Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women's Altars by Kay Turner

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Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women's Altars by Kay Turner

8vo. pp. 176. colour & b/w illustrations. bibliography. index. paperback (fine condition). [New York]: Thames & Hudson, [1999].

ISBN-10: 0500281505 / ISBN-13: 9780500281505


In the most basic sense, an altar is a home for sacred images, a place for venerating and inviting the comfort, help, and companionship of the gods. But the amazing, dazzling, decorative, poignant, picturesque, inspiring, glowing, passionate altars in this book are not those of churches and temples, designed for the official worship of an omniscient god ceremoniously tended by a priest, rabbi, or minister. Instead, these places are the expression of the most intimate beliefs and fears, memories and dreams of women who are making new spiritual traditions from ancient ones--pagan, goddess, Celtic, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Greek Orthodox. No one knows more about this remarkable efflorescence than Kay Turner, who has been exploring the subject for over twenty years since accidentally encountering the extraordinary altar of a Quiche Maya woman--described by its maker as a "beautiful necessity"--in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Since then she has gathered abundant evidence of how this phenomenon grips women in the most diverse locations, from the studios of artists in New York, Detroit, and San Francisco to the kitchens of Mexican-American homes in Texas, from Mama Lola celebrating Afro-Caribbean gods in Brooklyn to a Wiccan priestess in California worshiping the goddess Aphrodite. The statues, flowers, pictures, photographs, drawings, amulets, pieces of shell, and bits of earth that are collaged together and reproduced here in color represent their makers' histories, beliefs, and desires. Turner draws out the personal stories that lie behind the altars and explains their appeal and significance for everyone.