Follow us on Twitter and keep up to date with the very latest on what we're doing with

Article Categories

Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women's Altars by Kay Turner

A home feels impoverished when it is devoid of personal arrangements: a pile of heart-shaped rocks, the family photo collections on the mantel, the objects that nourish our memories, sentiments, and desires. It's as if no one is living there. How we cherish, arrange, and bring significance to objects is at the basis of both art and religion, making ordinary stuff special by its placement and placemates. But this practice, so ubiquitous, often goes unrecognized?especially when its objects are domestic. Beautiful Necessity and Altars and Icons remedy this, handsomely presenting and celebrating home altars in a non-elitist way that inspires readers to create their own.

I appreciated Kay Turner's extensive illustrations, historical and geographical breadth, and connection of contemporary with older, traditional, and folk altars. But I became antsy at her didacticism and biased feminist agenda. Jean McMann approaches her subjects much more personally, and she also recognizes that men as well as women create home altars. Her book is a collection of delicately descriptive photographs, with statements by the altars' makers. The first-person voice and the contributors' honesty and humor make the book a joy.

Both books celebrate each shrine's uniqueness. (God forbid the Martha Stewart "how-to-do-it" book!) They lend encouragement and make us feel less silly when we have the urge to put that nest with the broken eggshell next to the stone dove and the postcard of the rose windows at Chartres.


" Certain seasonal altar traditions including the Mexican ofrenda and the Wiccan Samhain are specifically dedicated to the memory and preservation of relationship with ancestors. But many women also use their daily altars as places of affiliation with the deceased. Artist Sheri Tornatore remembers her Italian grandmother's altar: 'My grandmother's main devotion was to St. Teresa of the Little Flower. Her main altar was erected around her dead son Carmen?the oldest?who was killed in World War II. His picture was very big and very brown. He was in uniform. She had statues around it and she had pictures of her other kids there, too. And candles. I remember that as a devout place?right there on the TV.'" ?Beautiful Necessity

" Well, first of all, these aren't women. They're images; they stand for something else. They tell us something about us and how we see. At the center, right below the Venus de Milo, are a little bride and groom. They are actually porcelain, Japanese-made. The shop must have had at least a dozen of them, all lined up with the other things in the window. They were expensive, something like twenty-five dollars. Of course, you can also get cheapo spin-offs, but the Japanese ones have the detail. I didn't want to spend that much, but I noticed that one was broken. One of the grooms didn't have a head! That was more interesting than the regular ones. I got it cheap, maybe five bucks or something. And then as I left, I noticed that the little head had fallen down on one of the lower shelves. So I went back and got my head! I decided, why put it back on his shoulders? I'll just put his head in the bride's arm." ? Ken Botto in Altars and Icons


ISBN: 0500281505

Order it now from!