Catholic Herald staff
This holiday season marks the 30th year hand-drawn churches from the Diocese of Superior and beyond have graced the Maas family’s Christmas cards.
The artist is Kathy Raue Maas, a Duluth resident who, along with husband, Tom Maas, lived, worked and raised a family in Birchwood for more than 30 years.
Kathy earned a bachelor’s degree in art at UW-Milwaukee and worked in graphic design and marketing. Before her retirement, she was the director of marketing and recruitment for Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.
The 30-year tradition of hand-drawn cards has its origins, as did her career path, in college.
“I got the idea from a college professor of mine who sent out a handmade Christmas card every year,” she explained.
While her professor depicted frolicking animals, Kathy chose God’s house, in various incarnations, “because it is the reason for the season.”
Both Kathy and Tom are from Watertown, in southern Wisconsin. When the Maas family lived in Birchwood, they were parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie. They’ve joined St. Mary Star of the Sea since moving to Duluth in 2010.
“It was such a supportive parish family, and we haven’t been able to replace that,” she said of the Dobie parish.
Our Lady of Lourdes was also the first church featured on the family’s Christmas cards. She drew it for the first time in 1984 and again in 2004 to celebrate the building’s centennial year.
“It was such a lovely church,” she added.
Inspired by the architecture and settings of picturesque rural churches, Kathy also enjoys delving into each parish’s history. Many churches were built by immigrants and functioned as the social and religious center of the community, and she likes to share their stories with friends and family.
There’s also an element of preservation in her work. She is generally drawn to historic structures, some of which are in danger of being destroyed. Others are privately owned, no longer functioning as houses of worship, and many have joined parish clusters.
Kathy’s cards have featured a number of Catholic churches from Northwestern Wisconsin, including St. Francis Solanus, Reserve; St. Catherine, Sarona; St. Joseph, Rice Lake; Holy Family, Bayfield; St. Joseph, La Pointe; and Sacred Heart, Almena, but she’s also drawn her hometown parish in Watertown, a French chapel on the Marquette University campus, churches in Michigan and the Chapel of the Snows, a nondenominational Christian church in Antarctica.
The couple’s son, Collin, was serving in the Coast Guard in Antarctica when he shot the photo of the chapel. It’s the only church she didn’t photograph or sketch before starting a drawing; it’s also one of several churches of other denominations she’s chosen to depict.
“Pretty ecumenical” is how she describes her selection of subjects. She likes to draw Orthodox churches for their onion domes; her Christmas cards have also included Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopal churches.
The 2014 card will feature First Presbyterian in Duluth, the oldest congregation and worship building in the city. Visitors can also see the aerial lift bridge in the background.
“They’re kind of icons in the city,” she added.
Now that she lives in the Twin Ports, Kathy has included more city churches in her repertoire. The Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, was featured in 2005, the year it was renovated; St. Mary Star of the Sea and Twelve Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox, both in Duluth, were her 2012 and 2013 picks.
Although she’s dabbled in watercolors, Kathy prefers to work with pen and ink and colored pencils. She drew churches in ink for more than 20 years because the black-and-white images were more easily reproduced, but she’s been rendering them with colored pencils for several years. Penciling one church takes a full workweek – about 40 hours.
Retirement has been a blessing for Kathy, who now has more time to devote to her art. Besides churches, she also depicts flowers, still lifes, animals, boats and landscapes. As she’s paid more attention to color theory, she’s been able to add depth and create a wide range of colors using just a few pencils.
“It’s affordable, it’s portable, and it’s really quite challenging,” she said of the medium. “You can’t mix colors on a palette – you have to do it on the board.”
Kathy also teaches drawing classes, and she encourages students to start with a very small number of pencils. More than 100 colors are available, but “you only really need a couple dozen,” she added.
The couple’s Duluth house has a view of Lake Superior, as does Kathy’s upstairs studio. She’s currently working on a close-up of a dark gray cat peering out of a leafy green garden; she has a pile of photos waiting to become drawings.
“I’ll have material for years, I think,” she said.
As Advent progresses, she’s also preparing to send out her Christmas cards. She knows that some friends will frame and hang the image; others will recommend churches to inspire future cards. One friend from Watertown saves all of the cards and decorates with them.
“It’s fun because the people who get the cards look forward to it every year,” said Kathy. “It’s like a little Christmas gift to my friends and a way to stay connected to them, too.”
Visit www.kathyrauemaas.com to learn more or order reproductions of her drawings.