Jim Hong Louie’s Dragon was one of 32 artworks made from material salvaged from St. George’s old steeple. Photo: Erik Wagenaar
St. George’s Anglican Church in Owen Sound, Ont. is a beautiful 132-year-old building that required some expensive renovations, including a complete tear-down and rebuild of its steeple. Looking at all the weathered wood and metal as it came down, parishioner Anne Asten wondered if it could have a second life as material for art.
“It was a romantic notion, in truth,” Asten admits, who knew the tin for the spire had been shipped from Bristol, England. “I was just thinking about all of the lives in 1880 that were affected by this,” she says. From the miners to those who shipped it and worked with it, she thought about “all the hands that touched it…all the people who decided in 1880 that they had to have a steeple, all the families that were fed by the work that was done. It just struck me that there was something sad about throwing it all away.”
Artists saw potential as well, as did other parishioners who got involved. The Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound agreed to create a show and an auction that would be a fundraiser for the church. In the end, 21 local artists produced 32 pieces from the salvaged material, that included sculpture, jewelry, furniture, and paintings framed with wood from the steeple.
The art was sold by silent auction at the end of March with 30% of the proceeds going to the artists, 10% to the gallery and the rest to St. George’s, which is still fundraising to pay for about $150,000 of the $680,000 cost of the steeple. Some of the artists donated their portion to the church.
In all, the event raised more than $8,000 and raised the profile of the church, Asten says. “One woman told me, ‘You’ve brought the church into the community. We’ll never look at St. George’s the same way again.’ “