Watercolor in the Sacred Milieu, at Grunewald Guild!

What a wonderful summertime class we had. Beautiful weather, great company, and lots of art happening!

We shared the Guild with calligrapher Mary McLeod and students, glass artists Gail Kelly and her following, and architect Paul Barribeau presenting on “Sacred Space” to his students. Photographer and poet Mollie captured us all beautifully. Check out this beautiful video of the whole week.

There is a River

“There Is a River” Silk dye on silk, 9’ x 55”, by Kristen Gilje

Commissioned by Faith Lutheran Church, Redmond, WA as a memorial to member Del Stalwick

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.

Rev. 22:1-2

Maybe it’s because I grew up on the Mississippi River. Maybe because of all the canoe trips on Midwest rivers and the Minnesota Boundary Waters. And surely because of living in the North Cascades next to rushing and tempermental mountain streams with their many waterfalls, feeding the great Lake Chelan….Moving water has figured prominently in my paintings as a life-giving and holy image.

Many biblical texts draw from river imagery and provide inspirations for this silk painting. One is from Psalm 46:4 “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the most high” . Furthering the image of the sacred river is the beautiful text from Revelation 22:1-2 of the river of the water of life flowing from the thrown of God. In this text a sacred river runs through the city and nourishes the tree of life, which in turn provides sustenance for all.  Both these texts provide a great image of hope, strengthening my faith that God is indeed present and active in the world.  I imagine God’s presence like a river actively coursing through our lives, and through the life of all history and of all creation.

Another source of inspiration for “There is a River” is the stained-glass work by Mark Gulsrud that graces the windows at Faith Lutheran in Redmond, where the banner hangs today. .Mark has often used the image of a dove in his work. As part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is sometimes pictured as a dove, as it is here in this painting, and its presence often shakes things up.  An octogenarian friend of mine used to pass the peace by saying “May the Spirit of God disturb you” which always shook me up a bit, as was her intention. The colorful ribbons and streamers coming from its wings represent the shock waves and disturbances the Holy Spirit causes as it enlivens the will of God in the world.

If you look carefully you will see a golden line lyrically coming forth from the mouth of the dove. This is the bird’s joyous song as it remakes the world in the way God intends and reminds us to be joyful in our faith. I hope also, that as a memorial to Del Stalwick, it will bring to mind Del’s love of music. I hope this banner brings joy and depth to worship at Faith Lutheran for many years. 

St. Francis Stole

St. Francis Stole 2

Commissioned to celebrate her 25th Ordination Anniversary, Pastor Mary’s husband ordered a stole to be designed and made incorporating the Prayer of St. Francis, one of  Mary’s favorite prayers. The prayer is wound through the design in gold, amongst a visual celebration of animals, insects and plants, and of course St. Francis. This design has turned out to be one of my favorites.

And since my commission schedule was full, we first sent her a framed sketch of the stole to come:

St. Francis Stole design sketch, colored pencil on paper

Northwest Green Season Stole

2019 Jennifer’s Northwest Stole, Silk dye on silk

Just finished painting this silk stole top for a pastor in British Columbia, Canada. It’s an older design of mine, the Northwest Green Season Stole, but I get to refine each time I make a new one. I do like this version. Still to do: steam, wash, cut, hand-sew. Fun part is over!

Books that influence my work



I had fun using the book cover graphics as guides to record some of my favorite theological explorations over the past several years onto a silk scarf. 

Whole scarf

By no means an exclusive list, they include

Mystical-HopeThe Unbearable Wholeness of Being, Ilia Delio; Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault;  The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr;  

Teilhard to OmegaThe Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, Cynthia Bourgeault; Super, Natural Christians, Sallie McFague, From Teinhard to Omega, ed. Ilia Delio;

Making all things new

The Divine Milieu, and Hymn of the Universe, both by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; Making All Things New, Ilio Delia. 

Some of these books I’ve read and re-read, underlined, defaced with comments and notes, and tabbed. Others have influenced me by osmosis: being around people who immersed themselves and consequently me in these authors’ thoughts. The latter include Sally McFague and Cynthia Bourgeault, whose books are on my reading list. 

Sunburst for Easter

Just finished: an altar parament to add to the Easter Glory banners for Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Kennewick WA. I expanded and modified the medallion imagery in the Easter Glory banners (see previous post!) to make a sunburst. Yes, it could also be a flower! My intention is to  capture the sacred, hope-filled and life-giving nature of both flower and sun. Silk dye on silk, 33″x22.5″, part of “Easter Glory” collection. 










Easter Glory

Two new Easter silk paintings for Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Kennewick WA! 

They are each 58″ x 32″ , silk dye on silk, ©Kristen Gilje 2018



2017 Sacred Arts Week at Grunewald Guild


I just returned from teaching a 5 day silk painting workshop as part of Sacred Arts Week with some other incredible faculty at the Grunewald Guild near Leavenworth WA. It was a wonderful time of silk painting, pottery, exploring the connection between image and word, and creative journaling, not to mention labyrinth walking, chatting late at night, bridge strolling and worshiping together.  Vonda Drees, one of the directors, took these photos and made them into a slide show. Songwriter and Guild member Cheryl Branz wrote the accompanying song. 

The overarching theme of the week was “Wonder, Discover, Begin”. This gave us a chance to delve into the creative process first by sharing how this theme applied to individual faculty’s creative and spiritual lives. Hopefully this sharing strengthened everyone’s courage to create boldly. I think it worked, based on the new artwork displayed at the end of the week. 

Here’s the classes taught and the faculty facilitating: 

Silk Painting: Color in the Wind with Kristen Gilje

A Journal of Wonder, Exploration, & Beginning with Mary McLeod

Handbuilt Ceramics for Hospitality & Liturgy with Sarah Jane

Image to Word & Word to Image with Laurie Rudel & Scott Burnett

“All Creation Sings”, Finished!

I so enjoyed painting this set of banners for Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN.

Birch Forest Fox horiz

The goal of these banners is to lift up the natural habitat near this St. Paul suburb as God’s sacred creation. In order to do this I had to remember back to my childhood and early adulthood roaming the beautiful hardwood forests in eastern Iowa and the more northern birch forests of Minnesota. I am sure my first experiences of the sacred occurred from early childhood forrays into Grandma and Grandpa’s woods near Decorah, IA.,  later as a teen and young adult  canoing in the Boundary Waters of northern MN, and then during collage years taking refuge from aceademia in the Nerstrand Woods near Northfield MN, a last remnant of the historic Big Woods of Wisconson and SE Minnesota.

All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Oak
“All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Oak Forest,” silk dye on silk, 12 feet by 54 inches.

All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Birch
“All Creation Sings the Glory of God: Birch Forest,” silk dye on silk, 12 feet by 55 inches.


As a full-fledged adult living rurally in North Idaho and remotely in the North Cascades Wilderness at Holden village, and still today near Bellingham WA I search for peace, for life lessons, for beauty and awe-inspiring power and inevitable change of everything, even rock. I search for that which is greater than me in the forests. If I’m really lucky, very still, or completely dumbstruck by what I  experience in the wild, once in a while I can sense the God of Martin Luther, in, with, and through all things.


All Creation Sings


If I am very, very lucky, God’s  creation is a door that leads me to Tielhard De Chardin’s Sacred Millieu, where the veil thins and I glimps the sacred.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

From St. Patrick’s Breastplate








All Creation Sings, in Progress

Silk painting in progress: the upper 2/3 of the Oak Forest Panel

Commission for Easter Lutheran Church, Eagan, MN

 A large silk painting project starts simply, with either a watercolor sketch or colored pencil sketch. However, a lot of work goes into these small pieces, mostly communication with the people commissioning the work.The first step in any commissioned project is to determine what it is the clients would like these silk paintings to be. What is the message? The purpose? 

I love to work with a group of people to pull these design ideas from them. I believe that art “from the ground up,” with ideas from the community, rather than “from the top down” giving all authority to an artist unrelated to that community, promotes deep thinking of that community and a greater sense of ownership of the art. My hope is that people can see their influence in the art that they worship with, in their sanctuary, and that the artwork is meaningful to that group of people in particular.

So one of my jobs in any commissioned project is facilitation of a group process to come up with these ideas. I do this communication work sometimes by traveling to the site to meet with people, or through phone calls and email, often attaching current sketches. I listen carefully to themes the group is wishing to portray and look for an overall feeling, and particular desires about color and size etc.

If there are artists in the group I ask for their involvement with sketches, etc. Sometimes there may be an artist within the group who may be able to come up with the design themselves. In this case I act more as a facilitator. In other congregations people are looking for a professional artist to accomplish this, and then I do the sketch myself. Often there is a mixture of these. I try to adapt to the needs of the group as best I can.

In the present project for Easter Lutheran Church, Eagan, Minnesota, the conversations by phone were particularly constructive. What I heard from them was that they wanted a vision of sacred creation, especially native Minnesota nature. No humans or symbols or words! This is a chance to lift up God’s sacred creation and fits so well with my own call:

“My artistic mission is to communicate the sacred presence of God in all creation, by connecting the rhythms, stories and images nature has to offer with liturgical rites and rituals through art.”

So as you can see, a lot of preliminary work went into these two little pencil sketches. They are 12″ x 4.5″ each. The finished silk pieces will be 12 feet by 4 feet 6 inches.

Pencil Sketch Oak Forest    Pencil Sketch Birch Forest

After the final approval of the design I projected both of these images onto newsprint paper cut to the finished size of the silk banners, adding to and adapting them as I saw fit. This means increasing the size of the design from 12 inches x 4.5 inches to 12 feet by 4. 5 feet. Here below you can see these drawings and some of the details.

Click on the thumbnails to get full-sized images from this gallery.

Here are pictures of each banner from a couple of days ago (below). I am now working on the lower part of both banners, including most of the waterfall. This section will go lots faster as there is much less detail involved. Then I will scroll back up to these top sections to finish some detail and connect the upper and lower parts after the water is finished. Stay tuned! I’ll post pictures in the next couple of days for you to see.

Oak Forest


Birch Forest