OPEN HOUSE WEEKEND at ST. MARY’S CHURCH, WANSTEAD:
An ART PROJECT by students at WANSTEAD HOUSE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION.
The exhibition linked two local communities: St. Mary’s Church in the Parish of Wanstead. and Wanstead House Community Association, a community centre where art classes are run by Redbridge Institute of Adult Education.
As artists we set out on this project to challenge ourselves: to open the imagination, expand our experience of looking at the world around us and to compose from life; a contrast from working in the studio where much is created from existing pictures, photos and still life set-ups. We hoped to give a flavour of what art can do.
Churches have been centres of art for centuries. The buildings themselves are often of architectural significance. Art was used to inspire and artists were commissioned to produce many forms including paintings, sculpture, carvings and stained glass. Wall paintings were a way of telling stories, particularly in the days of widespread illiteracy. In medieval times, the church was probably the only place where people came into contact with art; pews, pulpits and memorials were designed to impress. Artists have also recorded and made their own interpretations of both the interior and exterior structures: J.W.M.Turner painted St. Mary’s
before the present church was built.
The church is a repository of local history including the building itself, the interior memorials and the headstones in the graveyard. St Mary’s Church is the only Grade One listed building in Redbridge. Designed by Thomas Hardwick in the Georgian style, the church was built in 1790, as part of the Wanstead Park estate. The building reflected the prosperity of the owner of Wanstead Park, whose memorial stands in the chancel. Many elements in the church, such as the pulpit with its’ palm tree supports, relate to the imperial wealth on which Wanstead Park was founded.
From an artist’s point of view, St. Mary’s provided numerous possibilities for compositions from the furnishings and memorials to the different views of the inside of the building. Some of the group felt that the style of the interior was austere and, with it’s “family” box pews and galleries above, implying the authority that the church would have had at the time, as well as a rigid social order. The exterior has many features of interest from the bell tower and the front portico to the gravestones enhanced by nature around: the trees, the ivy and the effects of time.
The media used included pencil, charcoal, acrylic, watercolour, pen and ink. Some works in the exhibition were completed on-site. Some were created at home from sketches and photographs. The artwork was placed in the pews and on easels around the building. It helped to lead visitors around, enhancing their experience of looking at the church during the Open House Weekend. It gave an alternative way of seeing the church and an alternative use for it.
Open House Weekend September 2009
the work can be seen at