Published Saturday, Sept. 1, 2001, in the San Jose
A VIVID DREAM PROMPTS ARTIST
BRUNI SABLAN TO BEGIN PAINTING
MOTHER TERESA'S IMAGE. IT'S
`MY SPIRITUAL WORK,' SHE SAYS
BY NORA VILLAGRÁN
The muse comes at night for artist Bruni Sablan.
``It's when the sun goes down and the moon is up
that Bruni begins painting,'' says artist Mark Gray,
director of Bruni Gallery in downtown Campbell.
And so it was that the nocturnal artist went to sleep
on the morning of Sept. 4, 2000 -- eve of the third
anniversary of Mother Teresa's death -- and
dreamed a dream that changed the artist's life.
How Sablan -- a world away from the nun's
cherished slums of Calcutta -- came to paint the
winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize has sparked
the artist's return to faith.
``In my dream,'' Sablan says, ``my paternal
grandmother opened a white book. The pages held
pictures of Mother Teresa and a message for me to
paint Mother Teresa. The handwritten message said:
`Keep the joy of loving God in your heart and share
this joy with all you meet, especially your family.
God bless you.' It was signed by Mother Teresa.''
Upon awakening that afternoon, Sablan had no idea
of the next day's significance. She wasn't a practicing
Catholic. She was still healing from her father's
death. And she'd lost her beloved Old Town gallery
in Los Gatos, amid strife with the center's
redevelopers. She was also suffering from chronic
fatigue and taking care of her diabetic mother.
Meanwhile, the life and death of the famous nun had
passed undetected on her hectic radar screen. ``I knew who Mother
Teresa was -- that was it,'' she says. ``I didn't even know when she'd
And yet, Sablan says, she awakened from her dream entrusted with a new
purpose: to paint Mother Teresa in order to ``continue her work on Earth.''
That night, she began work on a face she'd never painted before.
``I started painting Mother Teresa exactly at midnight Sept. 5. In spite of
the chronic fatigue, I painted all night. I called that first portrait `The
Visitation.' In the morning, I went home to sleep.''
Her daughter, Kristina Sablan, 29, recalls that ``we'd never spoken of
Mother Teresa. That day, I went on the Internet and found out she'd died
Sept. 5. We felt shocked and got tears in our eyes.''
The date took on greater significance when Bruni Sablan learned that her
grandmother's date of death, some 15 years earlier, was also Sept. 5.
For Sablan, this newest revelation defined her grandmother as the perfect
messenger of a heaven-sent request. Now, with each passing night, Mother
Teresa's face emerged in brightly dappled colors on the artist's canvas.
Sablan had already gained renown for her legendary portraits celebrating
the often-tortured souls of such jazz masters as Billie Holiday and Charlie
``Bird'' Parker. Now, she celebrated a soul at peace.
``My mother paints musicians' souls,'' says
Kristina Sablan, a sculptor and
musician. ``Now, she also paints the soul of Mother Teresa.''
Bruni Sablan says her passion for painting began in her late teens. ``I
wanted to march with Martin Luther King and Angela Davis to better the
world. But it was a dangerous time, and my father said, `You'll make a
bigger difference in the world through your painting.' I realize now this is
what I'm doing.
``Painting is my gift, and so I am here to let my body of work of Mother
Teresa do what it needs to do. I feel she wants me to paint her praying and
with little kids. The picture comes to me as if through a channel I'm tuned
into. I don't know what time it is or how long I've been painting. It's very
fast, very energetic. It comes through the brush, as if another hand is
running things, saying, `Now we're going to do this.' ''
Sablan is aware of how all of this must sound. ``I'm not some cosmic kitty.
I just think all of this is pretty amazing. There are too many coincidences for
this to be just coincidence.''
Yet another coincidence followed.
``Out of the blue,'' she says, ``I found out my accountant knows Dr. Owen
Pinto, who worked alongside Mother Teresa in India. Dr. Pinto came to
see the paintings and loved them and thought they were incredible.''
Motivated to learn more, Sablan contacted Navin Chawla, the author of
``Mother Teresa: The Authorized Biography.'' Sablan was stunned to see
on Page 196, written in Mother Teresa's writing, the same handwritten
message of her dream.
``I've come to the point,'' she says, ``where I've said to Mother Teresa,
`OK, you're running the show.' The paintings are in a special room that's
become a kind of chapel. People in wheelchairs come in. Some people stay
for hours. Some cry. Others pray. People say there's a feeling of hope,
relief, strength and kindness.''
This is what art collector Tanya Valentine of Benicia felt when she saw a
painting of the nun holding a child.
``The portrait defines what Mother Teresa is about -- making life better for
those less fortunate,'' says Valentine, who bought the painting for $3,500.
``It's the first time a piece of art brought tears to my eyes.''
Judy Truett, who works for the Social Services Agency in Jacksonville,
Fla., visited the gallery while on vacation.
The Mother Teresa portrait she bought symbolizes ``what we do in our
Department of Community Services,'' Truett says.
``I intend to hang the painting in our reception area,'' she says, ``so that all
who come in can see what and who real charity and love look like.''
But others have responded to the portraits with mixed reactions, even anger.
``A man tried to put his fist through my gallery window,'' Sablan says.
``Another man said what I was doing was terrible. That's OK. I feel I'm on
the right track.''
``On Earth,'' her daughter says, ``Mother Teresa helped the poor in the
East. Now she wants to help people in the West because there's so much
spiritual hunger, especially in Silicon Valley.''
For Sablan, this spiritual hunger has been sated by her personal return to faith.
``I believe now there's hope and a design to things,'' she says. ``I'd lost that
part of me because of uncaring people. But Mother Teresa cared enough to
come to me -- an artist -- as a way to reassure all of us. It's a reassurance
that good exists. That beauty exists. That everlasting exists.
``So many musicians I've painted died in despair. But look at the music they
left for us. That's why I paint them, so people will feel uplifted.
``I don't pretend to know anything beyond this: Mother Teresa came to me
in a dream and asked me to do a body of work for her. I don't question
her. This is simply my spiritual work.''
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