Deroche author Daphne Sleigh’s newest book paints a detailed picture of one of the most talented, yet unknown, artists in B.C.
Father Dunstan Massey has been the artist in residence at Mission’s Westminster Abbey since it first opened almost 60 years ago. Visitors to the popular Benedictine monastery often marvel at the paintings, sculptures and stained glass work that line the halls and rooms of the church, but few take the time to discover that many of the great pieces were created by one man.
Sleigh was familiar with Massey’s work even before she met him.
“I’ve often been up to the Abbey and seen his sculptures and other works,” said Sleigh, who had already written two biographies and was looking for another subject when the artist caught her attention.
The catalyst was when she saw Massey’s work featured in a TV documentary seven years ago.
“It occurred to me that right here, where I live, is a wonderful artist,” she stated.
Sleigh was impressed with Massey’s versatility with different art forms from oil paints and ceramics to tapestries.
“There seems to be nothing he can’t turn his hand to,” said Sleigh, whose favourite Massey piece is a mural called Tree of Life. The soft colours, graceful figures and symbolism portrayed captured her imagination.
Massey is currently working on a silver-gilt crucifix which will hang over the alter when it’s completed.
There are two currents running through Sleigh’s book, The Artist in the Cloister, The Life and Works of Father Dunstan Massey: the evolution of his art and the story about him growing up.
“He was a child prodigy in art,” explained Sleigh. “His talents were recognized at age 13 and he had sponsors who financed his art education.”
Massey was also a gifted musician, but at 18 years of age, he decided to enter the monastery.
“He came from a deeply Catholic family. Teachers tried to dissuade him and get him to pursue the arts, but he persisted.”
Massey finally became a priest at age 31.
Sleigh is a local historian and author who has been writing books since 1972. Her works include Discovering Deroche, which won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal from the B.C. Historical Federation, and three biographies.
The Artist in the Cloister is available at Black Bond Books in the Junction, Mission Arts Centre, and the Mission Visitor Centre on the Lougheed Highway.