I recently sat down with a former colleague by the name of Celeste Robbins. Celeste and I taught together at Saint Dominic Savio Catholic High School from 2010-2012. She is still teaching at the high school in Austin, Texas and is the Fine Arts Department Chairperson as well as the Art and Photography Instructor.
Tom: Hi Celeste. It’s great to talk to you.
Celeste: Great to talk to you as well. Thanks so much for suggesting this interview.
Tom: I know we keep in touch via Facebook, which is how I learned about this project, but how do enjoy working at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School?
Celeste: I still love teaching art. My students are creating beautiful pieces and winning a lot of recognition. Students are applying to and getting into the best art schools in the country and that makes me happy that I can help them get there.
Tom: That’s pretty great to hear. So, let’s talk about your project and business endeavor – 1000 Saints. How did you get started with 1000 Saints?
Celeste: On Good Friday, 2014, I was sitting in church after saying the Stations of the Cross. In the weeks prior, I had been thinking a lot about how as an art teacher I rarely take the time to make my own artwork. As I was thinking in church that day, I decided that if I am going to take the time to make my own work, I would really love to do it for the Glory of God. I had painted a few stylized saint portraits before and thought I’d keep going with those. The idea of 100 saints sounded like a good round number but very quickly that thought was amended to “No, I’ll paint 1000 saints!” and that’s how it started.
Tom: Awesome! Any motivating factors?
Celeste: I really think it was inspired by my prayers that day in church. I just felt so strongly that if I was going to take the time to make something, I really wanted it to be for the greater Glory of God. Also, after discussing this idea with my husband, Noel, I actually went out and bought the 1000 canvases. Having all of those boxes in our house has definitely been a motivating factor.
Tom: I would imagine the boxes to be a great motivator. This is such a great idea. How do you see your business as a tool for evangelization?
Celeste: When I first started this project I must admit, I didn’t see it as evangelization, I just wanted to put 1000 pieces of art into the world that would remind people of all the holy men and women who lived before us. I really love the idea that people have asked me to paint a picture of a person that they feel connected to and that my simple painting will remind them to ask for intercessory prayers. I find that images of the saints help us remember their stories and use their lives as examples of what we can do to also become saints.
Tom: How has your faith grown since taking on 1000 saints?
Celeste: Immensely! First, the act of painting them is very peaceful and I spend most of that time reflecting on the saint in front of me. My favorite part of this project has really been learning about saints I had never heard of before. I love researching their lives and realizing how much harder they all had to struggle to live their faith. I know I have grown closer to God over these past years and I’d like to think that this project has added to that progress.
Tom: That’s fantastic. Personally, I know the Saints to be so important in my own life as a Catholic and in the life of my wife and I as a married couple. How long does it take for you to create one painting?
Celeste: It varies. Before I start each painting, I do some research to learn about his or her life and patronage. I also have a lot of resources about symbolism in Christian artwork and I try to decide which symbols and color schemes would work best. The painting process varies and some have more layers of colors which means I have to wait while paint dries. I am usually able to ship the completed painting within 2 weeks of the order (sometimes faster when people have a special occasion).
Tom: Can you explain to me why the paintings have no faces?
Celeste: Sure. There are really two answers to that question – First, I really don’t know what most of these men and women really looked like. The folk style of my saint paintings really lends itself to symbolism, so I let the symbols and colors on and around the figure help tell the story. Secondly, I often think that without their faces we can imagine ourselves as them. We can then envision ourselves living the life God intended for us so that we too can go to Heaven.
Tom: I know you said the goal was 1000 Saints, per the name of the project, how many do you have currently? What will you do when the 1000 pieces of artwork are complete?
Celeste: I have currently painted 677 saints. Only 323 to go! I will probably stop for a while and work on some other projects, but I’m sure I won’t ever abandon the saints entirely – they are too interesting.
Tom: Last question, who are your three most popular saints?
Celeste: Number one is definitely St. Therese of Lisieux. (I’m pretty sure that is because I belong to St. Theresa Parish in Austin and I taught at the parish school for 12 years).
Number two and three are probably Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Patrick, but St. Francis and St. Michael are up there too.
Tom: Great….this is fantastic! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.
Celeste: No problem. I’d like to thank you for helping me spread the word about this project.
To Contact Celeste Robbins:
Categories: Catholic Interviews