TCF at Studio Beerhorst
One of the many benefits of working for The Colossian Forum is spending five days every two years on mission or community service leave. Earlier this month, I worked with Grand Rapids-based artist Rick Beerhorst. Handmade Portraits: The Beerhorst Family from Etsy on Vimeo. After completing his education, Rick was awarded a large grant and produced a series of large-scale paintings that were then donated to a handful of Grand Rapids homeless shelters. Working from a studio on Division, Rick drew and then painted the homeless into scenes from the Gospels including Jesus Walking on the Water, the Triumphal Entry, and the Last Supper. Visit Dégagé Ministries, God’s Kitchen, or Mel Trotter today and you’ll see these paintings hanging as visible testimonies, a personalized Paupers’ Bible for the Grand Rapids street people. Rick has recently returned to the neighborhood, drawing the homeless as a form of listening and hospitality. Last year Rick was diagnosed bipolar and spent much of this year putting the pieces back together. I’m privileged to work alongside Rick as his part-time business manager, and this week of leave--a real gift to us both--gave me the opportunity to spend a concentrated amount of time with him, listening and learning, pushing and encouraging. Rick, his wife Brenda, and I began each day by praying the hours in Rick’s carriage house studio – just like we do as a TCF staff. After prayer, I outlined a basic agenda for the day, and we got to work. The first day we began with photography. It’s important for artists to capture images of their work, and not just for their websites or e-commerce, but also for archival purposes. That said, it’s easy to forget a piece or two, and I wanted to be sure that Rick was up-to-date with images. In some cases (see “Self-Portrait,” 1982 below), that meant repairing works so that they could be photographed. [caption id="attachment_7724" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Repairing “Self-Portrait,” 1982[/caption] After photographing dozens of paintings and works on paper, Rick then edited the images so that I could post them to his website and Etsy shop. Towards the middle of the week we turned our attention from cataloguing existing work to creating new work. In addition to painting and sculpture, Rick created a number of woodcut prints (including several that The Colossian Forum has used in its Colossian Way Experience). I wanted to be sure that he had prints of his more than 150 woodcut blocks available for sale, and so we inventoried his existing prints, and began filling in the gaps. This led to a collaborative effort on several woodcut print collages, a great opportunity to see Rick at work in his studio. Using heavy cotton rag paper, and a wide variety of ephemera collected by Rick and Brenda, we printed, cut, and assembled eight collages (see “Self-Portrait with Dresser” collage below for one example). [caption id="attachment_7725" align="aligncenter" width="300"] “Self-Portrait with Dresser” collage[/caption] Towards the end of the week, we began to focus on preparing works for The Big Bang Art Show, an annual folk art show here in Grand Rapids. For works on paper like drawings and woodcut prints, that meant putting each work of art into a plastic sleeve along with a cardboard backer to protect the work. I insisted that works in Rick’s flat file needed to be seen and made available for sale. I was extremely encouraged, then, when Rick called me first thing Saturday morning from the show to let me know that a $600 drawing had sold. “Thanks,” he said, “for pulling those drawings out of the file. If you hadn’t, that drawing wouldn’t have sold.” That might seem insignificant, or for those unaccustomed to the price of original art, ridiculous, but Rick and his family depend upon the sale of their art for food and shelter. That sale meant another month of groceries and some gas for the car. Our work in the preceding week had paid off, and it was all thanks to The Colossian Forum. Now more than ever, I’m convinced that art and artists need our attention. Often marginalized, they’re essential to human flourishing, and, some (including myself) would argue, theology and the life of faith.