St. Mary’s turns empty wall to blank canvas for Nigerian painter

Community members of New England may have noticed this past week that St. Mary’s Church in New England is getting a new look. What used to be an empty concrete space above the front entrance of the Church, will soon be replaced with a stunning painting.

The approved sketch being painted at St. Mary’s in New England
The approved sketch being painted at St. Mary’s in New England

By RACHEL BOCK | Herald Reporter

 

Community members of New England may have noticed this past week that St. Mary’s Church in New England is getting a new look. What used to be an empty concrete space above the front entrance of the Church, will soon be replaced with a stunning painting. A project that St. Mary’s Reverend Father Biju Chitteteth wanted to complete ever since he first arrived at St. Mary’s. Father Biju noticed the empty wall in front of the Church, and felt that the space was empty and wanted to have something there to fill the space, but didn’t know how to proceed with the project.
Last year Father Biju spoke with Father Steve who is a priest at Holy Trinity in Hettinger, about wanting to do something with the empty space. Father Steve who is originally from Nigeria showed Father Biju pictures that were painted by a Nigerian artist by the name of Oludotun Popoola. Father Steve suggested to Father Biju to get in contact with Dotun Popoola about the idea of a painting. Father Biju would later contact Popoola, and something that Father Biju thought would not be possible started to become a reality.
Oludotun Popoola came to Lemmon, South Dakota last year after researching and wanting to learn more about metal sculpture. Dotun Popoola came in contact with John Lopez in Lemmon, and came to the South Dakota area to learn new techniques from John Lopez. During his time in Lemmon, Popoola also did some paintings to showcase his own artistic ability. Popoola who currently is working as a Curator at the National Gallery of Arts in Africa, holds a National Diploma in painting and general Art, and sculpture. He also has a Master degree in Fine Arts in painting.
“Painting is my passion, sculpture is my profession,” Popoola said.
This past year John Lopez invited Popoola back to Lemmon, to assist him in some of the public projects that Lopez has been working on. One of the projects was a 120 by 15 foot Mural of Ed Lemmon. The mural is located on Main Street and is a story line almost a documentary featuring the personality of Ed Lemmon. The mural is the biggest mural that Popoola has ever painted and was finished in a two week span. Dotun Popoola also shared his artistic abilities with the Holy Trinity Church in Hettinger, by painting a mural for them. Both displays of Popoola’s art have made an impact on both communities.
Before heading back to Africa, Popoola put St. Mary’s Church on his schedule to donate his time and share his artistic talents with the community of New England. After extensive correspondence back and forth with Father Biju, last week Popoola met with the Parish Council of St. Mary’s to develop a sketch of what the painting should look like. With various ideas from the council and after the final approval from Bishop Kagan a final sketch was approved. The painting will have an image of Mary who Bishop Kagan wanted in a traditional form welcoming everyone to the Church that was named after her. Father Biju likes the welcoming concept and wants everyone to feel welcome at St. Mary’s Church. The painting has various images but will also showcase the hands of God along with the presence of the Holy Spirit in the clouds.
“One of the major challenges in this work is to get the personality of Mary, and to make the composition harmonize together,” Popoola said.
The priming and the outlined sketch started on Monday June 27, and Popoola hopes to have the mural finished in about 10 days. After he is done with the painting at St. Mary’s, Popoola will be heading back to the South Dakota area for the official opening of the Ed Lemmon Park in Lemmon, South Dakota on July 9th. After the opening, Popoola will return to his family in Africa.
“The message behind the mural I know is going to speak to a lot of people in different ways. The hands of God coming out of the sky holding the sacred heart of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the clouds those are the metaphorical figures. The focal point of the painting is the composition of Mary welcoming people of different race, and diversity. Welcoming the children, the mother, the father, the old, and the young, everybody who is in the presence of God. The Holy Spirit, and Jesus are the philosophical base behind the sketch. I hope by the time the painting is done people will love it,” Popoola said.

 

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