BANGOR, Maine — Leia Riker leaned over the work table in the “big room” of Redeemer Lutheran Church and peered over the green community she had constructed out of found objects. The 7-year-old Bangor girl slowly and carefully applied sky-blue paint to the back of a small building made of scrap wood.
At a nearby table, Iann Leigh, 7, of Bangor placed a waterwheel next to his lake to generate electricity. The car he parked in a driveway in the green town he created sported a “solar panel” atop its roof.
They were two of about 50 children entering grades between kindergarten and seventh this fall who spent the week in Art Camp at the Essex Street church. This summer marked the 10th year the congregation has offered an opportunity to sample the visual and performing arts.
This year’s theme was “Go Green,” Jennifer Batron, camp director, said Wednesday. Previous themes have included “Imagine,” “Building a Peaceable Kingdom,” “Four Seasons” and “Rhythm and Blue.”
“Ten years ago, we wanted to open our doors to the whole community,” the Rev. Elaine Hewes, pastor of Redeemer,” said of the program’s origin.
They decided to try something different from the traditional vacation Bible school offered by many Christian denominations and offer a more secular but still spiritual program.
“The purpose we decided on was to expose children who live in the neighborhood surrounding the church to the visual and performing arts that they might not have the opportunity to experience otherwise,” Batron, who lives in Exeter and teaches fourth grade in Dexter, said. “Also, we tend to have a lot of artistic people in our congregation,”
On the first anniversary of Art Camp, Hewes cited the growing awareness among mainstream Christian denominations that there’s a significant relationship between faith and the arts.
“For a long time, I’ve felt that the expression of faith and art go together really well,” she said in 2002. “Art allows God to enter us, not just through the brain, but through the heart as well. Secondly, we know that kids love art. We want them to love church. This way, they can do both together.”
Children who attend other Christian churches, the local synagogues and the Orono mosque have attended Art Camp, she said.
“The lessons are under the surface,” Hewes said Wednesday. “It’s about the kids feeling good about themselves, being in a place where they are respected and encouraged and can express themselves.”
This summer’s theme focuses on caring for the earth and alternative energy.
Dance teacher Barbie Yurik of Beckley, W.Va., helped the children visualize the impact an increasing population can have in a limited space through dance and sock puppets.
“We start with a small amount of people, adding a few more at a time,” she said. “Then, we bring in the sock puppets so that we have even more people in the same amount of space.”
One of the things that has not changed over the years, Hewes said, is the use of assemblage to visually represent the theme. This summer, campers are creating “green” communities.
Assemblage is a sculptural technique of composing into a unified whole a group of unrelated and often fragmentary or discarded objects, according to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Art.
Garvey Melmed,14, of Greenbush has attended Redeemer and taken part in Art Camp for as long as he can remember. This year, he’s working as a “shepherd” or helper for the younger children. He said Wednesday that even though he’s aged out of the program, it still was a fun environment and an opportunity to be involved in art, something that is not a regular activity for the teenager.
“This is the most artistic I get,” he said.