Dordt College News

Dordt Press book features work of Matheis, Hielema

May 24, 2005

“Maybe John the Baptist should look wilder, and skinnier: you probably don’t get fat eating locusts.”

Paging through his finished book, Witness Norman Matheis admits if he were to do the 30 portraits again, he might make some changes. But with the three year endeavor published and now available in bookstores, he’s happy that his illustrations inspired by the “heroes of faith” described in Hebrews 11 are serving as a testimony of God’s faithfulness from Bible times to the present. Matheis

Matheis, a resident of Sioux Center, has been an artist all of his life. He helped start the art major program at Dordt College in 1977, where he worked until his retirement in 1989.

The idea for Witness had been in his head for years. Matheis said he was thinking of his own children, and how he could make them understand that the people they read about in the Bible were real living men and women, whose stories of faith are true.

Matheis read the text about the 20 Bible characters he included in the book “a few hundred times,” looking for clues to what they might have looked like. Then he began drawing sketches: 10 Old Testament, 10 New Testament and 10 more contemporary “witnesses” from the more recent past.

Matheis tried to select a mix of men and women of faith. Among the historical figures included in the book are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor hanged at a concentration camp after participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler; Sojourner Truth, a slave who became an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate; Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist; and Michelangelo, the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance.

An extensive knowledge in art history helped Matheis create portraits true to the people that inhabited the time in which they lived, while also engaging anyone flipping through the book’s pages. “They are interesting people,” says Matheis. “They show how right from the beginning God was already picking up people along the way.” He points, for example, to Rahab, a foreigner who because of her faith and actions, became one of the “crowd of witnesses” described in Hebrews 11.

Matheis knew from the start that he wanted text to accompany his paintings. He approached a colleague whom he thought shared his understanding of Scripture to write the character vignettes that accompany each painting.

Syd Hielema, professor of theology at Dordt College, used the first person voice to tell each story, carefully attempting to remain true to Biblical text while communicating distinctive personalities that readers could relate to.

Hielema and Matheis hope the book offers a devotional resource for both children and adults, and that the artwork will serve as a silent witness on each coffee table where it may be displayed.

Witness is available locally at the Dordt Bookstore and at True Vine Christian Bookstore in Sioux Center.

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