Sculpture Class Creates Art Piece for St. Matthew's Episcopal Church

Art Major Chase DuBose '20 developed the design and flame shapes that reuse components from the church's historic stove to celebrate history, community, and food-centered outreach.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist

September 12, 2019 | 2 p.m.

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in St. Paul, which enlisted the help of Bethel’s Advanced Sculpture class to envision a piece of artwork meant to celebrate the church’s history.

St. Matthews Episcopal Church in St. Paul, which enlisted the help of Bethel’s Sculpture I class to envision a piece of artwork meant to celebrate the church’s history.

In spring 2018, Associate Professor of Art Kenneth Steinbach’s Advanced Sculpture Class created a “Portable Monument.” Its imposing size and shape were meant to disrupt strategic places on campus. Last summer, another group created and installed “the Archenteron” at Silverwood Park, a massive wood structure that mirrored biological shapes in an interactive way. As students create public art⁠—designing within time and financial restraints and with a certain location and community in mind⁠—they navigate challenges and hiccups together throughout the course. And to Steinbach, the more nuanced the project, the better the learning experience. 

“This year, we were approached by somebody who went to St. Matthew’s in St. Paul. They had this quirky project, this space they were remodeling, and a stove they wanted to remember,” Steinbach says.

He and his students visited the church’s historic building, on the corner of Chelmsford and Raymond⁠ in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood, and spoke at length with the congregation’s visual arts committee. Art Major Chase DuBose ’20 recalls hearing about the remodeling project that would soon update the community kitchen and dining area. She remembers the group's reactions as they heard stories about two women, Karen Pfeifle and Rosa Uy, who've worked in the kitchen for decades, turning out thousands of meals for the church and the local community. They also heard about a beloved, and somewhat infamous, stove. 

“They called it ‘The Dragon,’” DuBose says with a chuckle. 

“It was this really old, huge, cast iron, restaurant-grade stove made out of heavy metal,” Steinbach adds. “There was a bit of a joke about it … it was a teeny bit dangerous because it could spurt flames. But when they talked about themselves as a community, there was this recurring idea of hospitality, home, inviting people in, feeding them. The stove was really a symbol of what they’re about as a church. So that was a restriction they had—they said, ‘you can add something if you need to, but it needs to be fabricated from this material.’ The first time we went over there, we just disassembled the stove and took it with us.”

Students began meeting in small groups and developing potential concepts for a piece that would commemorate the stove but point to deeper truths, like the church’s deep-seated commitment to community and hospitality. They also planned for practical requirements, like limited floor space, a budget that couldn’t exceed what an anonymous donor had given to the project, and—fittingly—the homeless families who would call the space home in August through the local program Project Home.

They went through three rounds of creative iterations, critiquing one another’s work in a large-group, classroom setting, and doing research into the materials and fabrication methods they would use to pull off their ideas. They eventually presented concepts to the team at St. Matthew’s, who selected DuBose’s piece and suggested a few minor tweaks. 

“I had an idea that I stuck with from the very beginning, centered around fire and embers and logs,” DuBose says. “I had worked with metal before, so I knew what I could do with the metal, how I could change it up. It was really fun seeing everyone else’s ideas and how they changed drastically over time. There was this creative atmosphere in class, where bits and pieces from people’s pieces were taken and reused and iterated on. One concept would have gold leaf, someone would go ‘oh, that’s interesting!’ and all of a sudden other proposals would have gold leaf added in. It was such a fluid and open-ended, collaborative process.”

Once her concept was chosen and the official course drew to a close, DuBose began meeting regularly with Steinbach to fine-tune the design and bring it to life. She brushed up on her metal fabrication skills, learning how to layer on gold leaf and install pop rivets. She became more familiar with Bethel’s plasma cutter, which she used to cut out the organic ember shapes. Finally, she arrived at the final piece that would be mounted on the wall at St. Matthew’s in mid-June, minimizing its physical footprint while putting it at eye-level to visitors.

The student artist helps install the artwork at St. Matthew's

Student artist Chase DuBose '20 (left) helps install the artwork at St. Matthew's

“The projects we do for the community are unique; the situations that arise are always a little different. This group has a really strong identity and vision—so it started with really listening to them,” Steinbach says. “The first meeting we had, we didn’t talk at all. We just asked questions and got a sense of what the values of their community are. That’s one of the intangible things that I was really proud of with our students. At the end of the project, they felt like the students really got it.”

Dean of Arts and Humanities Barrett Fisher is a member of St. Matthew’s who was key to connecting the church with Bethel’s art and design students. He also recalls that initial visit between Steinbach’s students and St. Matthew’s, and how students engaged deeply with the arts committee and Rector Blair Pogue. They learned about the importance of hospitality within the Way of Jesus, a core spiritual practice at St. Matthew’s. 

“Add Fire to the Flames” is a nod to fire, which reflects passion and has played a key role in storytelling throughout human history. The piece was dedicated to Rosa Uy and Karen Pfeifle, long-time church members who have prepared and served hundreds of meals on the church’s enormous, six-burner stove.

“Add Fire to the Flames” is a nod to fire, which reflects passion and has played a key role in storytelling throughout human history. The piece was dedicated to Rosa Uy and Karen Pfeifle, long-time church members who have prepared and served hundreds of meals on the church’s enormous, six-burner stove.

“Blair and the other members of the discernment team were impressed and even touched by how the students’ designs reflected a deep understanding of the church's mission in this respect,” says Fisher. “Both Bethel and St. Matthew's are important faith communities in my life, and it was deeply satisfying—and affirming—to see how, despite different theological traditions, they could work together to promote the value of hospitality.”

Fellowship Hall, where the piece is located, hosts regular art shows in addition to community meals and church events. Fisher hopes that long-term the piece reinforces the connection between imagination/creativity and practical service, inspiring real action from future members of the congregation.

"For us, sharing food and art is Eucharistic. It enables us to experience communion with God and others in deep and profound ways. Both are vehicles through which we can share our lives and stories as we seek reconciliation in Christ, greater understanding, healing, and new life. The collaboration with the Bethel art students, Chase, and Professor Steinbach was a gift that helped us continue down this path."

— St. Matthew’s Rector Blair Pogue

Asked what she’d like to do after graduation, DuBose says she’d love to continue working with metal. “To me, it’s intriguing to work with something that’s foundational to buildings and structures, but to make it into something uncommon, and maybe even a little weird.” When looking at colleges, DuBose followed her sister to Minnesota from Belgium, where she had lived for 12 years. She’s since found a community she loves in the Twin Cities art scene. “I enjoy the oddity and creepiness that metal gives,” she says. “And I’ll stay around here, definitely.” 

See the Work

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church is planning a public exhibition, "Phoenix - From Flaming Stove to Inspiring Sculpture," to honor and celebrate the Bethel student artists who’ve helped make this project a reality. An opening reception with the artists will be held Sunday, September 15, at 11:45 a.m., and the collection of student proposals and iterations will remain on view at the church through November. Visit during church office hours, Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Study Art & Design at Bethel

The Department of Art and Design gives students the opportunity to study studio art, graphic design, and visual arts education. Students in these programs take classes in painting, drawing, sculpture, art theory, graphic design, art history, and more. Bethel is also home to two on-campus galleries, in which students have the opportunity to curate and show their own work.

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