Artist leaves church ‘a magnificent gift’

Paintings inspire understanding about the Bible

Leader Photo by Greg Mellis Judi Bryant spent three years painting the murals on the walls of the fellowship hall at Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Shawano.

Leader Photo by Greg Mellis Artist Judi Bryant touches up her finished project, which includes one mural representing scenes from the Old Testament and another from the New Testament.

The walls inside Divine Savior Lutheran Church in Shawano have come alive with two important elements of Judi Bryant’s life: her art and her faith.

The artist has completed a three-year project painting murals along the walls of the church’s fellowship hall to depict images of stories from the Bible.

Divine Savior leaders sought out Bryant for the mural project in 2013 because she is a longtime church member and she is an accomplished artist who once taught art to children in the church’s school.

What followed for Bryant was a somewhat intense personal journey that combined the outward expression of her painting with inward introspection on her religious faith.

The 68-year-old painter from Clintonville said she was determined that the walls of Divine Savior, 102 Northridge Drive, would not end up looking like just another Christmas card or Hollywood production about the Bible.

“It had to be original,” she said. “I had to make it my own.”

The results include 28 individual paintings completed side by side and stretching across the fellowship hall in the style of two unfolding scrolls. Depicting such stories as Noah’s Ark and David vs. Goliath, one scroll represents the Old Testament and the other the New Testament.

Church leaders said the murals, completed last month, are beautiful artworks that have transformed the fellowship hall into a place that promotes discussion and education about the Bible.

Pastor Paul Kuehn said Bryant’s project has created “a teaching tool” for current and future generations of worshippers. More than once, Bryant sought out the pastor for his expert guidance to ensure that her paintings were technically accurate, Kuehn said.

“She really did an awesome job,” he said. “She put a lot of time and thought and prayer and effort into it.”

Another church member, Ken Kuester, said visitors to Divine Savior have already commented about being impressed with the murals.

Kuester, a member of the church’s board of elders, said Bryant used her artistic skills to expand on a relatively simple assignment and create a meaningful, lasting addition to Divine Savior.

“It’s a magnificent gift from her,” he said.

Bryant, who discovered a love of painting while growing up in the Milwaukee area, moved to Shawano in the 1980s and took a job selling manufactured homes. She continued making art as a hobby, and found it helped her unwind from busy days at work.

She occasionally displayed her paintings at arts and craft shows in partnership with her husband, Jim, a photographer. The couple moved to Clintonville about 11 years ago.

Now retired from the home sales business, Bryant has been a member of Divine Savior since moving north from Milwaukee. She taught art to children in the church’s school before the school closed its doors.

While working on the murals in the Divine Savior fellowship hall, Bryant discovered that her mother was in failing health. Within a relatively short period of time, she lost her mother and suddenly several other family members and friends died, too.

The walls inside the church gradually became a therapeutic outlet and a personal sanctuary of sorts.

“I would just throw myself back into it,” she said.

Rather than painting the murals and hanging them, Bryant chose to sketch each image off-site and then paint directly onto the church walls. She credits these people with providing a helping hand: Ed Jozwiak, Megan Janus, Emily and Stephanie Wallerman, Kayla Flunker and Lizzie and Anna Ganster.

Now that the project is complete, Bryant said although she is never fully satisfied with her artwork, she is pleased to have left Divine Savior with a personal contribution.

“I’m happy that it’s done,” she said, “and I hope that it can be used.”