Cape native finishes cathedral documentary

Monday, June 28, 2004

Documentary filmmaker David Tlapek now calls Los Angeles home, but the Cape Girardeau native returned to Southeast Missouri over the weekend to attend his 25th class reunion for Central High School. Although he started out his professional life as a lawyer in Dallas, Tlapek moved to Los Angeles to attend film school in the early 1990s and has remained ever since.

Tlapek's latest documentary, "Divining the Human, The Cathedral Tapestries of John Nava," was finished earlier this year and has since found a distributor. Tlapek said the documentary will air on some public television affiliates probably toward the end of the year.

The documentary took four years to complete and follows the construction of the Our Ladies of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles and the creation of the tapestries that hang inside it.

"I wanted to make a film that dealt with art and something interesting that dealt with a contemporary artist," Tlapek said. His search was over once he came across the artwork of John Nava in a museum in Pasadena, Calif.

Tlapek said he was "struck by the quality of the work" and was more intrigued when he found out that Nava had been commissioned to create a series of tapestries for Los Angeles' new cathedral.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles determined the city needed a new cathedral once St. Vibiana was condemned in 1996 because of extensive earthquake damage. After a great deal of controversy over what to do with the old cathedral and what would replace it if it were to be demolished, the archdiocese purchased land for the new cathedral in 1996 and began building in 1998.

While Tlapek's film documents the architectural work and construction on the cathedral, it focuses on Nava and the 37 individual tapestries that would bear his artwork. The most prominent tapestries are a series depicting the Communion of the Saints, which contains images of 135 saints.

At the time of his commission, Nava was already a respected painter whose work could be found in places like the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. He had created several large-scale works, like a mural for the Grain Exchange in Tokyo. However, he had never worked on a tapestry.

Tlapek follows the progress of the tapestries from Nava's studio to Flanders Tapestries of Bruges in Belgium and even the streets of Jerusalem.

"It's really an international documentary," he said.

A film for anybody

One with broad appeal too. "I think there's a tendency to think that because it's about religious art, it's a religious film, and it's not," Tlapek said. He said it is a film for anybody who is interested in a good story.

He said the story was so fascinating that he was never bored by it and that it became more interesting as time went on.

According to Tlapek, one fascinating aspect of the story was the process through which Nava's paintings were turned into tapestries.

While the practice of copying a tapestry from a painting goes far back in history, it used to take weavers years to produce the finished product and Nava's deadline did not allow for that much time. Through the use of computers, the process was completed in about two years in what Tlapek called "the ultimate multimedia work."

Not to say the process was easy. Nava and another artist had to develop methods to digitize weavable tapestry designs so they could be sent directly to the weaver's computers in Belgium.

Tlapek said at a certain point in the tapestry process, he realized that he and Nava were doing similar work with different mediums. Both were bringing together different elements to create a whole work of art.

And Tlapek is happy with how his work turned out. "I can honestly say I'm pleased with the film and I'm excited for people to see it." he said.

Those interested in purchasing a copy of the documentary can do so at

335-6611, extension 182

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