By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 3, 2018
ATLANTA—Three months ago, Kathleen Loesel and Alison Mabery used their free hours to stand on a sidewalk with paintbrushes in hand, creating images in color on the concrete wall as trucks and cars hurtled past.
Drivers and walkers stopped at the impromptu studio near the Krog Street tunnel as the artists painted the mural of a robed, pregnant woman, asking questions and taking snapshots.
One enthusiastic woman stopped and rolled down her car window, and called out, “Yes! Keep doing what you are doing. Women are stronger than hell!”
The two 20-something artists hope their mural painting spurs an understanding of Catholicism and feminism. It sits between a spray-painted warning not to call the police and a night club party.
“It doesn’t seem Catholic at first,” said Loesel. “But it gets people to think about the Catholic Church in a different way.”
The Krog Street tunnel, built in 1912, is off the beaten path for highway commuters. Its four lanes link the now trendy intown neighborhoods of Cabbagetown and Inman Park.
Skeptics may see it as only a dark, graffiti-filled tunnel. Street artists see it as a canvas for the community.
The tunnel is a beloved Atlanta landmark. On Google Maps, the tunnel has some 240 reviews with 4.6 stars out of five.
And that’s how Loesel saw it. Eyeing it as she ferried passengers for Lyft from Decatur to Atlanta on DeKalb Avenue she quickly knew she wanted to create something at the location, as she was drawn to the featured free-wheeling artistry and graffiti.
Loesel credits her mom for the can-do attitude to take on this project in her new hometown. Loesel said the unofficial motto of her family is, “We haven’t done this before. Let’s do it. It’s cool.”
First, she learned the accepted rules of when it’s OK to paint over promotions and other courtesies of the artists.
Her inaugural mural in 2017 was unveiled around June’s Feast of Corpus Christi.
“The Eucharist is the source and summit of the faith. So I had to start with that,” Loesel said.
She began painting with cans of returned, surplus paint bought for cheap at a home improvement store. Assisted by two graduate students from the Georgia Tech Catholic Center, Loesel painted a golden monstrance with the Eucharist. “This is my Body” topped the painting. Surrounding it were large words: Peace. Love. Strength. Purity. Suffering. Using vertical letters of the words, they created the words: Corpus Christi.
During the work, curious folks stopped to learn more. She remembered the Protestant pastor and his wife who chatted with her as they came by. The different understanding of Eucharist was obvious, but the art started a conversation, said Loesel, a goal all along. The pastor applauded the women for their passionate faith.
As is the case at the tunnel, the work was short lived. Another artist painted over it about a week later.
Friendship started at the Cathedral
The two women are transplants from Virginia and became friends at the Cathedral of Christ the King. The Buckhead parish has one of the most active groups bringing together believers in their 20s and 30s. Both are 23 years old.
Loesel’s livelihood is the film industry, working on sets and behind the scenes. She is the second oldest of seven children, homeschooled by her mom with her accountant father. She studied communications at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in eastern Ohio.
Mabery works the night shift at Emory University Hospital as a nurse. She is a twin and attended Villanova University, in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father works as an aerospace engineer. She also offers her art on an Etsy page, an e-commerce website with handmade and vintage art and supplies.
If asked, the two dismiss the idea they are artists, although they together have worked on two large murals at the tunnel. Both want to share Catholic beliefs to draw people into a conversation.
The two lean on the 1999 letter of St. John Paul II to artists for inspiration.
“Through his ‘artistic creativity’ man appears more than ever ‘in the image of God,’ and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous ‘material’ of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him,” he wrote. “With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in his creative power.”
“Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy,” wrote the future saint.
Murals reflect timely messages
The collaboration between the two began easily since their jobs share odd hours. Filming is three or four days a week for Loesel, and Mabery works three nights at the hospital.
In November, the two took on the fight against pornography and human trafficking. Their painting promoted Fight the New Drug, a movement to raise awareness of pornography’s harm.
“Porn Kills Love” was written in big bubble letters. The mural featured arms and hands chained together linked to a computer with its screen filled with a broken heart. Their effort earned recognition by the organization’s social media platforms.
On Mother’s Day they dedicated themselves to the latest mural, attracting people with a pro-woman statement leading to a Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary.
“When you first look at it, it catches the eye of anyone who identifies with the feminist movement or women in general,” said Mabery. “You look close, it’s Mary and all about Mary.”
People see the obviously pregnant woman. Next to her, in large black script, is the message “Women are stronger than hell.”
They slip in the Catholic message here. Behind the woman in smaller letters are titles given to St. Mary, from “Mary Mother of God” and “Seat of Wisdom” to “Mirror of Justice” and “Star of the Sea.” A green snake slithers beneath the woman’s heel, a common theme of Mary depicted as the new Eve crushing the serpent.
Both want the mural to be a feminist showpiece with a Catholic perspective. Loesel’s view of a feminist is “someone who respects the dignity of every human life, whether that is male or female. It is all boils down to the respect of the person. Catholic feminism empowers the woman without degrading the man.”
The future work of the painting duo remains uncertain. Something may happen tied to October’s Pro-Life Month observance.
The public display of faith is new for Mabery. Catholic life was part of her family, but she grew into her faith from her time on her Catholic campus, which is sponsored by the Augustinian religious community.
“Getting out to paint in a public place that is faith based put me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “Not everyone is going to agree with what you are doing. It is just one way to show your faith to others who aren’t like-minded.”
For Loesel, the work reminds her of her mom’s adage: “Use your talents to glorify God.”
“It comes from my mom,” she said. “There is a way for everyone to live their faith. It is going to look different for every single person.”