UCC, Congregational celebrates 200 years with its public art project

By Karen Cornelius

No one is seeing things, those really are real life-size doors scattered around downtown, the Ritter Public Library, and some of the city parks. The doors painted by different artists are making their debut this week. They are actually a unique project for the community to enjoy from now until mid-September courtesy of the United Church of Christ, Congregational located on State Street.


Church spokesperson and project coordinator Judy Williams explained UCC, Congregational is celebrating 200 years in Vermilion this year, and members wanted to do something special to recognize the fact that the church has been involved and active in the community for so long. The idea of painting doors with value statements reflecting what the church believes is really not new. Williams stated that she traveled to Germany last October and was standing at the site in Wittenberg at the Castle Church where Martin Luther had nailed his 95 theses to the door which marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. This October 31, 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the 95 theses. Williams also saw more painted doors there lining a nearby culvert. “It’s from the doors of Wittenberg to the doors of Vermilion,” said Williams of the possible sister-town connection.


Seeing those doors in Germany gave Williams the idea to create such doors in Vermilion to speak to the community. “Our goal is to feed the feeling of determination, hopefulness and fellowship needed to draw our community closer so we can all move into the future with confidence and love. After months of work, there are 31 doors painted by artists, professional and amateur, installed for the community to see. The project was funded by friends and members of the church who raised $2,500. There were no door sponsors. It was the volunteer artists who selected their own themes, mission statements. Williams said each artist was given a stipend of $45 for materials, but they donated their time and talent. Many were not members of the church, but just loved the idea and creative challenge.


The artists were given a card and a donated door that had been sanded, stripped and ready to work on. They were all told to design their own answer to unlock the door. Whatever they imagined as their message. “We are a very open church,” said Williams. “We believe the key is love, and we have the key.” The card gave the artists suggestions such as protecting the environment, caring for the poor, forgiving often, rejecting racism, fighting for the powerless, and sharing earthly and spiritual resources. Others were embracing diversity, loving God, and enjoying this life.


Williams said she and her committee were amazed by the finished doors. “They are beautiful and some could be in a museum,” said Williams. “The artists treated them like their first-born children.” The church hopes to have the doors available for sale in the fall and will use the proceeds for a future accessibility project for the church. There will also be posters of the doors available for sale, and there will be a guide with a map for visitors to tour the doors with the artists’ mission statements and their locations. The guides will be available at the Main Street Vermilion Office, Shore Thing at Main Street Beach, and Ritter Public Library.


Williams had a wonderful volunteer crew who picked up donated doors, prepared and primed them, delivered them to artists, picked them up from artists, and helped install them on Monday and Tuesday, August 14 and 15. Joining Williams were Bonnie Brucker, Ruth Maurer, and Barbara Knapp. The assortment of doors are very heavy, one is a big barn door, three are kitchen cabinet doors, and one is an unusual horizontal door perfect for a landscape design. Many of the doors are put up in triangles, three to a display, for strength so they don’t blow over in case of wind. Volunteer Iva Schurr’s background as a construction engineer was a big help mounting the doors safely as was Fred Ostrander, the library’s operations manager, and Rich Mason, retired industrial arts teacher.


As people view the new public art exhibit, here are a few of the artists’ mission statements reflecting their personal key to open their door. Artist Maureen Cole stated hers is “A family tree of stars, like people, each one unique, each one matters. Love is the key to open your heart and mind to accept each person, just the way they are.” Artist Wendy Hammer stated, “Mine symbolizes what God has given us in our beautiful town of Vermilion. Flowers, beaches, a lighthouse and the great Lake Erie. We have the privilege to enjoy all these wonders of God’s miracles.” Artist Joette McDonald said this about her theme, “We are all God’s children” reminds us that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and none of us has the prior claim on His love. I believe that we are born colorblind and ready to accept all cultures, and will remain so if we aren’t taught otherwise.” Artist Tina Allor designed a door with an old sea captain with his grandson. She wrote about her theme,” The waves crash against the rocky coast as the old man shares his tales of adventure on the high seas. The boy dreams of the day when he, too, will go to sea just as his father and grandfather did before him.”


Williams and her volunteers agree the project has been so uplifting and the future looks bright if we all unlock our doors with a key for acceptance, teamwork, caring for the earth, and finding the key is love. The hard work has been so fulfilling to all. “It’s so exciting to bring people together to showcase their talents and also share what the values of UCC, Congregational are today,” said Williams. “We have developed a great deal of comradeship, and it has been fun.”
Williams, church members, friends, artists, and those involved in the public art project have begun to hang keys on chains and wear them as a symbol. She hopes everyone can find a key and wear it so this kindness and love can spread throughout the community.


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