When presented with the amazing opportunity to create an installation in the sanctuary of the congregation where I am a member, there were a few things that seemed immediately important. First, that the artwork be site-specific—that it be in harmony with the proportions, structure, and symmetry of the front of the sanctuary of Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Chandler, Arizona. I chose colors in response to our place—the desert—that reference earth and sky and light. I also wanted the painting to be symbolic of something important to Unitarian Universalism, and for that purpose I decided on the theme of “One Light, Many Windows.” This is a phrase often used by the late Rev. Dr. Forrest Church to describe Unitarian Universalism, a phrase that drew me to the church twelve years ago, and one that offers a beautiful metaphor for visual interpretation.
This work was created for a congregation, so it seemed important that it be created through a participatory experience. The painting was designed with this experience in mind: It is composed of 156 pieces of wood painted by 104 individuals. Everyone was encouraged to leave their individual mark through their brushwork, which created an organic surface texture.
In addition, everyone who participated was asked to write on the back of the piece that they painted, in one word or short phrase, what their faith community means to them. “Making a difference together in faith.” “The church I always wished for.” “Mommy helps me.” These powerful expressions are forever embedded in the artwork, and I hope contribute to another layer of meaning.
In each of the seven individual panels, I tried to include a cross-section of the congregation. The two outermost panels were created during a coffee hour after service through an open invitation to paint. The second panel (from left to right) was painted by all levels of the students and teachers from the religious education program. The third panel was painted by our worship associates and ministers. The fifth panel was painted by the choir. The sixth panel was painted by seven members of the interfaith community.
The artwork started and ended with the center panel, which is symbolic of the family and friendship connections that are so important to this congregation. The committee that initiated the project was the first group to paint, creating the foundation pieces of this panel. To symbolize friendship and a congregational family, I asked three of my friends to paint the pieces above and below the circle. Together, my dear husband, wonderful stepdaughter and son-in-law, and I painted the circle in the center. The flame inside that circle was the final piece of this project to be painted, by Betty Nearing, a founding member of the congregation. Betty painted so carefully and thoughtfully, slowly layering the paint and moving upwards, like a flame. Her words on the back of the flame are: “Home, and a source of love.”
Photograph (above): Painted wood panels were installed below the windows of the sanctuary at Valley UU Congregation in Chandler, Ariz. (Courtesy of Janice Pittsley). An abridged version of this article appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of UU World (page 17).
- Valley UU Congregation.Chandler, Arizona. (vuu.org)