Early on the morning of April 15, 2001 — Easter Sunday, to be exact — an arson fire ripped through the church’s hilltop sanctuary. The blaze caused an estimated $1.3 million in damage to the 1950s-style A-frame building on Fredericks Street and its contents, including mosaics, stained glass windows and a massive portrait of Jesus Christ.
When the church celebrated the opening of its new home seven years later, the festivities included an art show.
“Certainly within the history of the Christian church, art has played a pretty central role,” said Rick Uhls, pastor of San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church (SLOUMC). “Any time we’re engaged in the arts, we’re engaged in tapping into the creativity of the divine.”
The 10th annual Beacon Art Show celebrates a decade of divine inspiration — both sacred and secular — this spring. The group exhibition, which coincides with the church’s 150th anniversary, kicked off with an opening reception and awards ceremony March 3 and runs through April 2.
This year’s show features 66 pieces by 43 artists working in a variety of media, from painting, photography and sculpture to fiber arts and woodworking. The youngest artist is 14, Beacon Arts Show chair Beth Mott said, while the oldest is in her mid-80s.
“This really is our gift to the community,” Mott said.
“The arts are so important to all ages of people in the community — from children all the way up to the most senior of senior citizens. It makes such a difference in their lives,” she said. “Globally, the arts have the same impact.”
From the start, the Beacon Art Show — created by a team led by former pastor Jane Voigts and onetime congregation member Joe Timmons — has sought to bridge the gap between two distinct segments of society.
By offering a space to showcase and celebrate art, Uhls said, SLOUMC “provides a safe way for the arts community to become engaged with a part of the Christian church that is simply trying to welcome and support and not necessarily convert anybody.”
“It gives us another way of … showing we care for the community, and those who are outside our own community of faith,” added Uhls, who came aboard as pastor in 2012.
Although many of the submissions have a spiritual side, Mott stressed that the Beacon Art Show is not strictly religious. Yet, whatever its perspective, she said, each piece “reflects a part of God’s world.”
Each year, a four-person panel of judges sifts through dozens of entries and singles out a few for special recognition. In addition to accolades, SLOUMC awards cash prizes ranging from $100 to $300 each.
One artwork a year receives the Purchase Award, becoming part of the church’s permanent art collection. (This year’s recipient, selected by a separate judging panel, was “Embracing” by Ellen Jewett.) SLOUMC does not take a commission when works are sold, Mott said, noting that some galleries and art sellers keep as much as 50 percent of the profits.
Each year’s show follows a different theme based on a suggestion by a congregation member. This year’s theme was “Windows to the Soul.”
Some of the artists interpreted the theme literally.
Gregory McIntosh’s painting “Hope,” which won second place, depicts a barred window set deep in a cracked and crumbling wall, while Blair Kibley reveals swirls of radiant color in her painting “Openings, Your Potential,” winner of one of three Merit Awards. (Also receiving Merit Awards were Rod Baker’s “Chinese Checkers Board” and Marcie Hawthorne’s “Iris Meditation.” “Buckeye Burl Hollow Form” by Barry Lundgren won third prize.)
Others, such as Best in Show-winning artist Glynis C. Tinglof, took a more abstract approach.
Her contemplative painting “5 Lines — Whence the Source,” part of her new “Placed Lines” series, explores the connections between her parents, sisters and herself — represented by interwoven geometric shapes.
“All five of us had our birth order, our genetic makeup, determined by the randomness of chance. We were thrown together to make our way through life as a family unit,” Tinglof, who also won Best in Show in 2013, wrote in an email. “Artwork,” she added, “helps me retain the good times and to unravel and understand the not-so-great times.”
According to Mott, youth education coordinator at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the Beacon Art Show isn’t simply limited to the visual arts.
Former San Luis Obispo poet laureate and longtime Solo Press publisher Glenna Luschei led a poetry-writing workshop, “Stained Glass,” on Saturday. She and other poets will read from their work on March 19.
Also in store are a March 25 pop concert by the band Boomerang and a March 26 performance by SLOUMC’s traditional bell choir, Bel Canto Ringers.
“This is just the start of a whole year of celebration” tied to the church’s anniversary, Mott said, that will include concerts, interfaith gatherings and more. There’s also an exhibit of photos chronicling 150 years of history.
The anniversary festivities will culminate in a Sunday celebration Sept. 10 featuring visits from former church pastors and United Methodist Church bishop Grant Hagiya.
At a time when “so many of our churches are either closed or closing or declining, we’re really actively looking forward to what the future holds for us,” Uhls said, “and how we can be a vibrant community of faith in the same San Luis Obispo area for years to come.”