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Local artists bring Whitley County to church in 6,300 square foot mural

By Rachael Rosfeld | The Post & Mail, Wednesday, April 17, 2019

COLUMBIA CITY- When walking through the doors to the youth area at Community of Hope Church in Columbia City the first thing that will now greet visitors is an extensive 6,300 square foot mural.

The mission behind the piece: to show the power in the "Unity of Community" right here in Whitley County.

The piece was created by local artists Jennifer Crampton Lude and Michael Lude.

It all began at the start of this year. Crampton Lude was contacted by a friend through the church who knew her work on the Owl mural that can be seen across from the Whitley County Courthouse in downtown Columbia City.

Crampton then asked Lude to help her take on the project. They began the design work in mid-January and were asked to complete the project in time for April 28 when the church will be rolling out a new educational model in the children's department.

Even from the beginning all parties agreed the theme should be centered around community.

"We ask the kids to think about Jesus when they are out in the community and so we wanted to bring community for them to see at the church," said Susan Fenker, director of Children's Ministries at the church.

Lude and Crampton took that message to heart, and agreed that they wanted snapshots of the community that the kids see everyday in their own lives to be represented there in the church hallways.

More so than that, they wanted the kids to have their own sense of ownership of the art piece, even asking each class what community meant to them.

For the younger children community centered around large ideas such as animals and for the older kids up to the fifth graders, they focused more on sharing, people, fire department, police, etc.

Crampton and Lude then went on a mission , driving throughout the county to take pictures of all the places that truly depict life in Whitley County. They took those images and ultimately designed a piece that was interactive and connected all parts of Whitley County together.

The mural is split on two floors. Upstairs, where most of the younger children's classrooms are the imagery focused on meeting their thoughts of community with plenty of farm animals, homes and more. The piece then begins to transition from this view of the country to the lakes and streams along the staircase. As guests to the church then enter the downstairs area, they are greeted to other aspects of Columbia City.

In one hall there can be seen each of the Whitley County Consolidated Schools. In another is other parts of the city including the Whitley County Courthouse, the park, the fire department and the downtown during Old Settlers Day.

Fenker commented that each time she sees the piece she fins something new to appreciate, admiring the detailed work Crampton and Lude had taken.

"We wanted something that would continue to re-excite them about the piece," said Lude.

Already students have said highlights of the piece include the many schools and a large mail truck.

Both artists said they wanted to also incorporate the Bibles into the piece. Most notably they helped depict the story of the Good Shepherd, and in an effort to make the mural even more interactive, Crampton and Lude hid 99 white sheep and one black sheep for the children to find, just like the shepherd had to do in the story.

"It was great seeing how the get so excited about art," said Lude.

One of the most important aspects for the teachers, Lude and Crampton was making sure the piece had plenty of diversity, not just in locations but seen in the people depicted.

"They (the church) wanted diversity-they wanted everyone to be represented and feel a connection with a particular image," said Crampton. "We wanted every kid to come in and see someone on the wall they could relate to and (ultimately) bridge any gaps." It was all these aspects that intrigued both Crampton and Lude when creating the piece, but they also expressed an excitement about faith-based nature of the project. "My art in the future might even reflect that," said Lude. But most importantly they agreed, it was nice to give something back to their community.

"It sparked my interest in bringing everyday art to everyone," said Crampton. Both say their passion for art began at a young age, and is something they've both pursued as adults. Crampton helped bring Art in the Alley to Columbia City, while also taking part in large art projects in the community. Along with his artwork, Lude is best recognized as a caricature artist at different events throughout Whitley County, and also for his work on large projects in the community.

"My art has always been about reaching people and getting the chance to paint what other people see is always great," said Lude. "My vision is always to bring to people the beauty of everyday life," said Crampton.

When collaborating on this piece , both agreed there was certain learning curve, with each artist having their own style. What they said they found was how much they changed and learned along the way. "We did a quite a bit of mixing and matching (our styles) but we both kind of felt pulled to do the other's (style)," said Lude. Crampton said she often focuses on landscape and nature, and works with acrylic paint. Lude said he uses oils and spends more time on people.

"We ended up adapting. I took some of his style and he took some of mine, but our styles are complimentary because both are very colorful," said Crampton. In the end the project took at least 500 hours, with many days in March lasting 14 hours.

They both joked that after tackling a project of this size nothing will scare them, and both are now moving on to other art projects, both in Columbia City and even in Fort Wayne.

This piece though was a strong reflection of the community, but also an opportunity for the artists to show other artists and youth interested in pursuing art that there is a future career for them too.

"I want kids to know there's an avenue open to them. I want to give kids the idea that whether you do it in your free time or pursue it as a career, there is a place for you wherever you go," said Crampton.

"Anything is possible. You've just got to believe in it and work at it," added Lude.

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