Art from Berne, for Berne

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

You are the seed being planted: Wendy Cook, pastor of the Helderberg Evangelical Lutheran Church, speaks to a group of seven young photography students at the Berne Library on Dec. 23. She told the story of what inspired her idea for the Community Arts Project they were joining: Cook was handed a new set of stamps depicting modern art and cried in the post office, remembering the beauty of art in life. The idea that Berne is missing public art led Cook to conceive of artwork made and designed by the community. “Let’s do something people can get excited about,” Cook told the students. 

BERNE — Wendy Cook had a moment of revelation after she wept in the Berne Post Office lobby: She would promote community art in the Hilltowns.

Sitting in the front row of the Berne Town Board meeting this month, Cook described her vision for art that is publicly viewable and collaborative.

Cook, the pastor of the Helderberg Evangelical Lutheran Church, calls it “The Community Arts Project.” Her chief goal is to have a public installation of art designed by Berne residents.

From the age of 8 to 16, Cook walked every Saturday morning to art classes at The Cleveland Institute of Art, sketching exhibits in the museum, staining glass, and oil painting. Her father valued personal expression as a part of life.

“It’s yourself that you’re putting out there, and you’re saying something about your emotional state, about your background, your viewpoint, your perspective on the world,” said Cook.

Cook went this year to the Berne Post Office to buy more stamps and asked, as she always does, for the latest ones with a special image. She was handed stamps depicting contemporary art.

“I started to cry right there in the lobby of the post office, because I realized it had been so long since I had seen modern art,” she said of her inspiration.

The project’s steering committee includes Cook; Kathleen Stempel, who works at the Berne Library; and Laura Provo-Parker, an artist who has taught art in public schools. 

As their first project, the women are planning a collection of images taken, with borrowed cameras and cellphones, from around Berne by 13- to 18-year-olds. Out of 10 photographs, five would be taken throughout the community and five would be of the photographer’s choice.

The town board approved a $75 expenditure for “Photography as Art” from the youth council.

The teenagers met in the library on Dec. 23, where Provo-Parker gave lessons on lighting, composition, and the history of photography. They will return on Saturday to talk over the merits of their photographs and choose ones for printing. Then they’ll meet again on Jan. 2 to frame and hang them. The final destination of the photographs hasn’t been determined, said Cook.

Though the project isn’t tied to the church, Cook noted the first verb in the Bible is “create.”

“All people are creative, because we are made in God’s image and God is creative; therefore, we are, too,” said Cook. She said she has heard farmers describe nature poetically and noted Berne boasts a theater group, the Hilltowns Players.

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