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Edward Carlos '59

IONA: Art Sanctuary interior

IONA: Art Sanctuary is an art center created by Edward Carlos ’59 in Sewanee, Tenn. While at IUP, Carlos was active in the Newman Club and was one of the four officers who contributed to the emergence of the Newman Center on campus, located then in the former noodle factory alongside the railroad tracks. After receiving his B.S. in Art Education from IUP, Carlos earned an M.F.A. at the Catholic University of  America, and received a Ph.D. in Comparative Arts from Ohio University. He chaired the Fine Arts department and directed the university gallery at the University of The South, where he taught for thirty-four years, retiring two years ago. Carlos and his wife, Sarah, live in Sewanee where they raised their family of three children and care for an assortment of formerly stray animals.

Carlos sent the following report to Web Extra.

IONA has become Carlos’ retirement project over these past two years despite surgeries for cancer, heart, and nasal problems. The art building, 70' x 64' with 20' floor-to-ceiling, sits on a hill overlooking seven acres of field, lake, and woods and follows the tradition of an entrance on the western facade. IONA is situated on a N-S, E-W axis; on most evenings, visitors exiting the art center face a radiant sunset. The interior nave design follows a Celtic Cross shape; artworks lining the cross’s 12' walls give a vivid appearance of a colorful benediction monstrance. The building is in many ways as much of a blessing as an act of inspiration for the artist and acts as a service to the community. The building sits beside a small orchard and has ample parking in the large field facing the building.

Several symbols augment the design and display the intention of the artist, Carlos. The religious and spiritual implications are manifold in the placement and design as well as in the many artworks adorning the interior nave walls. The veranda design is based on the Buddhist Torii Gate, echoed in a 20'-high gate in the center of the field. The gate symbolizes an entrance between the physical world and the spiritual world, and a similar thought is echoed with eleven wooden steps leading upward from field to a patio and the porch. The stairway is in a numerical configuration relevant to the Hebraic mystical grid for Divine Consciousness, as depicted in the Seferoth (i.e., Jacob’s Ladder). Included with the ten levels is an eleventh step representing the void or Da’at (the non-seferoth).

IONA: Art Sanctuary exterior

Centered on the veranda above the entrance is a sculpture of an angel, part of a nativity scene seen immediately upon entering the building. Inside, in the center of the cross shape, this life-sized “Creation: Nativity” is situated on deep blue moon painted on the floor, whereas the thirteen (symbolic of wisdom) figures are painted in night colors of dark blues, purples, blacks, and browns—all hues are both glossy and matte impressionistically intermixed in keeping with the night mesa forms that inspired the nativity set.

Carlos, on his last sabbatical, spent forty days and nights in the western United States deserts and parks with one of his huskies, Lobo, with nights spent camping at Monument Valley during both full moon and in the dark of the moon. These mesa “gods and goddesses” rising from the desert inspired “Creation: Nativity,” which offers content significant to gender equalization, racial multiplicity, and the unfolding of the sacred rose from the central still point that the baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph represent to the blossoms opening as cascading, billowing, robes of the shepherds and magi in the surround.

The title of the building derives from the mystical isle of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, where Carlos experienced visionary instances on each of his four visits studying the life and hymnody of St. Columba and the Book of Kells. Carlos initially visited Iona while creating an artwork to hang above the altar of St. Michael and All Saints Church in Tollcross, Edinburth, called “Michael’s Triumph”—a tapestry 28' wide and 15' deep that was displayed each year during St. Michael’s Day and All Souls/All Saints Day for twenty years before the artwork was stolen. In IONA: Art Sanctuary, a small altar, akin to All Saints Chapel on the Sewanee campus, similarly holds a marble altarstone from the earlier Iona marble quarry as well as a green pebble from an Iona beach. The altar is placed at the foot of a vertical 19-1/2' x 10' photographic depiction by his son, Adam W. Carlos (, of an anima-earth mother figure superimposed over imagery of a forest and lake. The photographic mosaic wall piece is composed of 260 separate but overlapping 16" x 20" black and white photographs and is entitled “Lost Love.”

Four corner rooms in IONA act as storage for the Carlos artworks. These include a room for storage of large oils and large drawings; a second for working (with additional storage area) for framing and stretching canvases, with an overhead balcony area for additional storage of smaller artworks and that also acts as a working area; and a third room for tools and art materials. The fourth room will, in the future, connect the entrance area to a balcony overlooking the entire length of the nave and eventually act as a gallery room for display of other artists’ artworks.

On July 6, 2007, over three hundred people attended the opening reception and the eighth Music Celebration and Lawn games, organized annually by Adam W. Carlos. All three of the Carlos children—Malia, Adam, and Aaron—and their spouses and children attended the opening, with Aaron playing guitar on the veranda.

The number of visitors nearly echoed Carlos’ final formal lecture to the community before his retirement at the opening of a two-month-long exhibition, “Creation: Aurora Borealist,” at the university gallery. At that lecture, Carlos addressed mysticism and aesthetics as reflected in the content of his artwork. Fifty staff and community members, retired faculty members, and students spontaneously volunteered to help install the exhibition during the preceding two weeks. Within that year, art graduates contributed over $70,000 for a gallery space in a new academic art building (The Nabit Art Building), to be named the Edward Carlos Gallery of Art, and for the purchase of a Carlos painting or drawing for the university. The building with its gallery was dedicated on Homecoming Weekend, 2006.

Viewers and travelers in southern and middle Tennessee are welcome to visit IONA: Art Sanctuary. Please contact Carlos at 931-598-0203, or via e-mail at, for viewing arrangements outside of regular open hours—each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon until 5:00 p.m.

(September, 2007)