My Story

Where have I been?

I left teaching in 1988 to pursue art full time. After 20 years painting, sculpting and showing my work I wanted a break. My wife and I signed on as dorm parents for one year at an international boarding school in the Black Forest in Germany. That one year turned into three.

What happened there?

In the midst of all the upheavals, moves, culture shock and transition I had a bit of a break down and crisis of prayer. I found I couldn’t pray: couldn’t find the words. I began to wonder, “What would my prayers look like if I prayed visually rather than verbally depending on words alone?” I began playing with coat hangers and bits of wire, twisting them into machine-like looking objects and standing them in small blocks of wood as bases. They were beautiful and primitive, like little three-dimensional ink drawings. Then as I was doing them my prayers returned to me. I could find the words again to talk to God. So I called my creations, Prayer Machines.

Wire Sculpture by James Paterson, Ontario, Canada, 2012
Prayer Machine by James Paterson 2012

Then what?

People at the school started wanting them and the artist in me took over and I began developing them more as art objects.


How are they connected to my prayer life now?

These Prayer Machines are my response; reflective embodiments of what is left hanging in the space between us after I’ve met God in prayer. The paga: ambiguous, lithe, lyrical forms, instead of written words. They are a metaphor grasping at what passed between us.


What do they do?      

 I was watching a video clip that showed the Wright Brothers in their flight at Kitty Hawk and I thought, what a wondrously simple mechanism that first airplane was, and beautiful. It did the one thing it was supposed to do; specifically, lift a person off the ground and carry them forward in flight. Then I thought of bicycles and push mowers and all the other simple machines that with a minimum of complexity do the one thing they are required and designed to do.

Prayer Machine 395 SOLD. Art Must Be Play. Wire Sculpture by James Paterson, Ontario, Canada
395. Art Must Be Play – A Prayer Machine

These Prayer Machines are not my actual prayers, rather they serve as metaphors attempting to capture those elusive moments when I inhabit the thin places between the temporal seen and the eternal unseen. They are simple machines, and beautiful, that simply do what they are designed to do; that is, remind me that by His great compassion for me as His child, I am being carried forward, even lifted off the ground, while being borne along in His arms. How simple I think it is all meant to be.

Where are you going with them?

I began showing the Prayer Machines in 2012 after our return to Canada. I am now into my 7th year of showing them and I’ve made around 500, ranging from small simple ones that stand 12” tall to large complex moving pieces close to seven feet tall. This is how I express myself and what gets me up in the morning.