Parishioners of Second Presbyterian Church in downtown Chattanooga will get their first look at the new Chapel Art Gallery this weekend.
Curator Carolann Haggard says the space, open only on Sundays for now, shows off not only the works of local artists but the historic chapel.
"There's so much historic beauty at Second Pres," she says. "It's absolutely gorgeous."
Second Presbyterian Church is at 700 Pine St. Call 423-266-2828 or visit www.secondpreschattanooga.org for more information.
Founded in 1781, Second Presbyterian was dedicated at its current location, the southeast corner of Seventh and Pine streets, on Nov. 15, 1891, according to a church history. The sandstone Victorian Romanesque Akron Plan church was designed by noted architect R.H. Hunt. Towering stained-glass windows are among its notable features.
Haggard has claimed a spacious section at the back of the sanctuary for the gallery. Once a chapel that could be closed off from the larger space, the area now functions mostly as a less crowded area for parents of fussy infants, says Dawn McFadden, the church's administrative assistant. "That's why the rocking chairs are there," she says.
The rocking chairs will stay in the gallery, which will open with about 20 works — paintings, photography, sculpture and jewelry — occupying tables, racks and walls.
Haggard's interest in a gallery at her church stems from her career as an artist. Born and raised in the Fort Worth/Dallas area, she earned her BA in art education from the University of North Texas in Denton and MFA in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has traveled extensively in Italy and France to pursue interests in stone carving and sculpture. She maintains studios here and in Italy.
She says she put out a call for artists within the congregation and then expanded her search to other local artists looking for more places to exhibit their works. The church already has an exceptional music program — "one of the best," she says — so serving the church and the larger community through art seemed a natural extension.
The church is within what has become known as the West Village area, a multiblock zone dominated and newly animated by the opening of the Westin hotel last October. Haggard believes the increasing foot traffic in the area will lead passers-by to the nearby church.
"We have this wonderful gate entrance at Pine and Seventh where you can come right into the chapel gallery area and see this magnificent sanctuary. People from out of town are always interested in coming in to see the inside of this historic church," she says.
It's a similar story just across Pine Street at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, built in 1881. St. Paul's is home to the Exum Gallery, which mounts several shows by community artists each year. It may be toured during the church's weekday office hours as well as before and after Sunday services. Best attendance is at opening receptions, says Pam Boaz, who volunteers on the Exum Art Committee.
"It's wonderful," she says of the response to show openings. "And people do tend to want to see the church [as well]. It's a great thing to be able to welcome them into the church in a way we otherwise might not have had."
Haggard says the introductory show at Chapel Art Gallery will last about two months while she recruits other artists and volunteers.
"Nov. 4 will be our next opening, then they'll be monthly," she says. It will highlight two-dimensional works, along with ceramics and stained glass.
Haggard says finding volunteers will enable the gallery to other days besides Sunday. For now, hours are limited to before and after morning worship, from about 9:30 a.m. until 1 p.m.
"We're optimistic," she says. "If things go well, then we will open it up to perhaps some Saturday morning hours, maybe Friday nights or after-work hours. We need a group of volunteers in place in case someone wants to buy something."
Proceeds from sales of the art will be split 80/20 with the artists. The church's 20 percent share will go to the St. Matthew's shelter for homeless men and other mission projects.
"That's another reason we're doing it," says Haggard. "We're not just doing it to have a gallery. Some of the proceeds will go back into the mission work we do."
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.