Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2012

By Susan Shinn
For the Salisbury Post
Bob Doares was a gentle, soft-spoken man who went about making art without fanfare. For 30 years of his life, Doares labored to complete a series of paintings and sketches, which came to be called, “Immanuel: God with us.” Through graphite and oil, the series tells the story of the life of Jesus Christ.
The series, which encompasses 54 pieces of artwork — each 15 inches by 48 inches in panoramic format — is the first to be displayed in the St. John’s Lutheran Church’s new art gallery. The pieces were hung in the Adult Sunday School hall beginning on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22. They’ll remain on display through Easter.
Over the years, Pastor Dale Steele has become custodian of the collection. He served as interim pastor of First Baptist Church from 2000 to 2002, where he and his wife, Doris, met Bob and Kay Doares.
“We hit it off with a great friendship,” Steele says. “In the beginning, we did not realize he was an artist.”
Doares worked on the series for himself. He never intended to display them in public. But in 1994, a book featuring the Immanuel series was published. At that time, Doares deeded the paintings to the publisher. Doares died in 2005. Ultimately, the series has gone out to churches and museums, and the Steeles founded LightShine Ministries, a nonprofit organization that facilitates groups to borrow the art.
“Immanuel” was on display at Waterworks Visual Art Center from Thanksgiving until Feb. 11. Immediately from there, they came to St John’s.
“In Salisbury,” Steele says, “the crowds are always fantastic.”
He is happy to come and lead groups through the galleries. He clearly loves the collection.
“Bob wanted the pieces to be historically accurate and theologically correct,” Steele notes, “but he was also an artist. His insights were just superb. I feel like I’m there. People who read the scriptures will recognize things in the artwork.
He encourages visitors to spend time with each piece, and to visit more than once.
“I see something different each time,” he says. “People point out things to me, and I learn something each time I look at the collection.”
Five of the pieces are in oil; the rest are in graphite. Each graphite piece took some 400 hours to complete. Doares realized he’d have to use this medium versus oil in order to finish the series.
Marilyn Smith, a member of St. John’s, spearheaded the effort to bring the series to the church. The preparation in turn led to the creation of the gallery space.
She’d seen Doares’ art at the Center for Faith in the Arts, and at Waterworks as well. She’d owned the book for quite some time.
“I got all excited about seeing it in person,” she says. “I went over to Waterworks and met with Reverend Steele. I just mentioned it to him that I would love to show it at our church.”
She approached Pastor Rhodes Woolly with the idea and got his approval. She began working with Bill Safrit, who’d known Doares, and Oscho Rufty, facilities manager. Geoffrey Hoy, chairman of the outreach ministry team, also came on board.
“Oscho was one of the major parts of the puzzle,” Smith says. “He was sitting there with this great plan for gallery space. He had it all figured out.”
Rufty created four panels of display space, ranging from 22 to 32 feet in length and 4 feet in width. He also created special lighting down the long hallway.
Smith says of the project, “It was all done through the Holy Spirit. I feel strongly that the Holy Spirit wanted this work to be shown at our church.”
Smith says that the Immanuel series was inspired by God.
“When you see the work, you’ll know it,” she says. “It’s fabulous. I’ve always loved it. I’m so glad it’s here.”
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A gala opening for the exhibit is set for 5-7 pm Thursday, March 8, in the Education Building. The Rev. Dale Steele and his wife, Doris, will be present for a talk and tour at 6 pm. The gallery will be open 8-11 am Sundays; noon-2 pm March 11 during and after the reception for Danielle Kosanovich; 5-8 pm March 14; 6-9 pm March 30 before and after Jazz Vespers; April 2 for WELCA; 8-10:30 am April 8; April 12 for GO Club; and other times by appointment.
Susan Shinn is communications assistant at St John’s Lutheran Church.