The many faces of Mary

Barb Arland-Fye
Pat Bereskin displays her painting “Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow,” which depicts a modern-day Pieta. Pat, who owns Bereskin Gallery & Art Academy in Bettendorf, has a deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Artist Pat Bereskin celebrates love for the Blessed Mother

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

BETTENDORF — Ten years ago, a friend shared a novel with artist Pat Bereskin that imagined the Blessed Virgin Mary living in the world today. Pat, who owns Bereskin Gallery & Art Academy, read the book, which inspired her to begin painting portraits of modern-day Mary.

“I loved the idea of Mary being your friend or confidant, someone you could go to, that you revered and respected,” Pat said on a wintery evening at the gallery. Envisioning Mary in the here and now inspires the 64-year-old Bettendorf native to be the best version of herself.

The death of a nephew by suicide a short time ago caused Pat to reflect on the suffering and grief of her sister and niece. Pat thought Mary must have felt grief that deeply as she cradled the body of her son in her lap, so poignantly depicted in Michelangelo’s Pieta.

Pat envisioned modern-day Pietas, mothers cradling the lifeless bodies of their sons killed by violence, drugs or illness. “There’s an affinity between (Mary’s) suffering and the suffering mothers of the street,” says Pat, who created a striking Pieta portrait with a grim urban background. The look in the eyes of the mother is “half shock, half-surrender,” Pat says.

Off to the side, a man wearing a hoodie, hands stuffed in his pockets, walks across a grate in his bright red tennis shoes. “Death in $600 tennis shoes,” Pat comments. The story within the portrait unfolds in hidden areas throughout the painting.

The idea for this modern-day Pieta emerged five years ago, in the midst of uproar over police shootings of unarmed teens and of youths killing one another, even in the Quad Cities. “The pain kept running to the top (of my mind) because somebody’s mother was still in pain.”

In Pat’s portrait, Mary wears orange, the color of a prison jumpsuit. “All of the mothers on the street are trapped. Many times these women are working hard, but they can’t earn enough money to get out of poverty.”

Through her artwork, Pat attempts to show how Scripture continues to unfold today. “I don’t think God is done talking.” God certainly has not finished talking to Pat, who has reembraced her Catholic faith. She squeezes as much time out of the day as possible to paint, teach, run a business and seek God’s presence, making the most of the “line between the day you were born and the day you die. That’s where I think God speaks to me.”

Pat grew up in the Catholic Church but later attended the United Church of Christ when she and her husband Greg and their daughters lived in the Chicago area. A priest who was not pastoral when Pat sought his counsel precipitated the change in churches.

She said she learned a lot about Scripture during her time in the United Church of Christ. After she and Greg returned to the Quad Cities and they experienced a loss involving a grandson, Pat began attending Mass “because I needed to focus on my ‘North.’ God is my ‘North.’”

If God is her “North,” the Blessed Mother has become a soulmate. Pat always has a painting of a modern-day Mary in process even as she paints other subjects. She des­cribes her Mary paintings as cathartic works of art. “I commune with her.”

One of her Mary paintings in progress, titled the “Sacred Heart of Mary,” has proved to be challenging. “I was painting her feet and I thought, ‘I’m not worthy to paint her feet. I’m not worthy of painting her toenails.’” Admittedly, Mary’s feet in this painting require artistic surgery. They look puffed up and out of proportion. “We’ll have to put her on a diuretic,” Pat laughs.

Another painting of Mary bears the title “Our Lady of Charity” and depicts the Blessed Mother in a small boat full of forlorn children. Mary holds an emaciated baby in her arms. Several other children cling to Mary. Some hold cloaks tightly to their bodies. They could be children from anywhere, Pat says. Maybe a refugee, a child of abuse, a starving child. “Charity balances the boat.”

Pat has been painting almost daily since early childhood. Now she teaches art to around 145 students a week in addition to running her gallery and painting her own masterpieces. “God gave me this gift. I am called to use it.”

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