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Community helps paint organ pipes for project
Art organ 1 WEB
John Hutchinson, the music and art director at Cumming First United Methodist Church, talks about the inspiration and process of gathering all that was needed for the decorative organ. Hutchinson enlisted local artists to design and decorate the pieces. - photo by Autumn McBride

The heavens, earth and sea have come together in one large community art project at a local church.

The Cumming First United Methodist effort features about 50 wooden pipe organ pieces housed inside a handcrafted case that mimics the look and feel of an actual organ.

The project, which was completed just in time for the church’s annual community arts festival in May, was the idea of John Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, the church’s director of music, worship and art, said he had the idea after seeing a similar one that wrapped metal pipes of an organ in colorful cloth.

“I thought there’s not really that much you can do with metal pipes other than wrap them,” he said. “But you could paint on wooden pipes though, and I knew where we could get some.”

Hutchinson said he contacted an organ builder in Johnson City, Tenn., who had “an old, water-damaged organ from the 1920s.”

The builder donated the pipe sections to Hutchinson, who then contacted a number of local artists to design and decorate each one.

“The only instructions I gave them was to focus on the theme of the glory of creation, but I gave them no instruction beyond that,” he said.

Some of the artists are church members, others had participated regularly in the church’s annual Festival of Arts, a weeklong spring art and music show.

The effort also includes pieces by student artists from each of Forsyth’s five public high schools.

“This is truly a community art project,” Hutchinson said.

A local woodworker also created a specialized cabinet to house the completed pipes.

Hutchinson designed the cabinet to have the look and feel of a working organ. In total, the project is 17 feet long and 8 feet tall.

The piece is prominently displayed near the main entrance of the church vestibule, where Hutchinson said it definitely gets people’s attention.

“I love to just watch people come in and see it,” he said. “The other day, a man and his wife just kept standing there looking at it and saying over and over, ‘It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful.’”

Ann Alexander, one of the artists who lives in Gainesville, agreed the finished product is “spectacular,” though at first she wasn’t so sure how it would turn out.  

“When we first started, I had no idea what [Hutchinson] was talking about, but I said I’d try it,” she said. “I got my little wooden box and just left it in my studio for a couple of months.”

Later, she said, she had the idea to “paint it sky blue and put a bird’s nest on it.”

“That was what creation meant to me,” she said.

Artists Geraldine Johnson and Bryan White, both Forsyth County residents, decided to take their pieces in a more religious direction.

“Mine is quite Biblical,” Johnson said. “It’s what I imagine Jesus looked like during the formation of the world as he created the mountains, the moon and the sun. And there’s a little white dove lifting into the sky to symbolize peace.”

White said his work features “the tree of life and an angel on the top.”

“I thought the tree of life and angels are universal symbols,” he said. “I had to come up with a design that would be tall and thin. It was definitely a challenge, but it came out well.”

The designs and mediums used are just as diverse as creation itself.

Some include pencil drawings of birds and jungle beasts, others acrylic paintings of ocean life and pastoral scenes.

Many represent the vastness of the universe, while others focus on Adam and Eve and the divine love of God.

There’s even a piece created entirely in wax, representing the sun and its relationship to Earth.

“That’s what makes this project so unique,” Hutchinson said. “It’s very rare to find a project that is unified and cohesive, while maintaining so many individual voices of the artists.”

White agreed.

“It’s so original to have all those different interpretations. It’s pretty amazing to see,” he said.

Hutchinson said the recent undertaking is just one part of the church’s ongoing mission to support local arts.

“We continue to work to set First United Methodist apart as the arts church by supporting all different types of arts in the area,” he said.

As art and music director, he’ll continue to develop community projects, but admitted the colorful pipe organ will be hard to top.

“I’m not quite sure where I’ll go from here,” he said. “This is by far the best idea I’ve ever had.”