Prodigal Son Art Collection Illustrates Need for ‘Huge Dose of Forgiveness’

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Larry Gerbens AMDG Architect 1235 Larry Gerbens discusses artist Robert Barnum’s rendering of the prodigal son parable. Gerbens said Barnum was drawn to God’s racial grace, so depicted that the buildings are shaken off of their foundations.The parable of the prodigal son is sourced only in the gospel of Luke, but as Larry Gerbens' art collection attests, the allegory about forgiveness resonates with artists and people from around the world.

"This country needs a huge dose of forgiveness and people seeking forgiveness," Gerbens said at a recent afternoon talk titled, "The Art of Forgiveness" that was hosted by AMDG Architects in downtown Grand Rapids.

"Forgiveness is huge and untapped in today's world. Art elevates us culturally."

Art of Forgiveness

Gerbens is a retired ophthalmologist who now works at Calvin College, first as a gift officer, and now as a pre-health advisor and liaison to health providers. Gerbens and his wife, Mary, published in 2008 a book of the art collection they amassed titled, "The Father & His Two Sons: The Art of Forgiveness."

Larry Gerbens AMDG Architects Speaker cutline No. 235 Gerbens discusses artist Karl Kewkel’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” of a patient Father waiting for the return of his wandering children.The book served as the basis of Gerbens' PowerPoint talk at AMDG Architects, which reflected the varied artists' interpretations of the prodigal son parable, many of which reflect their cultural and religious background.

Gerbens said his foray into the arts started when he was a student at Calvin who enrolled in a "throw away" art class with now-retired art professor Edgar Boeve.

"I was a type A pre-med student learning that the texture of food is as important as the taste of food," Gerbens recalled jocularly.

Years later, Gerben's brother-in-law gave to him as a Christmas gift Henri J.M. Nouwen's book "The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming."

Abiding fascination

The art class, Nouwen's book and Gerbens' Christian Reformed background worked together to nudge him into an abiding fascination with the prodigal son-focused art accomplished from artists around the world.

"It gave me a good religious theme to take away some of my Calvinist guilt," said Gerbens to appreciative laughs in the audience. "I'd come home and say to (wife) Mary, 'Hon, I just made a great investment today.'"

Gerbens said it was the 1881 etching James Jacques Joseph Tissot of an opened Bible that displays the three parables in Luke 15, the lost sheep, the lost coin and finally the prodigal son parable. that he "became obsessed with the parable of the prodigal son."

Still Small Voice spoke to him

In 2008-2009, Larry and Mary Gerbens donated 40 of their prodigal son collection to the Calvin College Center Art Gallery's permanent art collection, all of which arose out of a belief in the arts' impact as God's creatures.

"It started with an appreciation for art, but it's become so much more than that," said Gerbens. "It's that Still Small Voice that said, 'I'm not doing this just for you.' People tell us the art is speaking to them as they stare at it. Those stares really started impacting us."

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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