Painting portraits of healing
DILLON – There are six pairs of eyes looking at the congregation at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church, and no matter where a person sits, the eyes connect.
It’s not a connection that makes church-goers squirm. They are not the eyes of a vengeful God. They are the strong and compassionate eyes of human beings who seek healing.
The six pairs of eyes act as a window to the diversity of
middle-class Americans and their need to connect with each other.
A committee for the Lutheran church commissioned Silverthorne artist Bonnie Norling Wakeman to paint the murals for its synod assembly, held May 22-24 in Fort Collins. Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church will display the portraits until September.
At the far left of the altar, a successful black man with glasses connects with the congregation as he holds a broken, green, ceramic bowl. Next to him, a prepubescent boy with blond hair holds a jagged bowl. Near the altar, a woman who looks as if she’s in her 40s and exudes the character of a confident business associate holds her bowl. To the right, a middle-aged man with a friendly face, a Japanese-American and a young girl also hold broken bowls in their hands.
Four of the six murals are portraits of locals. Tyler Reinking, Ray Caswell and Debbie and Emily Griffith originally offered their hands as models for pictures Norling Wakeman took to help her paint the hands in her portraits. She didn’t consider their faces at first – she had researched faces to paint in myriad books and magazines. It wasn’t until she imported the digital pictures of the hands onto her computer that she realized the perfect faces were staring at her – behind the hands she had photographed.
“I needed them to connect with people,” Norling Wakeman said. “I wanted people to connect. That’s the whole purpose of this – learning how to connect to other people.”
Originally, Norling Wakeman planned to paint ethnic people holding hands to represent healing, but as she sketched, she realized she needed to bring the message home.
“It’s not about, “The world needs so much help,'” she said. “Let’s look in our own backyard, in our own community. It needed to be a representation of Lutherans’ the American person who’s really in need for healing.”
Norling Wakeman chose images of strong, successful-looking individuals purposefully.
“Nothing’s wrong with any of these people,” she said. “They’re pretty much typical middle Americans.”
Typical Americans who admit they are in need of healing and connection.
“It’s obvious when someone’s starving to see the need,” she said. “But when you’ve got everything – it’s the hidden stuff in the mind, the heart, the soul, that to me is a need we don’t often admit. Especially in a church like this, we can look like we have it all together – everyone looks so put together. But we don’t have it all together, and (it’s about) how we can share that. We are a community that needs each other.”
The muted-colored portraits convey different messages to different people. Some see people hungering for healing. Others see people both giving and receiving.
“The expressions on their faces really run the gamut of how we approach the world and how we approach one another,” said Glenda Bumpus, who is on the church’s art committee. “I see something different in the gestures of each one.”
Pastor Rich Mayfield sees a theme of healing a broken world.
“If ever there was a time we need to address the brokenness of society, now’s the time,” Mayfield said. “Our mandate as Christians is to seek healing in the world, and so we seek … avenues of community support.”
Congregation members Jan and Phyllis Updike also see the message of world healing in the murals, and they hope to borrow the portraits to take them to Pari, Italy, for a seminar that focuses on compassion, reconciliation, creativity and social well-being in the world.
“This is when art goes beyond – it’s not about me,” Norling Wakeman said. “It’s my gift to the church community. It’s been such a thrill to see such emotional reactions, because that’s really what you hope art will do.”
Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or by e-mail at
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