Willmar artist creates Advent collages for Bethel Church

From childhood, Laura Welle was familiar with the traditional Lutheran symbols of Advent -- the candles, the star of Bethlehem, the transition from darkness to light.

From childhood, Laura Welle was familiar with the traditional Lutheran symbols of Advent -- the candles, the star of Bethlehem, the transition from darkness to light.

The Willmar artist incorporated all these into a set of five collages being unveiled this month at Bethel Lutheran Church.

The collages are making their debut, one at a time, on each Sunday in Advent. The final one will appear on Christmas.

"Advent is preparation time. These are symbols I grew up with in the Lutheran church," said Welle. "They're a visual description of the Advent symbols."

Bethel's worship and music committee approached her a year ago about commissioning some original art reflecting the liturgical season of Advent, said Nancy Geiger, a member of the committee.


The church already possesses an extensive art collection, Geiger said.

"We were looking for additions to the collection. Advent is a wonderful season to do something like that," she said.

Welle, a longtime member of the Bethel congregation and an art teacher in the Willmar school system, had been experimenting with collages and mixed media. Right away, she saw it as an opportunity not only to create something for Bethel Church but also to delve into some new art techniques.

The result is a luminous set of images crafted in layers of paper and applied to canvas.

Each one depicts a lighted candle, a landscape and a pre-dawn sky. Welle chose symbols to represent the meaning of the candles that are lit on each of the four Sundays in Advent -- a stylized village skyline, for instance, for the Bethlehem candle.

The final, fifth panel represents the white candle that is traditionally associated with Christmas.

The landscape in the background is reminiscent of the rocks and hillsides of Israel, where Welle has traveled.

"I wanted something to give the artwork unity," she said. "The colors, the star and the candles do that. If you put them all together, they flow."


Each collage consists of dozens of pieces of paper that were painstakingly cut or torn and then layered and glued onto 44-by-14-inch panels of canvas. Welle used numerous different kinds of paper -- tissue paper, metallic paper, exotic-looking patterned papers from Asia.

"It was all an experiment in a way," she said. "This is on a larger scale than what I usually do. Usually I paint on the paper and I print on the paper. I didn't know how the papers would react on canvas but I was pleased with the way it took... It was fun to do. I wanted the colors to be bright. I wanted lively color, dramatic color."

The Rev. Mari Torkelson, pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, said the pieces were commissioned to reflect what she calls the three themes of Advent -- hope, peace and joy.

"I think they're very significant for our times," she said. "We get so busy doing so many things. This is not just about getting ready. It's experiencing the presence of Christ every day."

It's Torkelson's hope that Welle's art will help visually reinforce this message and invite worshipers to deeper reflection.

Besides being displayed at Bethel's Sunday services this month, the collages also will be one of the focuses for a series of candlelight services offering quiet music and meditation in the style of Taizé, a French monastic community.

Those services, which are open to anyone who wishes to attend, will take place from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m. the next two Wednesdays, Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. The first one was held this past week.

"You can actually sit and meditate on the art," Torkelson said. "In that short time you can go away feeling absolutely refreshed."


Welle said she hopes people will be inspired by the collages.

"I think they'll be a very good way of visually being able to explain Advent," she said.

Now that the project is completed, she'd like to try the collage technique with something else.

"To me, art is process-oriented. I love doing things and not knowing exactly how it's going to turn out," she said. "When it does, it's wonderful."

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