Old Friends, New Paintings

How did paintings from Vienna end up on the walls at Laity Lodge?

Picture this: an artist draped over a desk in a tiny bedroom in Salzburg, Austria, creating scenes with his pocket watercolor set.

The catch: he’s not just an artist, he’s also a nanny, and running in through the doorway and peppering him with questions are three “very active” kids, aged five, seven, and ten.

That nanny with watercolors was a young Steven Purcell, fresh out of college. And thirty years later, one of the kids has grown up to be the accomplished artist Daniel Domig, who has a new exhibit of paintings at Laity Lodge, where Purcell is executive director.

This collision between Austria and the Frio began in the nineties, when Steven was seeking a post-college adventure. Arthur and Beth Domig asked him if he would work in Arthur’s office part of the day and help care for the three small Domigs at their home in Salzburg: Christopher, Daniel, and Rebecca. Naturally, Steven didn’t refuse.

“I had never babysat a day in my life,” he recalled, and “suddenly I was thrown into the thick of it—a new household in a new country, with three very active little kids for whom I had considerable responsibilities!” Steven remembers struggling to find patience with the endless demands of living with small children.

Yet over the months he lived with them, something unexpected took place. Steven had minored in art at college, and at the Domig’s house, he continued to regularly paint and sketch in his room as a creative outlet.

“I would sit there and paint,” he said, “and the kids would come to watch me. I remember specifically teaching the kids how to draw an object without looking at their paper. I remember helping them think about how to draw a tree.”

“I would sit there and paint, and the kids would come and watch me. . . I remember helping them think about how to draw a tree.”

To his surprise and delight, he found that letting the children interrupt him brought beauty. When the four of them gathered around the desk, even if they made a real mess, they’d come away with something wonderful.

Steven disclaims any credit, but as they grew up, all three children pursued art with a passion, growing into talented artists and curious thinkers.

After leaving the Domig household, Steven returned to Austria six years later to work at the Schloss Mittersill retreat center, where he convened a yearly arts conference. When Daniel and Christopher grew up, the brothers helped Steven “push the boundaries of creativity” for his team at the Schloss. They became his “right and left hands” in the planning process for the arts conference. Each Domig child had gone “from child to impressive student to peer.” 

Meanwhile, Daniel and Christopher were creating remarkable work of their own, both in visual and theatrical contexts. When Steven moved to Laity Lodge, he brought Christopher’s theatrical productions to the Cody Center, and both brothers contributed to retreat workshops. Daniel’s artwork was gathering acclaim, and his paintings made their way to a wall calendar hanging beside Steven’s desk. Through the end of 2022, the real paintings are hanging at the Lodge, in a Cody Center exhibition titled Stature of Waiting.

They’re unusual images, almost otherworldly. You’ll see mysterious figures entangled, floating on bright backgrounds and casting deep shadows. They resist quick and easy interpretations. 

“[Having] a musical conversation in the room with Daniel’s art is a real honor. There’s a lot of shadow and a lot of complexity in his work…”

Why are these paintings at the secluded Cody Center?

Steven, considering the purpose of art at the Lodge, quotes Richard Hays: “Truthful art must portray and respond to the sufferings of the present time… [and] at the same time offer foreshadowings (or at least premonitions?) of the good things that are to come.” If Hays is right, the paintings in Stature of Waiting aren’t meant to tell us neat morals, but to show us visions of our present suffering and future hope.

At a recent concert in the Cody Center, retreat musician Sandra McCracken paused to remark on the exhibit. “[Having] a musical conversation in the room with Daniel’s art is a real honor,” she said to the crowd. “There’s a lot of shadow and a lot of complexity in his work there, even though the lights are off.” For McCracken and her band, the beautiful, rich, and mysterious art “embraced” them as they made something beautiful of their own. 

As Steven learned with little Daniel, Christopher, and Rebecca, mystery, chaos, and confusion might not always be things to avoid. Most days—whether we’re dealing with noisy children or sitting in front of puzzling paintings—we may not find clear, efficient morals. Living in between Christ’s resurrection and his coming again is bright and messy and sorrowful and exhilarating.

But the paintings in Stature of Waiting, and the story of how they came to the Lodge, help remind us that the chaotic interruptions in life can bear real fruit—even if there’s a lot of spilled paint along the way.

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