Tanja Butler (2008)

The Junior Distinguished Faculty Award is given each spring to an assistant or associate professor.  Each spring at Gordon, just in time for graduation, the colors emerge:  the azaleas, the tulips, the spring grass.  In this gathering today, there is a spring-like sense of a new beginning for each graduate.  Yet we still mark this time of beginnings, of commencement, with a ceremony full of historic rituals, most evident, perhaps, in the bright colors of our medieval regalia. 

Color, ceremony, tradition, and ritual are all vital parts of the life of this year’s Junior Distinguished Award winner.  She is, as one colleague notes, “our resident color wheel”:  you can see her walking through the Barrington Center with funky red, round glasses, green clogs, and a pink Plexiglas clipboard.  Her paintings are notable for their use of color, including some startling shades as well as more serene rhythms of visual narrative.  With color, she continually invites us to see new spiritual and human themes in familiar biblical narratives.

And she is a lover of tradition and liturgy.  Not only has she taught courses in liturgical art, but she has also worked closely with the Chapel Office at Gordon to incorporate more art in our worship spaces and services.  As an active member of Christians in the Visual Arts, she assists clergy and laity in seeking ways to revitalize the arts in the evangelical church.  She has made hundreds of her drawings and iconic images available electronically for churches for use in their own everyday services and materials.  In recent years, she has been active in the Gordon-in-Lynn program, demonstrating how art can become a means of discovery and service in urban communities.

Perhaps, though, it is in the daily, quiet traditions and ceremonies that her life shows its richest hues.  As a teacher and mentor, she faithfully devotes many hours to looking at her students’ latest revision to their works. Art majors know that they will always get a tough critique from her and they welcome that because they’re also very aware of how much she cares for them.  And, when the morale starts to dip, don’t be surprised if she appears with food at the next class session.  As a colleague, she is greatly respected for her gracious presence, her integrity, her ability to raise and respond to the difficult questions without self-importance.

If you visit her office, you may find mobiles of the sun and moon hanging from the ceiling.  Color, after all, depends on light.  And Gordon is a brighter, more colorful place, because of the light, gentle and bold, that comes from the work and service of this year’s Junior Distinguished Faculty Award recipient, Tanja Butler.