JW: What is the process of discerning how you will decorate or design the altar for a sermon series?
Jannele: There is certainly no one way or formula! Most often, the Kairos team will give me a description of the topic and a set of scriptures for an upcoming sermon series. I always read through the scriptures in a Lectio Divina way, reading them over a few times, listening for how the description of the topic is approached in the scripture. Sometimes an idea for the decor or design comes to mind right away and I’ll roughly sketch it out. Often I’ll be in a meeting at work or doing some other totally unrelated activity and an idea to try something at Jacob’s Well will start me doodling. There are plenty of times though, when I’ll go up to church on a Saturday evening with nothing, no idea. I’ll stand in front of the altar space, thinking through the essential points of the series topic or the scripture and just make a move toward whatever spark of an idea God gives and build from there.
Nature is also a major inspiration. I also look at some great art and design blogs and my job as an art director at Hallmark keeps me in front of a wide range of design inspiration. Maybe because my job is focused on rather small scale work, I’ve always loved big scale art installations and creatively designed environments. Some of that interest comes into play for the JW altar and stage space. If I can think of a way to use those high wires for something, I will.
I like the challenge of using what Jacob’s Well already owns, finding or reusing materials or going as low cost as possible. This past year’s Advent is an example. I like the idea of people walking into an environment that has been altered as a way of signaling a different way of thinking. The Advent series was on peace, how illusive, complex and fragmented the hopes of it are within ourselves and among others. The teachings spoke of Jesus coming to set in motion a new kingdom of peace in the midst of our turmoil. The the idea of having a large, fragmented dove flying over a quiet forest seemed the right backdrop to the series. The pieces of the dove were cut out of an inexpensive paper foam board. And because we needed a good many trees to give the feel of a forest, and because I’ve found a strategically located dumpster can be wealth of goodness, the trunks of the trees were long, cardboard cores from discarded carpet roles cut to size. Many volunteer hands cut, wired and hot glued the paper branches and the finished trees stood on bases made of lumber scraps from my husband’s remodeling job sites. A seasoned dumpster diver from way back, he’s extremely proud to have shared with me the finer points of pre-used material acquisition.
JW: Describe your idea to have the photo frames rise up into a cross at the beginning of Lent and what happened.
Jannele: The series on Discipleship was to overlap with and lead into Lent. The visual idea for the Discipleship series was to add photos to the altar much like you would add photos of a growing family on your fireplace mantle or table at home. Though intentionally altered to be slightly out of focus, the photos were of Jacob’s Well people becoming family, that is, taking part in the sorts of things that make disciples as described in each sermon. Then, as we moved into Lent and its series on Following Jesus to the Cross, the idea was to have these “family photos” start to rise off the altar and organ over the course of three Sundays and take the form of a very large scale cross. When the rough hewn wooden cross was to be set on the altar the third Sunday, almost 70 photos/frames were to be hanging in place behind it, mirroring its shape.
Sometimes ideas work out unexpectedly well (the final outcome of Advent looked surprisingly like my initial sketch). Sometimes very little of an idea works out! That’s the mystery of creating…
I had taken the glass and backings out of the photo frames and made many out of paper to keep them all light enough to hang off the wires that stretch high across the stage. Some logistical difficulties delayed the first section of frames from being hung the week it should have. The very patient Bill Pollock helped me hang that first section the next week. The Saturday after he worked diligently again, late into the night, to help me hang the other three sections of frames that were to fit perfectly together to form the cross. At some point in our hoisting up the last section of frames–Bill on the ladder using a mic stand held way above his head and me standing on top of the organ with a flimsy telescoping pole–something snapped. That last section came crashing down, ripping the other sections down with it. In an instant, a couple weeks of tedious work were jumbled in a heap on the floor. There was a moment of jaw-dropped, wide-eyed, silent stare of utter disbelief as Bill and I looked down at the mess of ripped photos and broken frames. It was way too late to start over. I cut several frames, still in decent shape, out from the tangle of fishing line and set them up on the organ while Bill took down the ladder and set up the drums for the next morning’s services. Isaac Anderson’s sermon that morning seemed to give meaning and context to the experience and others far more difficult. His teaching? The Privilege of Suffering.
JW: Who are some of the others who serve with you, inspiring ideas or helping implement them?
Jannele: I’ve definitely leaned on my Hallmark/Jacob’s Well friends. Samantha and Nate Lewis have been an indispensable part of creating for Advent since the first time we incorporated Advent Conspiracy in 2007. They are so gifted as idea generators, creators and technicians. Samantha and I used to sit near each other at work and we’d talk about Advent ideas as the season got closer. Jenni Zorn, another talented and fearless creator, has inspired and implemented ideas as well. One Lent, Jenni and her mother built a full functioning, rock waterfall on the altar! Aaron DeWitt, Eric Disney, and Beth Mercer have all been a part of brainstorming in the past. This past Advent I had a whole host of creators making the forest trees–Sam and Nate figured out the large dove and the Kids Community, led by Sam Wright, made all the candle holders and the small doves in the foyer. It was great fun to have so many involved. Tim Bridgham has been a huge help, swinging from ladders and crawling up in the tight spaces where the pipe organ pipes are hidden. And, Debbie Barrett-Jones has added amazing weavings to the space and has recently been another great collaborator.
JW: What has been one of your favorite designs, either in process or result? Why?
Jannele: Advent 2008 is probably my favorite. Earlier that year, Samantha Lewis was describing a concert she’d been to where they used cool, large scale, silhouetted projections of an artist, continually creating art, live, throughout the concert. It sparked an idea to create simple scenes that would change each week and be back lit from behind three large screens up on the stage. The light would cast larger silhouetted images of the scenes on to the framed screens. My husband and I built the 9’ frames on site, at the front of the Sanctuary. The reverse side of gold, faux satin, king size sheets were stretched over the frames and each week’s scene was cut out of paper and foam board. When some strategically placed shop lights were positioned behind the frames and scene cut outs, the effect turned out better than I expected. Behind the screens it looked like a crazy mess of shop lights, extension cords, cardboard cut outs, fishing line and lots of duct tape. But from in front of the frames, a golden, glowing silhouetted scene of the three wise men traversing by camel with birds flying overhead, or the village buildings of Bethlehem or Mary and Joseph holding Jesus, were seen from the pews. I’m certain God is about surprising us beyond our expectations–especially when we least expect it.
That was also the Advent that Mike Crawford had the CD release concert for his first ‘Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings’ album. The four panels of the CD cover art (illustrated by Samantha Lewis) depicted a bunch of kids–Mike and his secret siblings and all of us, really–heading with a few lanterns into a dark, ominous woods. On the last panel was a glorious, golden castle and kingdom turned upside down. I thought it would be cool for people coming to the concert to walk in through a dark woods like they were stepping into the CD cover to take that same journey. We were able to get a lot of really big branches. Making bases to stand them up on end, we filled the front foyer with “trees” making a narrow pathway through them, lit only with a few lanterns and tiny lights hidden in the leaves spread thick over the floor. Sometimes these ideas come to mind and I commit to them without having any clue how long it will take to pull it off. A couple of us worked as fast as we could all day to make the woods look as real as possible, finishing up by adding a hidden recording of night forest sounds just moments before people began to arrive. The look on the faces of people opening up the front doors and stepping into the woods was well worth the work.