Custer Avenue view of Reba Place Church and new wall paintings. (Submitted photo)

Six newly painted banners on the outside of Reba Place Church tell an important story of the house of worship’s mission. 

The building’s west wall, facing Custer, has been bare since the community acquired it in 1980. But the congregation had long wished to put something “on the outside” of the building that would describe or represent what went on “on the inside – who they are and what they care about.

Artist and member Rob Larson was proud to paint this story at 620 Madison St., on the southeast corner of Madison and Custer Avenues. The building was formerly an industrial garage, where buses were stored and painted. 

Installation of “Welcoming Everyone,” with artist Rob Larson on ladder and Peter Varela on scaffolding. (Submitted photo)

Ideas for the designs came from the Reba Church’s identity statement and from the congregation. The Leadership Team took the concept to the congregation where feedback helped with the final subject choices. During the pandemic, when the building could not be used for indoor church services, it became an art studio, where the canvases were spread and painted on the floor. Larson had at least twenty-five helpers painting, including children.

The first and largest of the paintings, 12’x14,’ traveling north to south, is called “Encountering Jesus and the Anabaptist Movement,” said Pastor Charlotte Lehman. The Reba Church is Mennonite in origin, part of the Anabaptist movement. “Anabaptist” means “rebaptizing,” she said.

The figure of Jesus is prominent in this painting, in a red robe. The background was inspired by a Lake Michigan sunrise, suggesting a new day and hope. A fruiting tree of birds tending their nests of babies conveys home and refuge and two jumping fish (and a third hidden in the water) refer to the Trinity.

Artist Rob Larson and Pastor Charlotte Lehman. (Photo provided by Gay Riseborough)

The pictures are painted on custom cut, heavyweight cotton duck canvas, hemmed and grommeted so they could easily be mounted without causing damage to the brick wall. Outdoor latex/acrylic house paint was used, with layers of clear waterproofing and UV protective coatings.

The remaining five paintings are somewhat smaller, 8’x 8,’ and are based primarily on quilt patterns. Quilting is a Mennonite tradition and the quilting square concept brought cohesiveness to the overall design, said artist-designer Larson. 

These five paintings denote stories that involve themes including slaves escaping who follow the North Star to freedom, civil rights, the power of music, inclusivity, learning from others from our own community and around the globe, and the many gifts we receive in life. 

The concept of this project and the designs for these paintings were shown to the Evanston Arts Council by Larson and Lehman in May 2021. Larson was thrilled to receive the community’s artistic endorsement and support for his project. 

Gay Riseborough

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.

One reply on “Reba Place Church murals reflect freedom and inclusivity”

  1. The more murals we have all over town the more it gives an artistic and cultural feeling to our town. When I was in Kansas City Missouri after my covid shot, and camping I noticed that there were murals all over town and it gave the town a sense of place and a very fun feel. I say blow it up. Do more. All over town, everywhere you can. This will also be a great counterbalance to the t-shirts that say Evanston stinks because of our skunk problem. And, maybe how people think less about all our political problems. Make them remember the good stuff. Imprint it on their heads by giving people fun places to take pictures in front of. Also, more plant design by way of xeroscaping- it’s not just the Salt Lake City & Park City Utah thing. This will also cut down the amount of mowable grass as well as watering and making us more easily environmentally sound.

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