiration for his newest series right outside the window of his apartment: birds.
The Province Center is set back on nearly seven acres of land and serves as the headquarters of the Chicago Province, but unofficially it is something of a nature sanctuary. Its nearly 100 trees and mature garden beds of perennials and annuals offer a lush habitat for all kinds of small animals, including many varieties of birds.
“I chose to concentrate on Midwest birds,” Fr. Van Wiel says. “Most of these I’ve seen here on the property.”
Fr. Van Wiel retired in 2013 after his long career as a chemistry teacher, but he recalls that he originally started college as a chemical engineering major. One of his early classes included taking mechanical drawing, where he learned to do technical sketches that included depth, angles, sizes and perspective.
He now has a home studio of sorts, with his apartment outfitted with an art desk and windows facing east, giving him morning sunlight. But he has long since advanced beyond his technical sketches to capturing the depth and beauty of God’s creation.
“I love to walk outside,” Fr. Van Wiel says, “and see God in nature on a daily basis.”