Art is the John the Baptist of the heart, preparing its affections for Christ. Jacques Maritain

The Coat of Hopes

ArtWay Visual Meditation November 21, 2021

The Coat of Hopes

The Coat of Hopes – a Lived Fairytale

by Barbara Keal

Once upon a time there was a world on the brink of devastation. A world once mainly hospitable to life, where changes in climate happened slowly over hundreds of human lifetimes allowing its creatures to adapt and change. Some of the humans of this world found themselves uncomfortable and strove for a longer and richer life. In this pursuit they created machines, the running of which emitted endless gasses, increasing exponentially as “the many” sought to attain the comfort of “the few”. These gasses were making the world's climate unstable to the point that before long most would struggle to maintain food and shelter, yet the wealthy people could see no way to stem their greed. All feared to lose what comfort they had. And in the north of a small island the leaders of all peoples came together to decide a course of action...

And in this time some people made a coat, a pilgrim coat, patchwork of blanket pieces. A coat which made its way to that gathering too. Worn and walked from the sea on that island’s south coast by hundreds of people over hundreds of miles. A coat which carried, stitched into it, hundreds of pieces of blanket, collected on its path, each one embellished with the griefs, remembrances, prayers and hopes of a person or a community for their local landscape in the face of this climate collapse.

This coat traveled with a song to declare its work:

The Song of the Coat of Hopes

Ask me where I'm going
Ask me what is my purpose
Ask me what my name is
They call me the coat of hopes

Ever northwards to Glasgow, both worn and walked I'll be
Upon the back of anyone who'll choose to carry me
Through field, village and city, day by day from town to town
To where leaders are gathering like rooks before the storm

Ask me where... ( Chorus)

What is it that I'm taking to the one who will decide
If as a world we'll do all in our power to survive
Only pieces of blanket I've collected on my path
With griefs, hopes, prayers, remembrances for the lands through which I've passed

Ask me where... (Chorus)

So here's my invitation- come and make me who I'll be
Come mark your hopes on blanket and I'll sew them into me
A coat that's made by everyone, for everyone to wear
To feel my warmth, and the weight of responsibility we share

Ask me where I'm going
Ask me what is my purpose
Ask me what my name is
They call me the coat of hopes

All along its way patches were added to the once blank coat, until on the final night before the great meeting began, seven women sewed all night long to include all the remaining patches, and the pilgrim coat grew a train, and became regal.

From then on each morning the coat walked to the gates of the place where decisions were to be made, with drum, standard bearer, train bearers, song, and a sewn invitation to the leaders within to put on the coat. And each morning the invitation was declared full clear and with dignity. “Feel the weight and the warmth of our hopes, stand in communion with all who have made and worn this coat, stand in kinship with all life, wear the promise that we all belong together” and many who made their way to that meeting place did put on the coat. Some wept, and some danced, some stood still and closed their eyes, as time and time again the coat song echoed outside those gates. But the leaders of nations did not come out.

I was the guardian of the coat of hopes and when my voice was all but broken and gone after so many declarations and so much song, the coat and I left that city. We boarded a train heading south again amidst much love, much joy, much sorrow, much determination and of course much song.

And all is not yet told. For now we sit, folded, silent, waiting...

The space which the coat holds open for you who would wear it is that of the protagonist in this climate breakdown story. A space we must each step into, if our ever after ending is to be a happy one.

This is an invitation.


The Coat of Hopes is a traveling, community created work of performance craft. Instigated by Barbara Keal. You can find out more about it at

Barbara Keal is an artist and feltmaker based in Lewes, East Sussex, UK. Best known for her sculptural animal headwear.



1. NIGEL HALLIDAY REVIEWS WHY ART MATTERS – Art historian Nigel Halliday’s review of Alastair Gordon's new book Why art matters. Read here

2. NIGEL HALLIDAY CHRISTMAS IN ART – 25 November, 14 h, St Mary's Church Hall, Cresswell Park, Blackheath, England: Christmas in art. A lecture by Nigel Halliday. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus have been favourite subjects for artists through the centuries. Nigel Halliday will be presenting a talk on the great masters and their paintings, pointing out less well known details of famous scenes associated with the Nativity. Read more

3. NEW BOOKS BRIAN WHELAN – Brian Whelan has two new books out this autumn that might be the perfect gift for the holidays:

A Pilgrimage of Sight. There is a sacredness of place that resides in the heart and imagination of the pilgrim. This book is about those places. Those thin places. Where heaven and earth are so close they actually seem to touch. Buy here

A Simple Line. Artist Brian Whelan explores the mystery of A Simple Line and relates stories in his long career as an artist that shed light on what some will call the illusive capture of likeness and others the stealing of a person’s soul - and he does this with more than 200 playful drawings, each with a quote from a friend. Buy here

4. WOODEN CHURCHES OF SWEDEN – While the traditional style of Stave churches is more abundant in neighbouring Norway, Sweden also has a number of religious heritage sites made of wood. Not all of these wooden churches are "true Stave churches", however, many of them stem from the 12th century giving way to a number of wooden church building techniques that inspired several other sites across Europe. On this Religiana are some of Sweden's top wooden churches. Read more

5. HEADS, FACES ANS SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTER – 15 November 2021 – 15 March 2022, Dordt University, 700 7th St. NE, Sioux Center, IA: Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter at Dordt University. In the history of the human race has there ever been an individual who has not drawn some simulate of a head or a face?  From the Neolithic Plastered Skull found in Jericho, Jordan to a child’s earliest markings in the 21st Century it is the face that captures the attention as we try to make sense of our world.  HEADS, FACES, AND SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTER draws on this fascination of the human heart and mind. From noted artists such as Henri Mattise, Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Paul Wunderlich, Bernard Buffet, Georges Rouault, Eric Gill, Giovanni Castiglione, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Werner Drewes, and Leonard Baskin to self-taught artists such as Elder Anderson Johnson and Rodney Charles Hardee to anonymous African artists from Ife, Nigeria and the Dan Peoples with many known and lesser-known artists of high quality in between, this exhibition offers a thoughtful and enjoyable glance at the mystery of the human face. It is hoped that in these forty some-odd works, differing in conceptions, styles and media, the viewer will find not only something that will arrest their attention aesthetically but also will intrigue them emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, we dare hold the aspiration that after seeing HEADS, FACES, AND SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTER that the viewer will never again take the faces of family, friends and those around them for granted. Read more  

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- December 2021: Georges Rouault: The Old King
- November 2021: Eduardo Kingman: Procession
- November 2021: Sidney Nolan: Angel over Ely
- November 2021: Lorenzo Quinn: Trust

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists