Danville artist takes on church mural project
FLATVILLE – Mike Harper is making the Bible come alive through his art.
The Danville man has painted four murals at Flatville's Immanuel Lutheran Church, depicting Bible scenes. And more murals might be in the offing.
"I'll keep going as long as they want me," Harper said.
The scenes are displayed on the second-floor walls of the church. They include one with a cross and flowers with the saying, "Jesus loves me." Another contains Moses receiving The Ten Commandments.
A third has the Nativity scene, and Harper's most recent mural involves Jesus teaching a group of children.
The first three murals had been started by Sunday school students at Immanuel Lutheran that Harper finished.
"I wanted to keep the basic design the kids had and just expand on it," Harper said. "I liked the idea the kids started this. I wanted the kids to be part of it."
The artist has been working on the murals since late August.
"I'm generally here one, sometimes two, days a week."
Harper was contracted to do the work when church member Dale Ihnen of rural Penfield saw him working on some of the murals at the Walldogs art project in Danville during the summer.
"I was painting on a mural in Danville, and Dale Ihnen was one of the people who was constantly streaming by," Harper said. "We had people all the time stopping by to talk to us about our work."
The Walldogs project was a five-day effort that involved the painting of about 14 murals on Danville buildings. Harper worked on a baseball-themed mural on Walnut Street that involved baseball players and Danville Stadium. Harper painted the players.
"I also worked for about two days on the Hot Rod Lincoln wall," he said.
The Walldogs are a loose organization of artists and sign painters from around the world who get together annually to do an art event in small towns.
"I'd never heard of it before this year," Harper said.
Harper said he had been looking for an opportunity to paint murals in his hometown Danville. The Walldogs event was the perfect opportunity.
He plans to take part in next year's Walldogs effort in Plymouth, Wis.
Harper said he gladly accepted the offer to create art at the Flatville church.
Ihnen, meanwhile, said he believes he got the best artist available.
"I went through that weekend searching for someone to do the murals," Ihnen said. "I talked to a guy from LeRoy, and he told me about Mike. (He said) Mike has something that a lot of the other artists don't have, and that is vision."
As former Sunday school superintendent at the Flatville church, Ihnen had been in charge when about 10 of the church youth began the Immanuel Lutheran mural project during a lock-in last winter.
After an initial $200 gift for the work by a member of the church, the mural project has been funded by other individuals.
"Now people are generously donating, throwing money in the pot," Ihnen said.
Harper said the Flatville church mural project is a good expression of his faith.
"I like the idea that this art work not only teaches kids and anyone through the pictures and concepts that go along with it but also sparks the imagination. I think people's minds work better with pictures along with words."
Harper said he has been given the gift of art, and he's not afraid to use it.
He also believes it helps his faith.
"As an artist as you're doing your work you kind of get in a zone and the real world kind of fades away," Harper said.
He has been an artist his whole life but began pursuing it as a career in his early 20s.
"I've had some successes, but I can't say I have been able to pursue it solely as a career," he said.
Art is his second job. His day job is working as a stocker in a Danville grocery store so he won't be known as a "starving artist."
Harper earned a bachelor's degree in fine art at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Most of what he has learned, art-wise, he said, was from hands-on experience "and pushing it over the years."
Harper has done gallery shows and frequently exhibits his work at the Alley Gallery in Danville.
He has exhibited paintings in Los Angeles and other parts of the country.
A photo of his work was displayed in the magazine Art and Air Brush Action, and he is a member of the Danville Art League.
"I'm hoping to expand this thing as big as I can get it," Harper said, adding that he would like to do more church painting and businesses.
Harper has a Facebook site for his art endeavors titled Art As a Mission. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.