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Church Gallery Aims to Share Love of Art and Love of Community

On Sunday evening, the Webster Groves Christian Church Art Gallery will host an opening of the work of St. Louis illustrator R.J. Shay.

A local church with a passion for the arts has set aside space for a gallery in an effort to support and share God’s gifts of creativity.

The gallery at at the corner of Berry Road and Lockwood Avenue opened a year ago after longtime member and artist John Dyess approached the Rev. Dr. Jeff Moore with the concept.

The idea is twofold – bring art to the people of the church and bring people interested in art to the church.

“I just feel in today’s economy and today’s world of virtual reality, sometimes it’s good to see artwork in person, and this is a good chance to share artwork with other people,” Dyess said.

Dyess, an illustrator and painter, said the histories of art and religion have been intertwined as far back as the Renaissance.

But the art at WGCC is not just religious art. Mediums represented have included photography, digital artwork, paintings, collections and, in the case of an upcoming exhibit, cartoons.

Illustrator and cartoonist R.J. Shay of St. Louis will talk about his work, life, faith and career at the opening at 7 p.m. Sunday. More than 30 pieces of his work will be on display in the library and in the Webster Groves Christian Church Art Gallery. Shay’s work includes corporate ad campaigns, newspaper cartoons, caricatures and portraits.

Dyess said he is passionate about giving wall space to tangible art, especially at a time when “virtual reality” seems to be the norm.

“Younger people are so used to seeing images on computer monitors,” he said. “Not that you don’t need both, but I think you need a balance.”

Moore said that because artistic expression is a gift from God, sharing art with the congregation and the community was a way of “giving back to the world what God has given.”

He said he hoped artwork would get church members and visitors thinking about the connections between their faith and their community life.

The gallery’s first exhibit last year was called “We Are Different, We Are The Same,” and featured photographs, drawings and collections from two young members of the church who had just returned from separate mission trips to Central America.

“It was a way of communicating internally what some of our members were doing,” Dyess said. “Then we said, ‘Let’s expand this, let’s get the outside world in.’”

Another exhibit was church organist Bob Chamberlin’s collection of turn-of-the-century sheet music, which included "wonderful artwork," Dyess said.

The Shay exhibit will be up for about two months. The gallery is open 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, as well as Sunday mornings. It is located on the second floor near the church office.

An exhibit next January and February will be a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month, with displays of Dyess’ work relating to civil rights and illustrations by Kevin Belford, the author of a book on St. Louis’ blues musicians called “Devil at the Confluence.”

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