Volume 39, Issue 4 :: by Helle Scharling-Todd
Editor’s Note: Artist Helle Scharling-Todd of Ventura, California was asked to decorate the interiors of two Danish churches to reinvigorate the spaces and, by extension, the congregations. You can see more photos of these projects on Faith & Form’s website at www.faithandform.com. Her account of the projects, and how she approached them, follows.
In Denmark the Church, as everywhere else, is being challenged to update its appearance. Although church attendance is at a low 5 percent, the renewal of many small village churches throughout the country is being accomplished with positive results. I was commissioned to renew the Uhre and Hogager Churches, in Jutland, Denmark, to transform their gray and brown interiors into modern, inspiring places of worship.
At the Uhre Church, the first move was to bring in light by installing a stained-glass window in the end wall; next, to combine the glass colors with the interior, such as benches, pulpit, baptismal font, window sills, organ, and doors. I decided to use green as the dominant color, to represent a re-greening of Christianity. The church council and architect agreed, signaling a decisive change. The benches should be like a spring garden, green with yellow cushions and backs, and a light bluish cold touch. This color combination is repeated with small changes; the door, however, is rose red to break with so much green and to give a warm lift when you are leaving the room. The semicircle by the altar, which is a communion bench, has a yellow cushion, like a radiating diadem, tying the colors together. To give depth a dark green carpet runs from the door to the altar. These colors are repeated in the window, which is abstract: A cross is twirled in green at the base, which develops into yellow, red, and blue above the cross arm. The idea of maturing, changing colors and “passing the bar” (the cross arm) symbolizes Christ’s life. Today the church is a place of celebration of life, attendance is up, and it is a popular place for weddings.
At Hogager Church, not far from Uhre Church, I decided on yellow as the dominant color. The benches are two shades of yellow, with an orange salmon-colored cushion. The ends of the benches are turquoise, leading up to the royal blue carpet to the altar, interrupted by an orange ring: the communion bench. The windowsills are light yellow to pick up the color from the benches and spread it through the room. The ceiling is various shades of blue, intensifying towards the altar with yellow beams, echoing the blue carpet. The pulpit has a concentration of orange, blue, and turquoise. The door and the organ pick up these colors, as a pendant to the window. The window is more figurative than the window at Uhre Church, with the cross as the background form: Christ is placed at the center in a yellow, orange ring. Below him seeds spill out like atoms, spreading the gospel. In the cross arm two hands appear in the twirling “water.” One hand symbolizes “Why me?” and the other “I accept.” Vertical vignettes illustrate scenes from Christ’s life. I wanted the colors to be invigorating and to radiate the enlightened positive nature of Christ’s message. Church attendance is up and people are happy with the new interior.