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From churches to highways, local artists seek to paint ‘beauty in every day’ – Detroit Catholic

Mary Zabawski, a lifelong parishioner of St. Anne Parish in Warren, finds inspiration for her painting in ordinary things, from highways to small corners of churches that might be overlooked by the typical passerby. Zabawski says working on each painting is like a prayer. (Photos by Gabriella Patti | Detroit Catholic)

Mary Zabawski draws inspiration for her artwork from the unlikeliest of places, but says she hopes God will use her to inspire others

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WARREN Every painting by Mary Zabawski—whether of the Southfield Freeway or a worship chapel at her local church—resembles a prayer.

For almost as long as she can remember, Zabawski, 41, a lifelong parishioner of St. Anne Parish in Warren, has always loved drawing and painting ordinary moments.

“I have always liked to draw; it has always been a passion. It started when I was a little kid, when my maternal grandmother was a wonderful artist. She was self-taught and a much better painter than I was, and I used to watch (her) paint, and she taught me how to draw,” Zabawski shared. Detroit Catholic. “I was always known as that kid who could get through elementary school and high school.”

Zabawski participated in an art task force as a high school student at Bishop Foley Catholic High School in Madison Heights and attended Northern Michigan University, where he graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She works in insurance every day, but has continued to paint as ‘a passion side project’. Her home has a dedicated art studio and her walls are covered not only with her own artwork, but also that of her grandmother.

Zabawski says she felt called to capture snapshots of the beauty of local Catholic churches, starting with her home parish, St. Anne.

Zabawski says she felt called to capture snapshots of the beauty of local Catholic churches, starting with her home parish, St. Anne.

Zabawski prefers to capture ordinary, everyday insights into life in her artwork.

Zabawski prefers to capture ordinary, everyday insights into life in her artwork.

Zabawski, who works primarily in oil paint, says painting is a “sacred experience.” And holiness, according to Zabawski, can often be found in the ordinary.

“You could paint incredible vistas or European cathedrals, but I’ve always been fascinated by the things in your own neighborhood; there are so many incredible things if you look for them,” Zabawski said. “No matter what I paint, I think the same: I am (just) the hands, and I just try to find the beauty in every day, and that beauty comes from God.

Recently, Zabawski felt called to capture snapshots of the beauty of Catholic churches in the Detroit area, starting with her home parish, St. Anne. In 2022, as she left Sunday Mass, Zabawski looked up at the chapel entrance, visible from the pew where she sits week after week, and was struck by a moment of fleeting beauty.

“I was walking out of the church, and something about the way the light came in through that window that morning stopped me,” Zabawski explained. paint that.” I don’t know why, but it seemed so beautiful to me, even though I had seen it literally thousands of times in my life.”

One of Zabawski's oil paintings depicts the entrance to the Chapel of St. Anne - a familiar scene to those in the parish, but a source of quiet beauty to those seeking refuge from the world.

One of Zabawski’s oil paintings depicts the entrance to the Chapel of St. Anne – a familiar scene to those in the parish, but a source of quiet beauty to those seeking refuge from the world.

An oil painting by Mary Zabawski shows St. Anne's front yard.  If all her painting accomplishes is bringing someone temporarily closer to God, that's good enough, she said.

An oil painting by Mary Zabawski shows St. Anne’s front yard. If all her painting accomplishes is bringing someone temporarily closer to God, that’s good enough, she said.

Zabawski took some photos and started painting when she got home. As she worked, she wondered if the painting would be important to other parishioners, and decided to finish it in time to donate it to the parish’s silent auction to raise money for the church during the annual parish festival.

To her surprise and delight, the painting was a popular bidding item. Later that weekend, Fr. John Kopson, a priest in solidum at St. Anne, Zabawski commissioned a second copy of the painting.

The painting’s success motivated Zabawski to contribute a painting to this year’s parish auction. As with the first painting, Zabawski found inspiration in a corner of the church that she had seen countless times before. One day while volunteering in the church garden, Zabawski looked up from watering the flowers and was struck by the beauty around her.

Zabawski took photographs again, completed the painting and then donated it; the garden painting did even better than her first oil painting and raised more money for the church.

One of Mary Zabawski's paintings shows the Southfield Freeway looking south.

One of Mary Zabawski’s paintings shows the Southfield Freeway looking south.

In Mary's home office hangs a painting by Zabawski's grandmother, who taught her to paint.

In Mary’s home office hangs a painting by Zabawski’s grandmother, who taught her to paint.

“I was blown away by the chord it struck with people – this is something people see every day, but I think it was presented to them in a new way because they had never seen it before. made them realize what beautiful little spaces we have in front of us every day,” Zabawski said.

Zabawski’s paintings range from snapshots of kitchen sink dishes and beautiful gardens to the winding overpasses of the iconic Southfield Freeway. Although most of her work is commissioned, Zabawski hopes to capture the beauty of more local churches, starting with Old St. Mary’s in Greektown and St. Hyacinth in Detroit, where her parents grew up.

Most recently, Zabawski painted a side chapel at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, in response to a request to submit Eucharistic artwork for an art exhibition organized by the National Eucharistic Congress. Although Zabawski’s piece was not accepted, she said she felt it was a project God wanted her to do.

A side chapel in the National Shrine of the Little Basilica of Flowers in Royal Oak, painted by Mary Zabawski, was included for consideration for an art exhibit for the National Eucharistic Congress.

A side chapel in the National Shrine of the Little Basilica of Flowers in Royal Oak, painted by Mary Zabawski, was included for consideration for an art exhibit for the National Eucharistic Congress.

“Pretty much every time I sit down to make a painting of anything, but specifically these church paintings, I just say a prayer to God that He’s going to help me make the painting that He wants me to make. I feel like it’s His work, not mine; I am just the hands,” Zabawski said.

If all God wants from a painting is that Zabawski spends time with Him and lets the painting be her prayer, then that is enough for her.

“Every time I have a piece, I have no expectations,” Zabawski said. “I love it, and I know I should, but every time it resonates with someone, and everyone loves something enough to comment — or let alone pay money for it — I’m out of here of, and it’s the best feeling in the world.”

All Zabawski hopes is that her paintings make people pause and long to be where she painted.

Zabawski hopes to capture the beauty of more local churches, starting with Old St. Mary's in Greektown and St. Hyacinth in Detroit, where her parents grew up.

Zabawski hopes to capture the beauty of more local churches, starting with Old St. Mary’s in Greektown and St. Hyacinth in Detroit, where her parents grew up.

If all God wants from a painting is that she spend time with Him and that the painting is her prayer, then that's enough for her, she said.

If all God wants from a painting is that she spend time with Him and that the painting is her prayer, then that’s enough for her, she said.

“I feel called to paint images of these sacred spaces (because) when I paint a chapel or a church garden and someone says, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful; I’d like to sit there,” or, “I’d like to walk that path,” it’s almost like God might be pushing them just a little bit closer in that moment. And if that’s all that comes out of these paintings, that’s more than I could ever ask for.”

Zabawski can be reached for commissions or prints of her previous work on her website.

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