Connecting with faith, creatively

News | February 8, 2016

This is the fourth in an occasional series on faith pathways: Service, Nature, Study and Intellect, Contemplative, Artistic, Relationships, and Traditions. Meet four St. Paul people who connect with God through their artistic endeavors: Painting, Poetry, Sewing, Singing.

Painting: Sheila Mesick

Growing up along the banks of the Mississippi River in Buffalo, Iowa, Sheila Mesick spent a lot of time with her grandmother.

Her grandmother found beauty – and showed Sheila how to find beauty – in the flowers and the moon, animals and the soil of the Earth, the colors and movement and ways they all change or grow.

Sheila’s first husband, before he died, told her, “You need to be painting.” So Sheila went to college to learn how to be an art teacher. “All of those seeds of encouragement he gave me came to be,” she said. “Art has always played a role when I’ve needed some inner healing.”

She spent more than 20 years as an art teacher in the Davenport Community School District. She loved all of the schools she taught in, but she felt at home at J.B. Young – just a couple of blocks from St. Paul. That feeling of comfort resulted in many wonderful creative experiences, including public art created by students that remains visible at the school today.

Today, Sheila is retired from teaching, and is on the way to creating a new path for herself.

“I really believe everyone is creative. It’s how we bring our own personal fingerprint to what we do,” she said.

And when we create, we lift ourselves and God up.

“Anything that is good comes from God – joy, happiness, peace, comfort,” she said.

Singing: Jeff Bass

Music has been a part of Jeff Bass’ life since he can remember. His dad, in particular, loved to sing in the car – with a box of cassette tapes always at the ready under the passenger seat.

Jeff started playing piano at the age of five, then he added in saxophone and guitar as the years went on. Choirs and bells joined his repertoire, too. He took so many music classes in high school that he had to take academic classes during the summer to keep up. When an injury sidelined his athletic career at Augustana, he turned more fully to singing in Augustana ensembles.

“Music was always there,” he said. “I never felt like it was something I had to reach for.”

Today, Jeff sings with the Nova Singers (a top-notch ensemble that performs concerts regularly at St. Paul). Music is an important part of his life with wife, Keri, and their three kiddos (you can sometimes find them all dancing in their living room).

“Faith,” he said, “is one of those things that can be tricky sometimes. Music can help people find that connection. It’s a tool when people can’t find the words or sentiment to express themselves.”

Poetry: Dick Stahl

Dick Stahl writes from the sunny spot of his dining room table. Every day, he puts words to paper, expressing the beauty of so many things, the Mississippi River, a mama gorilla, Augustana College.

A retired teacher, he served as the poet laureate of the Quad Cities in 2001-2003. His poetry graced the 100th anniversary celebration of the Quad City Symphony, including the 100 cellos project (an initiative that involved dozens of artists creating pieces of public art from cellos – the cello he co-created was on display for a time at St. Paul). To the right, he chronicles that journey, and how it continues to resonate in his soul.

Sewing: Laura Torgerud

When Laura Torgerud’s daughter Abby turned five years old, Laura handmade Abby a shirt to celebrate the occasion.

“As I was making it, I prayed for her,” Laura said. Prayerfully Sewn was born.

Laura – who creates in many other ways, including photography, greeting cards and paper art – learned how to sew from her mother-in-law, who also gave Laura her first sewing machine. Tucked away in an upstairs bedroom of the Torgerud home is the machine Laura now uses, a 14-year-old Elna 6003.

She makes crosses, table runners, wall hangings, phone stands – the list is endless. For each person, whether she knows the recipient or not, she prays.

And now, Abby has her own sewing machine – right next to mom’s in that second-floor workroom.

“I like making practical things. If I see something that I like, and I think I can make it, I don’t buy it. I create it,” she said. “To me, handmade gifts, or things I make for myself or my home, are an expression of love. I enjoy expressing God’s love through my hands, through creating. There’s a piece of God in everything I make.”

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