Churches dot the Sampson County landscape, large in number, steeped in history and each completely different from the next. Nearly every church has a rich past that spans decades of weddings, baptisms, funerals and fellowship — each has a story worth telling.
The Sampson Arts Council, through an ambitious project, is hoping that local artists will tell that story on canvas, creating original art that showcases the eye-catching characteristics — steeples, front doors, stained glass windows, pulpits or a look at the entire church — that identify those religious havens to their parishioners and the entire community.
To that end, the Arts Council and the “Small House Painters” are inviting the county to participate in “The Churches of Sampson County,” a public exhibit that would act not only to highlight Sampson’s unique architecture and rich heritage of churches, but also shine the light on artistic talent from across the county.
Sampson Arts Council board member Paula Fitzpatrick, who serves as project chair, said the countywide endeavor is the first of its kind for the Arts Council, as it has been opened to the county and will ultimately become a traveling exhibit to communities after a showcase at the Small House later this year.
With some assistance from the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, the Arts Council sent letters to every church listed in Sampson County, more than 150 in total, urging members of each congregation to produce an image of their church, whether through watercolor, oil, acrylic, colored pencil, pastel or graphite, for the exhibit.
Fitzpatrick and Kara Donatelli, executive director of the Sampson Arts Council, said that while limited feedback has been received as of yet, they are hopeful participation will be high.
“We’re encouraging at least one person from their church to create an art image,” said Fitzpatrick.
Along with being a board member, Fitzpatrick teaches watercolor classes for adults and homeschool children. The idea for “The Churches of Sampson County” was first broached at an Arts Council board meeting, where members expressed their desire to see a countywide arts initiative. Fitzpatrick relayed the “friends, faith and fellowship” theme used in her past classes.
“If you’ve got 170-some pieces, that’s a lot of artwork,” said Fitzpatrick. “That’s the list we had. There may be more. Some are not in traditional church settings.”
“It will be really interesting to see how many participate,” said Donatelli.
There is no age restriction, but all artwork must be property presented and recognizable.
“There is no restriction as far as what the image is, as long as it is representational of part of their church. It may be a steeple, a door, their pulpit, stained glass window … just not a photo. We want them to produce the work by hand,” Fitzpatrick noted.
All submissions are due at the Small House by Sept. 2 so they can be displayed in time for a reception slated for Sept. 11.
“It will take us a while to group them and hang them,” said Fitzpatrick. “If they have more than one piece, that is fine. We will get it in here, somewhere, somehow. We may be wall to wall.”
Following the unveiling, the artwork will stay at the Small House through Oct. 30 before being taken on the road. The Arts Council will divide the county into six sections and select an appropriate location to display the exhibit, expected to feature artwork from that particular section of the county.
“The work that is exhibited in that area will be strictly theirs,” Fitzpatrick noted. “That will give them the opportunity to enjoy the art, interact with each other and if they want to have bake sales or whatever kind of activity during that exhibit time, that’s part of what we’re encouraging — more participation. We want for them to interact with their own community as well as with the arts since we are the county Arts Council not the Clinton Arts Council.”
Along with the art display, Fitzpatrick said people at those locations could elect to hold special activities in conjunction with the exhibit, including fundraisers, bake sales, picnics or other events to bring in the community.
“This is not a competition or a juried show. It is an exhibit, with local talent,” Fitzpatrick attested. “If you have five people do the same church, more than likely those five pieces are not going to look alike.”
All artwork must be no larger than 11 x 14 inches framed, and all framed mediums must have glass, with the exception of oil and acrylic paintings. Everybody will be asked to place a value on their artwork if they want to sell it.
“We will not establish that. That will be up to them,” said Fitzpatrick, who said sales are encouraged. “There is a commission that goes to the Arts Council which helps provide enough income to offer exhibits and receptions. We encourage all of the artists who participate to offer things for sale, which helps defray the expense to the Arts Council and offer workshops, student programs and public classes.”
Along with encouraging countywide participation in an event and showcasing churches from across Sampson, the endeavor aims to bring the arts to everyone.
“We want to be a resource for them and help them and guide them if they need it,” Fitzpatrick noted. “It is our hope that it will be well-received and that we can build on the response with future exhibits. We hope it will open up some responses to encourage every area to participate in art. Our goal is to get them active in art, to participate, enjoy and encourage each other.”
For more about the “Churches of Sampson County” project, contact Paula Fitzpatrick at 910-596-0000 or Kara Donatelli, at 910-596-2533. To read more about events and activities at the Sampson Arts Council, visit www.sampsonarts.net.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.