Artist's work has Christmas theme

MANATEE -- As residents and visitors drive through Plantation Village off Bayshore Parkway at night, an oil painting called “Holy Family” seems to be floating in mid-air.

Set off by spotlights, the 5-by-4-foot wide canvas of the Nativity Scene is attached to the home of Ted and Helene Champagne. The images of baby Jesus, Mary and Jesus have gathered quite a bit of attention.

“It brightens up the neighborhood,” said Jamie Stizza, who lives a few homes from the Champagnes on Avocado Street.

“Joseph is holding Jesus up to the heavens and the baby Jesus has his arms outstretched to bless the world,” Champagne said.

Jesus is dressed in swaddling clothes and his mother, Mary, is there to receive him when Joseph brings him down.

Helene Champagne, the artist, says she had never seen a piece of art where Joseph is holding Jesus so high aloft, as if offering him to the world.

“The painting has had a calming effect on the whole neighborhood,” Stizza said. “It has created a comfort zone.”

To paint the large canvas, given to her by a friend who thought she could do something special with it, Champagne tacked it to the side of a backyard shed.

She hopes people will come by and enjoy the work.

“I seem to be going in a direction where I want to honor the baby Jesus,” Champagne said. “More of my pieces will focus on Jesus as an infant. Part of that is because the child Jesus was my mother’s favorite and she has been deceased for four months.”

Champagne was trained as an artist at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, was a fashion illustrator and later taught at Rhode Island School of Design,

What the neighbors may not realize is that Champagne was fulfilling a promise she first made back in 1987.

It was then that Champagne, who is a lifelong Catholic, first heard a voice that simply said, “Honor My son.”

“It was 1987 and I was living in Miami and I had a studio where I was painting,” Champagne said this week. “I was doing a full-scale painting of the Blessed Mother and I felt myself guided at every juncture. Also, I kept hearing something. It was a woman’s voice. And finally I could make it out. She was telling me, ‘Honor my Son.’”

Ever since, Champagne has tried to tell Christ’s story in art.

About two weeks ago she began work on her newest piece, “Holy Family,” by doing a pencil sketch. She had no idea at first where she was heading, but gradually the theme came forward.

Champagne attends Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.