“Painting the Faces of Holiness”: An Interview with Hope Acquilano
The St. Josemaria Institute was pleased to come across the work of Hope Acquilano, owner of Kitchen House Studio, and the unique watercolor portraits she has illustrated of the saints. In January 2020, we commissioned Hope to paint a portrait of St. Josemaria Escriva exclusively for the St. Josemaria Institute. The custom, watercolor image of St. Josemaria Escriva is available as part of a new collection of items in our online shop: postcards, stickers, and as an art print.
We are grateful to Hope for taking the time for this interview in which we discuss her creative background and passion for sharing the lives of the saints through art.
Q: Can you share with us a little bit about yourself and the inspiration behind launching Kitchen House Studio?
Hope: I am a Catholic, a wife, a mother of two, and an artist living in a rural town outside of Charleston, SC. Having grown up in the lowcountry of South Carolina, it is a happy place to live now with my husband, Michael, and our children. The idea of launching a small shop for my artwork was on my heart for many years before launching Kitchen House Studio. After painting a portrait of Saint John Paul II, I felt compelled to focus on the Saints and share about them through my art. Shortly after that, I launched Kitchen House Studio with a growing collection of Saint Portraits, Christian art, stickers and magnets. My hope for Kitchen House Studio is that my artwork can help inspire people to reflect on the Christian life through the model of the Saints as well as being drawn to prayer.
Q: When did you first discover your passion for art? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
Hope: I have had a passion for art for as long as I can remember. My mother is an incredible artist, so I grew up watching her create beautiful art. Through her instruction and various art classes in school, I learned a lot about art. However, I’ve found that I learn the most through practicing and actually creating art. My favorite part about the creative process is the growth that occurs the more I create. Each time I work on a painting, I typically discover new ways to improve my technique. Whether it’s a new way of applying a brushstroke, or improving lights and shadows, each time I create is an opportunity for growth, which I love.
Q: In your Etsy shop, you offer a variety of saint portraits. What does the preparation process look like when preparing to paint these portraits? Do you gain any unique insight into the life of a saint from painting their portrait that you may not have otherwise gathered from simply reading about their life?
Hope: The first step in preparing to paint the portraits of the Saints is to select the Saint and learn about them. Sometimes I choose a Saint that I have a devotion to, and other times I choose a saint I know very little about and use it as an opportunity to learn about them and befriend them. The time I spend painting is always very prayerful. As I paint, I am not only reflecting on the life of that Saint, but also asking for the graces to follow their example. This prayer becomes very specific and powerful as I paint different parts of the portraits. As I paint the eyes, I reflect on the things that Saint saw during their life, and ask that I may see things as they did. I also reflect on what they see now, before the Throne of God in Heaven, and I am reminded for what I am striving. As I paint the ears, I ask that I may listen as they did. And as I paint the mouth, I ask for the grace to speak the truth always, as they did.
Q: How have the lives and teachings of the saints impacted you? Is there a saint you have a certain devotion to?
Hope: One of the things that I treasure most about the Saints is that no matter what season of life we are in, there is a Saint in Heaven who experienced that season during their life on earth. During different seasons, there are different Saints that we can relate to and therefore learn from and ask for their intercession. Right now, as I wife and mother, I am drawn to Saints who shared that vocation such as Saint Gianna and Saint Zelie. However, if I had to name a Saint (or soon to be Saint) who I have had a devotion to through all the seasons, it would be Venerable Fulton Sheen. For many years I would fall asleep at night listening to recordings of his talks and homilies, and I have found his intercession to be very powerful.
Q: When were you introduced to the life and writings of St. Josemaria? Is there a particular quote of his that most inspires you?
Hope: Following High School I was introduced to Saint Josemaria through my Parish community at the time. After hearing about him, I picked up The Forge from our local Daughters of Saint Paul store and to this day I continue to regularly open it during the small quiet moments of the day and read some of his writings. It would be difficult to select just one quote of his that inspires me, but one that always sticks with me is, “You’ll have won a great battle if you lose the fear of letting yourself be known.” In our fallen human nature, we tend to hide. We hide not only from others, but from ourselves and from God. But we are reminded that to be known is to be loved, and each of us desires to be loved.
Q: The artwork and items you offer in your shop are beautiful reminders to seek holiness in the ordinary moments of everyday life. How does the pursuit of holiness inspire your vocation as a wife, mother and artist?
Hope: For me it’s very important to remember that holiness is not just for the nuns in the cloister. Holiness is for all of us, in our own specific vocations. The pursuit of holiness in my life means seeing every task as an opportunity to grow closer to God. Everything from changing diapers, cooking meals, and conversations with my spouse, to time spent doing art, teaching my children, and caring for our home is an opportunity to offer all that I do to God. Since I don’t always do this perfectly, I am thankful that it is indeed a pursuit, and we have plenty of help from the Saints in Heaven.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Where can our readers learn more about you and access your shop?
Hope: I am so thankful for the opportunity to share my art and a little bit of my life with you. To learn more about me and my art I can be followed on Instagram @kitchen_house_studio, where I also share artwork and reflections regularly. Kitchen House Studio can be accessed on Etsy to shop: www.etsy.com/shop/kitchenhousestudio.