Profiles in Portraiture
by John Seibels Walker
When I arrived to Richmond for this portrait sitting and first met Bishop Shannon, we discussed the details of which vestments and objects he wished to have included in his portrait, where the portrait was likely to hang and the choice of setting that he would like to be depicted in.
We had five different local Episcopal churches available to us where we might stage the portrait. Bishop Shannon patiently guided me to each location and allowed me to ultimately select the setting that I felt would best work for staging the painting. Upon telling him my final preference, Bishop Shannon was happy to inform me that the church that most “spoke” to me was also the one that very much speaks to him. The setting for the portrait is historic St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church near the Fan District of Richmond, Virginia.
Not only did his tour provide me with wonderful insights about Richmond, but it also allowed us quality time to further get to know each other before the day of the sitting. It was with great pleasure that I discovered that Bishop Shannon was a fellow Sewanee graduate, graduating just a couple of years before me. This brought to mind our school’s motto, Ecce Quam Bonum from Psalm 133: “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”. In further learning of the many challenges he faced during his role as Bishop and of our shared belief in a church that offers an unconditional welcome, Ecce Quam Bonum took on new meaning for me, while I believe those profound words had never left him.
As an artist who very much admires Grand Manner portraits of the past, it was my desire to depict Bishop Shannon as a noble and compassionate leader, moving onwards and upwards with quiet dignity towards his vision for the future of the church as he turns to the left while confidently gazing outwards. As he steps up to the chancel with his crozier in hand, he can also be viewed as a determined shepherd leading his flock to the cross. He is wearing the traditional vestments of an Episcopal Bishop, which includes a purple cossack, a white rochet with red cuffs, and a red chimere. He also wears a black tippet showing the Episcopal seal and a long hood representing his honorary degree from the Virginia Theological Seminary. In the portrait, he is physically and metaphorically standing at the foot of the cross. Other crosses can be found in the Episcopal seal on his black tippet as well as upon his chest. His bishop’s ring can be seen on his right ring finger and a glint of gold from his wedding band can be seen on his left ring finger. These rings symbolize the two most important relationships in his life: his relationship with God and the Church and his relationship with his wife, Ellen. Incidentally, his wedding ring also points to the choir area of the church, which serves to honor both his and Ellen’s deep love for music.
Just as Bishop Shannon has served as inspiration to so many, it is my sincere hope that this portrait can inspire others with what can be achieved with hard work, determination and God’s grace.
The portrait is life-size, oil on linen, measuring 62 x 40 inches. It hangs in the Mayo House, the Diocesan Headquarters in Richmond Virginia, as part of their permanent collection.