Artist bio

Leslie Iwai is an installation artist and sculptor whose studies in mathematics, chemistry, and architecture (MArch Virginia Tech) inform her passion to bring unusual connections found in her research and artistic process to the surface for others’ ruminations and inspiration. As the first recipient of the Bemis Community Arts Fellowship (2005) and, most recently, as the first Artist-in-Residence for Intervarsity’s Urbana 2018 and a 2021 finalist for the Forward Art Prize, Leslie has had many awards, solo exhibits, and residencies. Her work is in numerous private and public collections, including Duncan Aviation and the Omaha Public Art Commission. Leslie has taught in both academic and community settings in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois and New Mexico. She has been a contributing writer and artist for Image Journal, SEEN (CIVA) and The Well (InterVarsity). She enjoys living in and exploring Wisconsin with her husband where she creates art and collaborates and connects with her community. When not in her studio, Leslie can often be found hunting for treasures at thrift stores or walking on trails near her home in Middleton, Wisconsin.


Hold Fast



Artist Statement

Medium: Industrial wool felt, fabric lining, cedar hangers, safety pins, wooden chair, scissors, wooden boxes
Dimensions: 6’ x 20’ x 20’

The Book of Revelation opens with the Apostle John’s description of his vision of Jesus Christ standing amidst seven golden lampstands, each representing one of the seven churches to whom this book is written. This compelling vision of reverence, light, holiness, and intimacy was what drew me to create Hold Fast. In John’s vision, Jesus transcribed a letter to each of the seven churches that contained words of admonition, commendation, and promise.
These seven woolen garments have been constructed to reflect each of the seven churches and communicate a portion of their story that both warns and welcomes us into a personal yet larger narrative. The outer circular arrangement of the garments surrounding a child-sized red chair is meant to create a scale change between the outer circle and interior space of the installation, evoking intimacy, privacy and most importantly, the unseen presence of Christ in the center of the story.
Designed as wrap-around gowns with natural wool felt and inner red lining, each dress has a pocket with a wooden box inside. Within each box is a handwritten transcription of the scripture corresponding to one of the churches. On the outside of the box is an etched image alluding to their story.
From inception, Hold Fast, is intended to be both an art installation and interactive performance. Participants are invited to carefully handle pieces of wool felt, and using gold safety pins, fasten them to one of the hangers as they contemplate the scripture. During the performance, I carefully cut the train of each gown. Then pinning and shaping the participant pieces with scissors, I form a corporate garment- rooted and branching, harkening to our often-invisible connections that hold us fast to the Truth and to each other.

The simple use of a safety pin as a connecting point kept me coming back to the words Jesus Christ repeated throughout the first three chapters of Revelation, “But hold fast what you have till I come.” Revelation 2:25 NKJV

How it fits into contest

As an artist of faith, I know I am in a spiritual battle. When I create patterns, transform material, and make design decisions I feel the battle in my heart, hands, and mind. I often pray that I “wear” the full armor of God when I start the day and remind myself of that when I am in the studio. When envisioning Hold Fast, my immediate desire was to create garments to represent the seven churches in Revelation. I read the letters to each church and noticed the two words “hold fast.” This phrase resonated within my spirit and seems to be a parallel to the encouragement from Paul to the Ephesians to “take your stand,” “stand your ground” and “stand firm”. This confidence and courage that is to be part of our Christ-like character permeates the imagery in my artwork. To “hold fast” and “stand firm” are phrases that engage the hands and the feet.
Within the garment design I created a sheath-like pocket in the side of the gown. My first thought was literal, I wondered how I would create a sword for the pocket? But when I decided on the wooden boxes with the transcribed letters to each church, I realized that I had included the sword, the Word of God.
When I read Ephesians 6:10-20, I think about the struggles addressed to the churches in Revelation. One specific example comes to mind from the letter to the church of Pergamos: “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” Revelation 2:12-14 NKJV. This describes a martyr who was fully clothed in the armor of God.
When I think about the ancient Church and the Church of today, I am encouraged. I am sure that they were reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and taking great comfort and instruction from it. It gave them strength to remain faithful to the Truth as it does the Church today.


I would like to thank InterVarsity for commissioning me to create Hold Fast for Urbana 2018 and Henry Lucey-Lee, InterVarsity’s National Director of Arts Ministry for having the confidence in me to create it!

How to Purchase this Artwork

Hold Fast is available for purchase as well as short or long-term rental for events or spaces,
Please contact the artist directly at for more information.

Other Goods & Services Available from this Artist

I create installations, sculpture, and drawings/two-dimensional work in many different scales. Please inquire for commissions or to bring one of my artworks temporarily or permanently to your collection, gallery, or event. I am delighted to share about my art practice and my faith through writing, podcasts, and artist workshops. Please use the contact form on my website for more information.

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