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Kura: Prophetic Messenger racks up another major book award

The awards keep piling up for Kura: Prophetic Messenger – the book produced in conjunction with the sculpture that became the first permanent installation in the Jon Hassler Sculpture Garden on the grounds of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville.

The book, which chronicles the collaborative effort that brought the sculpture into being, recently was named best Fine Arts book in the 16th annual National Indie Excellence Awards (NIEA). The awards honor self and independent publishing efforts and are open to “all English language printed books available for sale, including small presses, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, and self-published authors.”

“NIEA is proud to be a champion of self-publishing and small independent presses going the extra mile to produce books of excellence in every aspect,” reads a description on the organization’s website.

“This special award recognizes the visual sophistication and incredible artistry that went into the production of the Kura: Prophetic Messenger book project,” said Steven Lemke ’08, associate director at The Saint John’s Pottery, an instructor in the art department and environmental artist-in-residence at SJU. “To see the vibrant arts community of Saint John’s recognized, and the skilled work of the Kura: Prophetic Messenger editorial and design team in particular, is a treasure.”

This past spring, the book, which was first published in October of 2021, was also named the winner of the 2022 Nautilus Book Award in the photography and art division. That competition was international in scope. Past winners include the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra M.D., Desmond Tutu, Judy Collins, Barry Lopez and Louise Erdrich.

Five major pieces weighing a combined 14,000 pounds make up the foundation of the sculpture, which features a 4,800-pound base of granite. This slab was removed from Alcuin Library when it was connected to the adjacent Learning Commons. Many of the materials were repurposed from other iconic structures on the SJU campus.

The word Kura comes from the Japanese term for storehouse, which was historically used to protect food supplies for future use. At the center of the round, stainless steel Kura suspended at the sculpture’s center is a handmade scroll of the Rule of St. Benedict assembled by local artist Mary Bruno with a reclaimed redwood scroll and display stand crafted by local artisan Jeff Thompson.

It was installed in the summer of 2020, and was dedicated and blessed in October 2021.

The book was published to coincide with that dedication. It is unique in structure, and like the sculpture itself a collaboration across the CSB+SJU community and beyond.

It starts with a preface by Lemke on the significance of Bresnahan’s work within liberal arts higher education. Dr. Matthew Welch, the deputy director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, contributed an essay on the history and function of traditional Kura storehouses in Japan.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), Children Setting up the Framework of a Storehouse, ca. 1842. Color woodblock print. Gift of Louis W. Hill Jr., Minneapolis Institute of Art (P.78.64.32A-C). Featured on pages 10-11 of the Kura: Prophetic Messenger book.

The central portion of the book is an essay by Bresnahan comprehensively documenting the collaborative process that went into making the Kura sculpture. It discusses the philosophy of eco-mutualism, a theme central to Bresnahan’s work. In addition, Bresnahan wrote opening and closing text for the book and the captions that accompany the more than 250 photographs.

His wife, Colette Bresnahan ’83, composed biographies of the “three sisters” seeds (corn, beans and squash) that are sealed and preserved inside the sculpture. Her section describes how these seeds have been cultivated, named and used across cultures.

Significantly, Richard and Colette’s daughter Margaret Bresnahan oversaw the book’s production and served as managing editor. She structured the book around the four seasons: summer, fall, winter and spring. She also edited the book’s text and wrote biographies of the 178 artists associated with the Kura sculpture.

The book was designed by Paul Nylander of Illustrada. Paul Wegner ’93 served as photo editor. It was also named a finalist for the 2022 Minnesota Book Awards, which were announced in April.

book cover art

Kura: Prophetic Messenger