Designer Finds Inspiration Everywhere

John Mahoney’s Art Could Hang In Your Home

A 1783 sketch of a Quaker meeting house.
AB: Were you brought up in a religious household?

JM: Yes.

AB: Very religious?

JM: No. My mother’s Catholic and my father was raised as a Christian Scientist. My brother and I were both raised Catholic, but the household was pretty progressive. You have to remember, this was Minneapolis in the 1970s. Thank God I didn’t go to Catholic school, because –

AB: It would mess you up?

JM: Yeah.

AB: I’ve heard it can have that affect on people.

JM: Let’s say that because I didn’t go to Catholic school, I have a healthy respect for the Catholic tradition, but I no longer practice Catholicism. I’ve been a Quaker for fourteen years.

AB: Really? Why?

JM: Well, after I came out, I had a hard time with the Church’s stance on homosexuality. There were a lot of double standards in the Church’s teaching that weren’t in line with my own. I don’t know. It took me so long to come out of the closet that I wasn’t going to go back in and to be a Catholic and gay, I felt that I had to be in the closet.

AB: How old were you?

JM: About twenty-one. A friend of mine in college was a Quaker and I had gone with her once to a Quaker meeting and around this time that I was distancing myself from the Church, I began to attend Quaker meetings more and more often. It was really interesting to me, because at the time that I started going to Quaker meetings, there was a lot of turmoil over whether to allow same-sex unions and most of the meeting was in favor of it, but there were a few people who had reservations about it. Through the Quaker process, everyone in the community had to come to a consensus before any decision was made. A lot of the gay men and women would come up to me and say, “Oh, you’ve got to rally behind us,” “We gotta push this through” and I said, “Honestly, I really don’t care. The fact that same-sex unions are even being discussed in the Religious Society of Friends is a victory to me!”.

AB: It’s interesting that you – considering this is The Home Issue – that you went from Catholicism, which has this omniscient, omnipotent, larger-than-life God and all this hierarchy and the congregation has no say – and then you go to the Quakers, who are very democratic and believe in the individual: they’re interested in the God in the individual. It’s a much more familiar religion, it seems to me…

JM: Yeah, in many ways it’s on the other end of the spectrum from Catholicism. My father’s religious beliefs were very Quaker – he went to Quaker meetings a couple of times. I wouldn’t say he’s religious. He’s spiritual. His spirituality revolved around a personal relationship with God and mediate by priests and bishops and clergy. So, studying Quakers felt familiar because of the spiritual beliefs my father shared with me.