Displaced by the closing of a local senior center, a group of Bangor-area painters has been meeting for the past year in the vestry hall of a historic local church. Now, in a show of support and appreciation, they have created a unique piece of art to help finance needed repairs to the roof of the church that has become their new home.
When the Hammond Street Senior Center in Bangor closed its doors last November, members found other places to pursue their interests — cribbage, yoga, pottery, gardening and more. For the group of about 20 painters who had been meeting weekly at the center for many years, it was important to find a space large enough to accommodate their numbers and their supplies. It had to have good natural light and be easily accessible, with plenty of parking.
“Some of us have been painting together for 10 years or more,” said 76-year-old Necia Yates of Levant. “For some in our group, this is the only social activity all week. Staying together was very important.”
The problem was solved when Rev. Grace Bartlett, pastor at the First Congregational Church of Brewer, offered up the use of the vestry hall. Members of her small congregation belonged to the painters’ group, called Age(less) Artists, and had mentioned the need.
“I said, ‘We have space; why not use it?’” Bartlett said. “And lo and behold, they came right over.”
At first, the arrangement was temporary, since the senior center was expected to reopen in a new location. But when that fell through, “we welcomed them on board for the long term,” Bartlett said.
The group has been meeting there every Monday morning ever since.
“They have provided a wonderful space for us, with plenty of room and wonderful light,” Yates said. The group donates $30 a week toward heat, lights and other expenses, as well as hanging an ever-changing exhibit of their work on the vestry walls. There was even a public art show last summer. A few members of the church, including Bartlett, have also been drawn into the group.
Then, last spring, it became evident that the church roof needed some big, expensive repairs. Completed in 1898, the church sits on a ledge beside the Penobscot River. Steeply pitched, with many slopes and angles, the roof bears the brunt of high winds blowing off river.
“Every winter, the winds do a real number on the roof,” Bartlett said.
Already, there are leaks and minor interior damage. The estimated cost of the repairs is $10,000 to $15,000, Bartlett said — a steep expense for her small church. An existing maintenance fund, established through the bequest of a former member, will help cover the cost. She’s hoping the church’s parent organization, the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ, will contribute, too. But there’s a significant need for local fundraising as well, she said, through church fairs and other efforts.
“A loan is an option, but it’s really the last resort. We’re trying to pay as we go, because we’re such a small group,” she said.
When the painters learned of the situation, they wanted to help.
“Not for religious purposes,” Yates said. “We wanted to show our gratitude for the use of the space and to help preserve this beautiful building.” After some deliberation, they decided to use their creative talents to make a quilt that could be raffled to raise money for the roof.
Given the age and importance of the church, the group agreed to paint scenes of historic importance, drawing on the listings in the Brewer Register of Historic Places. The result is a queen-size quilt of 16 hand-painted squares. The squares feature historic homes, public buildings, monuments and churches — including, of course, the First Congregational Church itself. The borders of the quilt pay tribute to the river, the forests and Brewer’s brickmaking history.
Already, the quilt has brought in over $500 from the sale of raffle tickets — $2 each or 6 for $10 — primarily from church members and members of the Brewer Historical Society. Yates is hopeful that by the time the raffle is drawn on Easter Sunday 2017, it will have raised three times that, or more.
The quilt will be on display this Saturday, Nov. 12, at a Special Olympics craft fair at the Skehan Recreation Center in Hampden (the former Hampden Academy) and at a First Congregational Church of Brewer fair the following Saturday, Nov. 19. Tickets can also be purchased at the church office, located behind City Hall at 35 Church St. in Brewer, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, and from the artists themselves at the vestry on Monday mornings from 9 to 12. Necia Yates may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.