TARPON SPRINGS — The exhibition room of the Center for Gulf Coast Folklife occupies a small space in the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, but this month's new exhibit represents a big concept — the sacred arts that inspire and console people of many faiths throughout Florida.
On walls, in display cases and on large posters scattered throughout the room are artifacts, paintings, needle arts, religious vestments and musical instruments that are central to many religions. Several freestanding figures catch the eye as well.
Tina Bucuvalas, curator for the center, has spent the past year gathering the sacred pieces from around the state. The exhibit will run through Nov. 30.
"Florida has so many religions and religious expressions," said Bucuvalas. "These include Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Haitian Vodou (Voodoo), Orisha from Caribbean countries and others."
Two tall, jet-black manikins lure the eye. The first, closer to the entrance, is that of a Greek Orthodox priest dressed in intricate vestments, preparing to recite the Divine Liturgy.
In a back corner stands a female form bedecked in a long blue satin gown and headpiece, both ornately decorated with silver and blue sequins, shiny blue stones and small shells. This female initiate into the Orisha faith is dressed as Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean and associated with motherhood. Although the religion is practiced mostly by people from countries in the Caribbean, some Americans have been drawn to it as well.
"It is spiritually engaging in terms of music, ritual and a sense of community," Bucuvalas said of Orisha.
Sacred clothing and ritual objects of different religions are arranged together in glass display cases. Baptismal and communion attire worn by Christians of various denominations is coupled with Jewish ritual objects.
The clothing has delicate lace designs. "These items were all handmade by a dressmaker in Kissimmee who incorporates bobbin lace into her work," said Bucuvalas. "It's a time-consuming process."
The Jewish ritual items include a handmade prayer shawl, velvet Torah cover, and several yads, which resemble metal rods, each topped with the replica of a small hand. The yad is used by those who chant from the Torah scrolls.
In another display case, clusters of Greek toumata, small silver votive offerings, are matched with Milagros, colorful Mexican votive offerings. Nearby is a bright green baisi, a Thai altar offering.
The role of sacred music in people's lives is on view as well. One enclosure holds several song books: a Byzantine song book from 1867 and a sacred harp book for shape note singers. The musical notations are oval, round, square or triangular, each with its own sound. In the same display case, several drums from the South Florida Haitian community attract visitors with their bright colors.
One of the large posters focuses on sacred spaces and features photos of churches around the state. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs and the ancient Spanish Shrine of Nuestra Senora in St. Augustine are among them.
The exhibit Bucuvalas has assembled will introduce people to some previously unknown forms of worship.
"Through my years working as a folklorist, I've come across so much art that springs from religious traditions," she said. "Religion inspires people to create beautiful things to express their spirituality."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be reached at [email protected]