By LINDA M. LINONIS
The contemporary-style banners mesh with the medieval look of the sanctuary of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“I can’t imagine them not being here,” said Bill Farragher, 90, a member since 1951 who saw the banner project unfold almost 30 years ago.
Dr. George Pugh, who was chair of the worship and arts committee, initiated the project in December 1984. The banner committee set about finding a designer for the project. The committee asked Susan Russo, an art professor at Youngstown State University, and she accepted. She’s now retired.
This past spring, the church marked a “Celebration of the Banners” at which Russo and Farragher recalled the project. Farragher said the committee trusted Russo’s “artistic sensibilities.” They gave her this general direction — that the banners express concepts from creation to resurrection.
Her only other guidance came from the Rev. William Brewster, rector, who gave her a book on Christian symbols.
“In asking me, they knew it would be more contemporary,” Russo said. “They also wanted to ‘warm up’ the setting. Cloth and fiber do that,” she said.
The banners were installed March 30, 1986. They’ve been up ever since and still look fresh and vibrant. “I’m quite proud of the banners,” Russo said. “They still stand up in context. They’re classy,” she added.
The artist said the banners “aren’t totally abstract” but project ideas to which people can relate.
The banners, made of cotton, are about 7 feet long and 4 feet wide. Russo made patterns and turned those over to the “Banner Bees,” the committee of church women who executed the designs. Karen Kelly was committee leader and charged with completing the banners in two years. The committee completed the sewing project in six months.
Kelly, who now lives in Arizona, sent a note for the celebration event. She recalled how the committee worked in the acolyte-choir room and how they endured “some pretty hot summer days.” But, she noted, “our spirits were high and there was lots of energy.”
“It was amusing because most of those who signed up could not sew ... and those who could sew had not sewed for years,” she wrote.
Kelly credited Edna Scott with being a “good cutter.”
Two women with male-sounding names were also mentioned. Mike Bunn couldn’t sew but her humor kept the ladies “in stitches,” while Bert Jones was indispensible to Kelly, helping her take out and redo stitches that were too long.
Kelly said the project brought the women together “like sisters” and they enjoyed being part of the “creation” process.
Farragher said the Father Brewster noted a “ho-hum attitude” among some congregants about the banners. That was until they saw them. The banners wowed the members and continue to impress.
“The banners always caused comment whenever we opened St. John’s to the public,” Farragher said. He gives church tours during YSU’s Summer Festival of the Arts and said visitors comment on them.
He noted that the banner committee decided to use the wooden beams in the ceiling as the base for rods that displayed the banners.
The banner project coincided with the church’s 125th anniversary, which was in the fall of 1984. The celebration, Farragher said, stretched from the fall of 1983 to Easter 1986. The banner unveiling culminated the anniversary observance.
The Rev. Dr. Bradley Pace, rector, said the banners “help tell the story of creation.” He also noted that those gazing at the banners are prompted to think about the “different aspects” of creation.
Dr. Pace also said the banners are a good example of how art, incorporated into a worship area, complements it.