20 Neighborhoods: Exploring Church and Community in Roseland

Teaching Artist Patricia Stewart presented an imaginative challenge to a group of women residents at Roseland Place Apartments, a senior housing residence developed by Mercy Housing. She asked the women to explore their personal and community-oriented relationships to Church, via the construction of a miniature house of worship, complete with stained glass window panes, an internal light, and a courtyard. For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

As a gallery intern, I had the opportunity to visit the workshop and talk to the women involved, thus gaining an intimate view of both the project’s development, and outcome.

In designing this project, Ms. Stewart contemplated the physical and social landscape of Black neighborhoods for inspiration. She asked herself: “What is the neighborhood known for? What do we do in the neighborhood? What are our favorite places, and basically, how do we get there?” Patricia determined some of the strongest communities are formed around churches, and used that as the basis of the project.

Ms. Stewart encouraged the women to think of the communal aspects of the neighborhood that are most important to them, and to discuss the role that church has had in their lives, and the lives of their friends and family.

The women began  the project by working individually on painting glass picture frames, which would make the stained glass windows of the church structure. Using paint, glass stones, and markers, the women made colorful, personalized designs framing the name of their favorite local church or passage from the Bible.

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As they worked, group member Kay Carter shared her experience of the project thus far: “Just using a different medium, that was a learning process for me, and that was interesting. It was something new, something I’ve never encountered in painting, and I liked it… That’s why I always try to involve myself with art, because it teaches me something new and sometimes it overflows into my life, because everything is connected.” Another collaborator, Gene, said “I enjoyed the whole thing. I love arts and crafts, so anytime it’s something dealing with doing something with my hands, I love it.”

1380643_518707174883222_2127930647_nOnce the glass stain images were completed, Ms. Stewart presented cardboard boxes which would serve as the structure for the church. Working together, the women pasted paper world maps to the cardboard, symbolizing the connectivity of various churches and various communities with one another and the larger world. Afterwards, the women fit their stained glass windows into cutouts in the cardboard, and placed an electric light inside to illuminate each stained glass image.

The individual and communal impact of the project was strongly evident. There was tremendous support and camaraderie, and there was unanimous pride amongst the women in completing something beautiful and meaningful. Speaking of her own experience, Ms. Carter shared: “Doing art period helps stabilize me as a person, and helps me evolve and helps me see what’s on the other side. It calms me down. I love color, shape and design, and whenever there’s an opportunity to do art, I do art… Art is pulling me into that aspect of community, because without art I don’t know if I could even enter into a community project. Art helps me in so many ways.”

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–Helen Celewicz, Gallery Intern

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