Religious art from the Middle Ages inspires new work of devotion to community

Behind the outer tree of life panels are scenes from the life of Christ

A recent exploration of Italy and its storied religious artwork has inspired a Westchester muralist to create a contemporary expression of community vitality that draws from
a centuries-old aesthetic.

On Saturday, artist Steve O’Loughlin unveils his “Tree of Life” triptych at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church.

A triptych is a work of art divided into three panels, a storytelling technique that emerged as the dominant format for Christian altar paintings in the Middle Ages.

O’Loughlin’s triptych displays a tree of life that evokes the natural world and intellectual growth of mankind — wildlife, planets, a plane taking off from LAX — across panel doors that open to the church’s crucifix. Inside the doors are images that depict moments from the life of Jesus.

A concept initially suggested by Holy Nativity pastor Fr. Peter Rood, the tree of life symbolizes the life-giving energy that enhances and perpetually sustains all life on Earth, with O’Loughlin adding golden rays and yellow hues to depict spiritual energy flowing from the center of the tree.

“Once people began seeing it and being affected by it, it seemed to activate the piece and that feels wonderful,” says O’Loughlin, who also created the sea mural at Cowan Avenue Elementary School.

He believes the triptych calls more attention to the crucifix and looks forward to its official introduction to the Westchester community, which will include an inspirational multimedia light show plus live Irish music and dancing.

— Arielle Brumfield

The triptych unveiling party is from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 10, at Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, 6700 W. 83rd St., Westchester. Call (310) 670-4777 or email for more information.