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SKETCHBOOK: a creative tool and a way of life that celebrates design and drawing as vital ways to see and value culture, to discover ideas, and to envision a better world.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Week in a Monastery

Many of you know that I spend the first or second week of every year in silent retreat at The Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in rural Kentucky. It's an amazing week every time I experience it; I always leave feeling grounded, with new perspective and insights.  This year marked my 12th retreat.  The monastery welcomed me back with snowfalls and temperatures in the 20s all week, so much of my sketching was done indoors. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into a way of life few people see, and which is virtually unchanged since the 11th century.
The entrance to the monastery passes through a beautiful cemetery, with graves dating to the mid-nineteenth century.
The monks' entry procession to celebrate the Eucharist.
A monk and a young novice as sketched from the balcony.

Retreatants dine in silence in front of large windows which look out onto the idyllic rolling countryside.

Temperatures in the retreat house often require dressing in layers.

Father Christian, the Retreat Master, reads during a discussion with retreatants.

I was a little self-concious about sketching during services, so I sat in the back of the balcony and captured these retreatants chanting the psalms as the monks chanted below.

Father Christian, Retreat Master
A view of the monastery church and the monk's cemetery, sketched during last year's retreat.


  1. Wonderful sketches! And a wonderful tradition to spend time with the Trappists each year. I'm glad you mentioned Thomas Merton - "Seven Storey Mountain" was / is a great read. There is a happy energy to your line. By the way, I just bought your book!


    1. Thank you Anthony, and thanks for picking up the book. It's no "Seven Story Mountain," but I truly hope you enjoy it. -J.

  2. So peacefull - great work, Richard.

  3. This is terrific, Jim, not only from the artistic/sketch angle (they are gorgeous), but also from your human angle as you share your travels. This was a trip I did not see coming and I find it comforting and hearwarming. I am not Catholic, but it makes me want to find a monestery. Thanks...btw, I purchased your book and it is spot-on! I have shared it with my group and they love it, too. One was asking me where she could get a copy...Keep it up, JR. Keep it up.

  4. Thanks Jim; your affirmation and encouragement mean a lot to me. By the way, I'm not Catholic either, but the appeal of the monastery experience transcends denominational and even religious boundaries. I've learned a tremendous amount about the nature of creativity in my time there, both through the monks and through the nature of silent reflection. I recommend it!