More humble than their city cousins these rural outposts of religion radiate all the goodness of grandparents and inspire poets and painters to distill those childhood feelings into a few words or a handful of brush strokes.
“It’s pleasant here for dreams and thinking,” said English poet Robert Graves in his poem A Boy in Church. Elegies have been written.
Artist Monica Forrestall thinks about country churches too. She can’t stop thinking about them.
“I have spent an enormous amount of time as a child in and around churches and had long wanted to create a body of work on the churches of the area,” she said.
When Jaime Lee Lightle, Round Hill Studio owner in Annapolis Royal, invited her to propose an idea for a show, Forrestall offered country churches and Lightle committed to a September show titled Worshiped: The Compelling Charm and History of Country Churches.
“I have long been wanting to do a body of work based on rural churches of the area, and to do it with Round Hill Studio seemed like a perfect fit,” she said. “I started working out a plan and started creating work for the show in the city (New York) and then continued here when I arrived in late June.”
Forrestall said her series of pieces pays tribute to the architecture, the landscape, the events and the history, the social life, and the dedicated caretakers of these churches.
The exhibition is fueled by a passion to focus attention on the simplicity and beauty of rural churches. She comes by it honestly, having grown up in an artistic and very religious family.
“I spent many summer afternoons playing in and around churches and graveyards of this area as a child with my siblings, as my father sketched,” she said. “As I grew older, I joined him at times, painting in and around churches of the area and developed a lifelong appreciation of these churches’ importance to the history of the region.”
During summers as a child, her family attended two churches in Annapolis Royal and Cornwallis. She spent a great deal of time there, playing -- and sometimes posing -- in those churches.
“The adjoining graveyards were familiar playgrounds for us, filled with fascinating things to explore or hide behind during games of hide-and-seek,” she said. “For me, summer and rural churches are forever happily and memorably linked.”
Forrestall said the role of a church in rural society has changed. Populations shrink, demographics change, and the much beloved churches, once all-important anchoring meeting places of a community, evolve and change, and sometimes struggle to survive.
“They continue to be loved and maintained for those that still worship, even if these services inside of them only take place once or twice a year,” she said. “The buildings themselves are loved by those with an appreciation for interesting and picturesque structures of historic and architectural importance.”
But it’s not just the structures. She wonders about the people.
“Having had a family friend who was a long-time curator and caretaker of a couple of historic churches of the area, I wonder about the caretakers and the parishioners who attend services,” she said. “What their lives are like, and how continuing to be a church-goer impacts their lives.”
When she passes by old churches of the area, her feelings may differ depending if she has personal memories of the space.
“If I’ve been in it, or played in and around it, if my great grandmother is buried there (as she is in the cemetery of Old St. Edwards Church in Clementsport) my memories are more personal and deeper.”
“We are very excited about Monica’s show,” said Lightle. “I have seen some of the work she has prepared for this exhibit but I am eager to see the rest. She has such a unique and imaginative quality to her work.”
Lightle said the theme -- Country Churches -- has a connection to the area. “Churches, like communities, families, and individuals have a history and to see them unfold in art will be amazing.”
Worshiped: The Compelling Charm and History of Country Churches runs from Sept. 1 to 30 with a reception Sept. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. Round Hill Studio is at 280 St. George Street, Annapolis Royal.
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