The following article was written by Erin LaBonte as part of the Rahr West Art Museum’s Art Forward series.
“Radical kindness” – these words were used in reference to the late Fred McFeely Rogers. As a television host, author, producer and Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers has used his platform to connect with young people. He spoke to them honestly and directly about the world we live in, emotions, relationships and experiences. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” revolutionized children’s television and informed its audience from 1968 to 2001. Rogers’ goal was to connect with every child and make them feel special. In doing so, he created a safe place to learn and an inclusive community. Everyone is cherished and important in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. TV Guide described Mr. Rogers, “…makes us, young and old, feel safe, cared for and valued…Wherever Mr. Rogers is, so does the sanctuary.
Matthew Sauer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church and a longtime admirer of Mr. Rogers, contacted local artists Erin LaBonte and Don Krumpos to create a mural on the church’s north-facing wall. “A mural was a way to deepen our appreciation of art and make a bold statement to the community that we are here, we are relevant and we are engaged. We are the church of the community, the heart of the lakeshore.
The First Presbyterian Church has engaged the Manitowoc community for 171 years. It was home to Manitowoc County’s first kindergarten, which embodied the same values Mr. Rogers upheld. “Our story has once again driven us to connect with our community in a new way.” Sauer shares, “It was decided that the theme would be based on Mister Rogers and capture his faith that all are welcome and loved in this place. After reviewing many quotes, we’ve chosen to include an abbreviated version of “Listening Is Where Love Begins: Listen To Yourself, Then Listen To Your Neighbors”. We believe this communicates listening and love from our entire community.
Mr. Rogers said a lot of things that bear repeating. In designing this mural, artists Erin LaBonte and Don Krumpos wanted to celebrate its message. LaBonte shares, “There are all sorts of iconic images and characters that I remember from Mr. Rogers…the tree, Daniel Tiger, the wagon. We considered doing a mural that included these ideas, but concluded that we were more interested in creating an image that would inspire and resonate with everyone, not just those who grew up with Mr. Rogers.
Let’s make art together! This year we will be creating a community paint-by-number mural on the north facade of First Presbyterian Church. The Lakeshore Artists Guild’s fifth annual Art Slam CommUNITY Mural is scheduled for September 10, 2022. One of the goals of the event is to leave a permanent public work of art behind. Another goal is to have the community actively create together. Go out and be part of this process.
The 2022 paint-by-number mural is made possible thanks to neighborhood contributors. A big thank you to Jeremiah Novak of the Novak Service Center for being such a big supporter of public art in our community. This is the sixth downtown mural Jeremiah has contributed to or directly sponsored. Thanks to Peace United Church of Christ for helping bring this project to life. Hallman Lindsay Paints, our reliable and friendly paint store, again donated paint for the project. A big thank you to Hamann Construction for the donation of an elevator! Thank you Betsy and Tom Kocourek and Balance on Buffalo for your support and interest in this project. A special thank you to Matt Sauer and the other members of First Presbyterian Church for your vision, tax contribution and collaboration on the Art Slam 2022 commUNITY mural project.
See you at the wall!