In 2008-2009 Larry and Mary Gerbens donated their collection of prodigal son artwork to their alma mater Calvin University. To celebrate this gift, the Calvin University Center Art Gallery held an exhibit in conjunction with the Calvin Symposium on Worship. These pieces now join the university's permanent collection.

This collection arose out of a love for and belief in the impact of the visual arts in our flourishing as God's human creatures. The works of art are the visual testimonies of wonderfully gifted artists on the nature of forgiveness as expressed in the parable of the prodigal son.

Lending the collection

In the spirit of learning and sharing with others, the collection will be available for lending. Please contact Brent Williams for information.

About the collection

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.
LUKE 15:20

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
LUKE 15:24

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most powerful and evocative stories Jesus told. Its universal themes of greed and regret, arrogance and repentance, sin and redemption, jealousy and acceptance, and most importantly, compassionate forgiveness resonate richly with each retelling.

This parable has inspired the work of artists throughout the centuries. In many times and places and using many methods and media, artists have sought to visualize this story. Yet despite the differences in their work, the message of the Father's love remains constant.

In the mid 1990s, Don Prys, my brother-in-law, encouraged me to read The Return of The Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen. I was fascinated and inspired by Nouwen's personal and introspective style, placing himself in the place of not only the younger son, but also the elder son and the father. About the same time I became aware of the serigraphs of John August Swanson; the colors and themes and the precise nature of the silk screening process intrigued me. Swanson's first serigraph of the Prodigal Son from 1984 was the first piece of art inspired by the parable that I collected.

That was the start; I was hooked! From the days of Edgar Boevé's art history course at Calvin University, I was fascinated by artists and their amazing God-given talents; and now I had a theme to build a collection around: forgiveness as illustrated by the parable of the Prodigal Son. I first looked at the old masters like Rembrandt for their interpretation of the parable. I found that they were not only fascinated by the parable but also that much of their work was autobiographical. With Mary's blessing, we acquired Rembrandt's etching of the Prodigal Son and Tissot's five etchings entitled The Prodigal Son in Modern Life.

"My son," the father said, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours."
LUKE 15:31

"But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
LUKE 15:32

At the same time, we were becoming acquainted with contemporary artists by frequenting galleries, museums, and even art fairs. The place of works of faith by artists of faith in worship and everyday life intrigued me. I started to look for and acquire works by contemporary artists on the Prodigal theme. The next step was to commission artists whose work I appreciated to create a piece based on the parable. Their unique styles and perspectives were of great inspiration to me. I have come to love working with artists and encouraging their artistic gifts in the commissioning process. Their testimony in their works has been a wonderful blessing. Under the heading of collector's notes, we tell short stories about how we came to know the artist and our experience throughout the commissioning process. In many instances the artists have also written interpretations of their work.

We feel privileged to share The Parable of the Prodigal with you through this collection of art and readings.

Mary and I believe...a Prodigal Son art exhibit is a Grace exhibit.

Please enjoy a contemplative moment and let this timeless parable speak to you once again.

Text by Larry and Mary Gerbens

Travel dates

March 1 – April 19, 2017
First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs, CO

December 8, 2016 – February 12, 2017
Muskegon Museum of Art
"Expressions of Faith" exhibition
Bonita Springs, FL

February 14 – April 3 , 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa
Bonita Springs, FL

October 19–26, 2015
WinSome Women Conference
Mackinac Island, MI

October 9 – November 16, 2015
First Congregational UCC Rockford
Rockford, MI

February 18 – March 30, 2015
Catholic Information Center
Grand Rapids, MI

March 10 – April 17, 2014
First Presbyterian Church
Bonita Springs, FL

September 3 – November 8, 2013
First Congregational United Church of Christ
Washington, DC

April 26 – May 20, 2013
Thornapple Covenant Church
Grand Rapids, MI

May 20 – August 22, 2013
The Acton Institute
Grand Rapids, Michigan

January 9 – February 28, 2013
Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church
Elmhurst, Illinois

May 24 – July 23, 2012
Bella Vista Church
Rockford, Michigan

February 17 – April 13, 2012
First Presbyterian Church Midland
Midland, Texas

September 19 – November 11, 2011
Church of the Savior Christian Reformed Church
South Bend, Indiana

October 20, 2010 – July 31, 2011
Calvin University Center Art Gallery
New gallery space in the remodeled Covenant Fine Arts Center
Grand Rapids, Michigan

July 6 – October 8, 2010
Dordt College Art Gallery
Sioux Center, Iowa

March 9 – May 18, 2010
Second Reformed Church
Zeeland, Michigan



Doug Adams, "Changing Perceptions of Jesus' Parables through Art History: Polyvalency in Paint", from Reluctant Partners: Art and Religion in Dialogue, ed. Ena G. Heller (The Gallery at the American Bible Society, 2004)

Robert M. Busic, And Grace Will Lead Me Home: The Jerry Evenrud Collection of Images of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lutheran University Press, 2007)

Charles McCollough, The Art of Parables: Reinterpreting the Teaching Stories of Jesus in Word and Sculpture (Copper House, 2008)


Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Jossey-Bass, 2007)

Margaret Gibson, The Prodigal Daughter: Reclaiming an Unfinished Childhood (University of Missouri Press, 2008)

Ron Hanson, Atticus (Harper Perennial, 1997)

Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life: A Memoir (Grove Press, 1989)


Kenneth E. Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel's Story (InterVarsity Press, 2003)

Kenneth E. Bailey, Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15 (Concordia, 1992)

Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (Image Books, 1992)

Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Zondervan, 2005)