In a nice exercise in interfaith generosity and artistry, students at Livonia's Madonna University recently completed an extensive mural in the parish house at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit.

Even better, the crew from the Catholic university got help from one of Michigan's most-distinguished muralists, Kresge Artist Fellow Hubert Massey, who'd just completed his own huge fresco at Cobo Center, "Detroit: Crossroad of Innovation." 

When Madonna reached out to Massey, the school thought he'd just suggest another artist who could help. They never dreamed he'd offer himself. 

"I get a great joy working with students," Massey said Thursday, "and getting them excited creating murals. It was really fun."

As it happens, Madonna students have volunteered at St. Peter's on the university's Franciscan Day of Service for years, helping with the Corktown church's outreach to under-served populations. 

A couple years ago, Janet Ray — a church member who teaches social work at the University of Michigan — suggested a mural would really brighten up a drab stairway in the Peace and Justice Hive, as the parish house is known. 

"And that was all she needed to say," said Dzennin Casab, Madonna's director of service learning and civic engagement. "We have a great relationship with the Ford Fund, so I wrote a grant which they awarded." 

Madonna graphic-design Prof. Robin Ward and art-history Prof. Deborah Kawsky put the word out, and before long they had nine student volunteers, only two of whom were art students.

"We didn't know if we could do the mural ourselves," said Kawsky, "but Hubert said we could, and that he'd tell us everything we needed."

Mural-making is a challenging task. You have to start with a small rendering, and then — using a grid system — transfer that to life-sized paper on the wall itself.

Once the rendering has been blown up to scale, you use a "pouncer" to perforate the paper along the lines that have been drawn. Then you bap a small bag filled with charcoal dust along the holes, which transfers the outlines of the design onto the wall itself.

After that? You paint, starting with the big stuff first, and filling in details last. 

Initial hopes were that the whole process would take a few months. Instead, it stretched out to almost nine — with students hard at work early most every Saturday morning. 

"It was a blast," said Natalie Taylor, who's getting her master's degree in social work at Madonna. "Painting is my passion. And I was ecstatic to get to meet Hubert Massey and learn from him." 

The resulting mural will be unveiled Saturday morning. It which represents the social-justice work the church engages in and covers three walls at the bottom of a series of steps.

Images include a large sunflower, a hive with bees — think of the parish house's name -- hands holding picket signs demanding peace and water for all, along with an image of Renaissance Center and the Ambassador Bridge. 

The result is a community artwork that thrills the church. 

"The mural beautifully depicts St. Peter's long-standing commitment to stand for the poor in our neighborhood and city," said Rev. Denise Griebler. "We're very grateful to the artists who collaborated with us."

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 




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