Local artist Suzi Stephens spent two years listening, sketching and painting in and around the crypt at Truro Cathedral. The final piece, a large colourful triptych of Truro Cathedral’s Choir in full voice, took many more years to complete. It has recently been on display at St Peter’s Church, Newlyn, but, due to planned re-structuring, the painting is now looking for a new space to exhibit.

It was a transformative time for Suzi but she had to dig deep to find the courage she needed to go through with it, especially when she realised the full scale of the project she had undertaken.

“I guess I thought rehearsals would mean casually dressed folk having a robust sing-song – instead there were over 30 men and boys, regaled in red robes, singing like angels! It was intimidating at first, but everyone was very kind and the amazing music helped to win me over and calm me down!”

Suzi made hundreds of studies over many years, capturing intimate moments in the lives of the choristers. She even painted their teddy. Sadly, most of studies are in storage at the moment.

Labour of love

It was a labour of love that took Suzi two years to research, sketch and prepare but a further 15 years to complete. “But what a privilege,” she says. The experience helped her to reconnect with her past and her faith. “Church choirs were part of my childhood – Dad was a verger and me and my three brothers sang in the choir. Painting the the Triptych of Truro’s Cathedral Choir made the memories flood back.”

The individual paintings within the triptych include:

  • ‘PEACE ON EARTH’ (6’ x 5’) A prayer for world peace showing the ‘Decani’ side of the choir stall where the Dean sits.
  • ‘REJOICE’( 6’ x 6’) Robert Sharpe conducts the congregation with former Bishop of Truro, Bishop Bill, and the vergers behind. As Suzi says, “Everybody is real, and there is a story for each one. The title is a celebration of life, music and community.”
  • ‘ALLELUIA’ (6’ x 6’ 6”) A prayer of appreciation and thanksgiving showing the ‘Cantoris’ side of the choir stalls where the Canon Precentor sits.

“Everybody is real, and there is a story for each one. The title, Rejoice, is a celebration of life, music and community.”

A transforming experience

Despite Suzi’s initial fears and lack of confidence, it didn’t take too long for the music to exercise it’s transforming powers. Just being around it most days, absorbing the sounds as well as the spirit of the music, helped to put Suzi at her ease and infuse her creativity with its beauty. As she says, days and nights would just fly by as she painted to the sounds of the organ, singing, bells and prayers.

“There is no doubt that music is the blood of the painting. Days and nights of painting would just fly by surrounded by the sounds of the organ, singing, bells and prayers.”

There were many late-night painting sessions and Suzi won some portrait commissions that helped to keep her going financially, but the whole process, although exhilarating, was very draining. When the triptych was finally finished, life did that thing of taking unexpected downturns and for a while Suzi struggled to find her way back to painting.

Triptych of Truro Cathedral Choir

A preliminary sketch for the final piece

Happily, today, Suzi’s confidence is returning and she is painting again, immersing herself in the Cornish landscape and re-discovering the peace that painting brings her.

Have you got space for the Triptych of Truro Cathedral’s Choir?

It seems a terrible shame that this beautiful triptych of Truro Cathedral’s Choir and all the many studies that capture life in the Cathedral are not being seen. Do you have space in your church or community? Do you know of a gallery that might be interested?  It’s a stunning painting that deserves to be seen, with many smaller studies crafted in love and appreciation for the music, the Cathedral and its people. If you think you can help please get in touch with the comms team at church house or with Suzi.