UUMH Invites All To Unique ‘Family Art’ Show

By: Jennifer Sexton-Riley

Topics: Churches and Faith

Faces of Injustice,” shared by Priscilla Smith and painted by her mother, Mary Ellen Smith. “I had never seen this watercolor until about 10 years ago (after she died). It was wrapped in a file with all her newspaper announcements about her awards. When I saw it, I just cried. For now, I’ve decided it cannot be under glass. I need to and do touch it often.”

     There’s the family you’re born into. There’s the family you choose. And then, for many, there’s the comfort of a church family.
     The Unitarian Universalist Meeting House (UUMH) in Chatham has found a unique way to celebrate all of the ways we define our families while sharing their talent, their stories and the keepsakes they’ve shared with us along the way.
     What makes this art show unique is that the art comes from the homes of members of the UUMH congregation. The 16 participants each loaned one or two works for the exhibition that hold special meaning for their families. Alongside each piece is a short explanation of its significance and why they love it. The lenders experienced this as an opportunity to look at the art on their walls in a new way because they would be sharing it publicly and explaining the meaning. Beth Avery of Orleans, a UUMH member for 12 years and a member of the art committee, came up with the idea for the Family Art show. She explained that she owes the inspiration for the exhibition’s concept to, of all things, a tiny chicken made of twisted wire.
I was cleaning out my store room at home, and in the bottom of a box of old photos I found this little wire chicken sculpture, and it immediately made me laugh,” Avery said.
     The little wire chicken transported Avery to a memory of her first job, operating a telephone switchboard at age 18. A telephone repairman had left some odds and ends of colored wire following a switchboard repair, and Avery and her fellow switchboard operator used the bits and pieces to craft little sculptures to pass the time during quiet periods during which nobody was making telephone calls.
     “It brought back fond memories as well as a feeling of freedom, as if I was saying, ‘I am not going to be the victim of my own boredom! I am going to be creative!’” Avery said.
     She soon began to wonder if others in the church congregation might have works of art “squirreled away” in some closet or drawer which they’ve held onto over the years because of an emotional attachment. Perhaps, like Avery, they’d saved something they’d made themselves. Maybe they’d saved something created by a loved one. Or maybe they’d simply saved something because the colors and design spoke to them. Avery ran the idea by a couple of church members, and the response was enthusiastic.
     “There was a slow reaction at first, and then suddenly there were more and more until I got to a point where I said I’d better put a hold on this, because I'm running out of hooks to hang things! That’s how it all started,” Avery said.
Congregation member Danielle Jeanloz of Chatham found the Family Art show to be an unexpected opportunity to get to know fellow church members in an entirely new way.
     “I got to know people in the congregation through their art,” Jeanloz said. “Rather than stand around and talk, you could feel like you were being invited into their homes. That excited me about it. I’d never heard of anything like it, and I was inspired by it.”
Avery said that although she doesn’t tend to be an extremely emotional person, she is struck by the heartwarming effects of the items on display and the stories shared by their owners.
     “It’s the unexpected heartfelt emotions that come up as people take this opportunity to recognize and honor the people and the memories of their lives,” Avery said. “Even today, when I was standing in the middle of the room, I could feel like there was a big hug going on.”
     Pay a visit to the UUMH’s Family Art show,
available to the public every Sunday through March 5 during the coffee hour following services, with flexible visiting hours from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or so.