12-foot Providence Academy Chapel Painting in studio 2005

His art will not only captivate you, but it will also bring you to your knees as your mind wraps around the sacred image that is before you. The longer you peer into the painting the more enthralled you become, noticing more – words, scripture, subtle background images. Christopher Santer’s art invites you to grow deeper in faith.

Santer grew up in the Parkersburg area, and his family has been members of St. Margaret Mary Parish for more than 50 years.

Attending Catholic school was a priority for Andrea Santer and the late Dr. Michael Santer, Jr. They sent all four of their children to Parkersburg Catholic schools.

A graduate of the PCHS Class of 1985, Chris Santer was blessed with remarkable artistic ability at an early age.

“I was able to draw what I was looking at fairly accurately even often seeing the linear perspective even when I didn’t really understand it,” he said.

It would be a safe bet of his siblings and classmates that Santer would be the likely winner of any poster or art contest just like he was for the annual Mountwood Nature Festival Art Show at Mountwood State Park from third through seventh grade.

When he was a junior in high school, he started realizing that he could make a career out of his love for art. He began working on projects for a college portfolio.

He enrolled at the University of Dayton. Initially he directed his studies toward becoming an illustrator for commercial design. During this third year at the university, he had the opportunity to work full-time at an ad agency. He went ahead took a semester off to give it a go.

St. Joseph and Jesus

However, the experience “revealed that maybe that was not the area of arts and creativity I really wanted to be in.”

So, Santer made the most of the situation. He continued to work at the agency not only to save money to continue on at DU, but also to afford him the chance to study in Europe for nearly four months.

Studying abroad “was life-changing, and it really pulled me towards fine arts, having been immersed in the great cultures of Europe, and devouring all the art history, architecture, and beauty found there.”

After graduation, Santer moved to Chicago, working as a freelance artist for two years. When he finally landed the job, he had hoped for at a Chicago design studio that specialized in architectural rendering, something in him was pulling him away. He turned it down.

He chose to head back to school and earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio University. God was definitely redirecting Santer’s steps.

The summer before moving to Chicago began a sort of season of conversion, he said. It was a moment in his life where God was calling him to dive headfirst into his faith.

“That season ends up being a true marker in my life, a before and after point that transformed my path,” he said. “The Lord led me in steps of deeper conversion and trust.”

He felt called to work for the Church through NET Ministries, a Catholic youth missionary organization.

“I thought at that point, it was likely the last transition period in my life where I would be able to give a full year as a missionary (for NET Ministries),” he said.

As God would have it, Santer worked for NET Ministries for four years, culminating in a position for them at their headquarters in Minnesota.

Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:28) emphasizes that God has great plans for those who love him and cooperate with His grace for greater good, so we can grow in faith, hope, and charity as we go deeper with Him and bring Him to others. Santer witnessed that in his own life and strives toward that daily.

The Good Shepherd: Parkersburg Catholic High School

“The desire to serve had been put on my heart,” he said. “My life had been transformed by the grace of God, simply by my turning to the Lord with my whole heart and surrendering my life to Jesus, finally abandoning the thought that I was in control and knew the path of my life. It was in this abandonment that I first learned to truly trust God and to listen. As a result, I wanted to share what God had done in my life with others, and particularly the youth, hoping I could be a part of what led them to such a discovery but maybe sooner than I had gotten there.”

NET Ministries is a great cure from stage fright and fear of public speaking, Santer said with tongue in cheek.

“While serving with NET I had to be upfront either giving a talk, leading a retreat, or performing in some way almost every day for nine months with a new group of teens every day,” he said, adding, “That will have an effect on you!

In all seriousness the number one gift traveling with NET was “that it solidified my trust in God in a different way. I found myself often arriving at a prayer that I still use to this day, and that is: ‘Dear God, I trust that you are at work here, through me, and I pray only that which is truly from you be remembered.’”

No matter where the road took him, Santer was never far from his charcoals and paints. His first commissioned art was for Fr. John Lester in 1987. It was a detailed pen drawing of the interior of Saint Xavier’s Catholic Church in Parkersburg.

The Magnificat

While the majority of his work win the ‘90s and 2000s would be contemporary art for gallery exhibitions once the faithful laid eyes on his paintings for the Church things began to shift.

In graduate school, Santer served on the building committee at St Margaret Mary for the parish’s addition. He used his education and passion for art to help his home parish.

“It was providential that my graduate work would bring me back closer to Parkersburg and I really enjoyed working with Father Edward Bell on that committee,” he said.

Santer was involved in planning the patterns of the old stained glass into the newer designs. It was also during that time, he would be challenged to create a piece of sacred art that would stir joyful emotions across generations. Father Bill commissioned the 26-year-old Santer to paint Christ with children (1993) for the new cry room.

It was a 3×5 ft painting and parishioners were soon asking for print copies so they could display it in their homes.

That led to Parkersburg Catholic High School’s commissioning of Christ with teenage youth “The Good Shepherd” in (1998).

It was there on those canvases that not only Santer could share his love for Christ and his faith, but through those canvases the faith and hope of others would grow.

In 1999, Santer painted the Magnificat for St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital in Parkersburg, and in 2000 a portrait of St Joseph and Jesus. By then Santer launched pacemstudio.com, a website with prints available of the four aforementioned paintings.

Christ With Children: Parkersburg Catholic Elementary School

Santer would eventually complete a 10×10 ft painting for St Maron’s Maronite Catholic Church in Minneapolis, a 12-ft painting for the Providence Academy chapel in Plymouth, MN, and a series of saints’ portraits in charcoal for NET by 2006. Two years later, Saint Paul seminary in St. Paul Minnesota had Santer begin work on a larger series of saints which now boasts of more than 100 portraits – all showcased on his website.

His largest work is in WV, a mural painted on the flood wall in Parkersburg, at Point Park measures 400-feet wide and 25- feet high.

If you ask Santer, “Who inspires your art”, he won’t hesitate in saying, “First and foremost it’s the Holy Spirit. I’ve always been able to visualize ideas quite well and I sense the Holy Spirit guiding me as those images come together in my mind.”

Chris Santer and Crucifixion on Delivery Morning

His most recent painting, The Crucifixion, is 11 feet tall, was without a doubt the doing of the Spirit.

“It’s been on my heart for a few decades to paint the crucifixion, and I was getting closer to starting one on a smaller scale, just for me,” he said, but it came to be after he was approached to tackle it professionally on a grand scale.

“I painted the body of Christ almost exactly as I have seen it in my head for nearly 30 years,” he said. “I ended up handling the background without it being the landscape but rather filling all of the space with rays that emanate from the cross containing 54 of the names of God from scripture. This was a solution to the background that came right around the time that I made the proposal, and it became 100% clear that that’s what I was to do with the painting, to complete the vision that started 30 years ago.”

While the color and layering of Rembrandt and the loose brush stroke of John Singer Sargent have fascinated Santer, he is most influence by his best friend from graduate school and native West Virginian, Paul Mullins.

“His relentless drive and investigation in art has always motivated me,” he said.

Parishes across the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston are blessed to feature Santer’s work, including St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Martinsburg. In 2015, the artist completed two large panels for the sanctuary – one of Mary, the Mother of God, and the other of St. Joseph the Worker.

While family, friends, and fellow faithful in WV would love for Santer to return to WV for good, he said he is filling his bucket in Minnesota.

For the last 21 years, Santer has been teaching art to children kindergarten through 12th grade at Providence Academy in Plymouth.

Chris Santer and Parkersburg Catholic Elementary School students 2015

“Providence academy is such a great environment, dedicated to building faith, knowledge, and virtue (our motto) but also has, from the very beginning, placed the arts as a very high priority, which is a true Catholic tradition, and at the same time that many schools are losing their arts,” he said. “I’ve also been continually enriched by my students, who inspire me with their energy and creativity. Being a practicing artist and a teacher is essentially like working two jobs, but the balance of the two is an arrangement in which I have truly thrived. The interaction with my students and colleagues pulls me out of myself and the isolation that the studio alone can be. The fact that I get to talk about art, look at art, and help students create every school day is a real gift, and at the same time, being a part of encouraging these students in their faith lives brings me much joy.”

May we all be captivated through the messages the Holy Spirit is sending each one of us through Santer’s sacred images, each one filling us with hope – the same hope he receives from his favorite bible verse – Lamentations 3:22-24:
The favors of the Lord are not all past,
every morning, they are renewed,
great is his faithfulness.
My portion is the Lord,” says my soul,
and so, I will hope in him.