Home Shrine

This eBay item was said to be from an estate sale of an Italian American family on the Providence/Johnston line in Rhode Island. I wasn’t able to obtain any additional information from the seller. I bought the shrine for its ethnic provenance, given my own research on Italian American vernacular sacred art, but more importantly because of the craft involved. I particularly like the multihued bead embellishment trimming the edges of the arch and the tiered platform that echoes decorative choices I’ve seen in other examples of Italian American folk art. The piece balances a sacred simplicity with a joyful exuberance. The decorated wood shrine arrived with two items in its lower level drawer: a lock of hair tied with a ribbon and a black-and-white photograph negative of four men and two women holding an infant at what appears to be a christening. I imagine this shrine in an immigrant family’s home, decorated with family photos and religious items, the site of whispered prayers and ardent supplications, a portal for communicating with the supernatural. Today I keep the shrine in my work office where I surround and fill it with personal and professional objects (I have removed many of them for this photograph) meaningful to me, including holy cards of the spiritual patrons of immigrants St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and St. Toribio Romo González. I’m blessed to have it.

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