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Roller-Skating Jesus Becomes Part of Venice Street Scene

Art: Whimsical church mural, created by a Belgian Benedictine monk, is meant to identify with ordinary life in the beach community.

October 04, 1997|JOHN DART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While driving away from her Venice church, Heather Davis was wondering what might catch the attention of people passing the familiar Spanish-style Lutheran church on Venice Boulevard.

Suddenly she thought of this: "Jesus Roller-Skating with Friends at Venice Beach."

That seemingly incongruous image was not her idea. Davis was recalling a ceramic artwork created in the early 1980s by a Belgian monk visiting St. Andrew's Abbey in the Antelope Valley foothills.

The former advertising copywriter envisioned the artwork reproduced much larger and mounted on an outside wall of the First Lutheran Church of Venice.

Davis pitched the idea, and much to her delight, the church enlisted monastery artist Father Maur Van Doorslaer to re-create his original work.

Two years later, the mural of Jesus skating hand in hand with companions spans four panels, measuring nearly 5 by 13 feet. It will be dedicated today by the 250-family congregation and its neighbors.

The mural shows that "Jesus is very accessible," Davis said. "Isn't that what people want to hear?"

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Van Doorslaer lives in Belgium and his abstract, white-on-white paintings hang in European galleries, but when he visits California he creates big-eyed angels and other figures on ceramics.

The whimsical character of the new "Jesus Roller-Skating With Friends at Venice Beach" resembles the original version Van Doorslaer created 15 years ago--except for a few details.

A sign showing orange juice for $1 has been changed to $2 to account for inflation.

And although Jesus and friends remain on roller skates, a small group in the background is wearing in-line skates--a reflection of the newer style.

The artist-monk created the work after visiting Venice Beach a few times. He said he was reminded of 16th century paintings that captured a variety of activities in one picture. The mural, he said, identifies Jesus with ordinary life.

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Davis, who lives in Mar Vista, had seen a copy of Van Doorslaer's work in the study of Pastor Kenneth Frese, a former UCLA chaplain who now heads the Venice church.

The mural that will be unveiled in 3 p.m. ceremonies today was created with the help of sign designer Donna Petersen of Venice. A digitized image of the mural was transferred to vinyl and mounted on aluminum panels, which were attached to the front of the church.

The billboard-like statement to Venice denizens will be made by a congregation affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a theologically conservative denomination not known for contemporary style.

"I'm new to the church, so I don't have a lot of baggage about what you should do and not do," said Davis, whose son is enrolled in the church's school.

Nor, it would seem, does the First Lutheran Church of Venice, which has maintained a presence for more than 50 years in the beach community.

Despite the historical antipathy of conservative Lutherans toward Catholicism, Abbot Francis Benedict of St. Andrew's Abbey at Valyermo said that Pastor Frese is "a good friend of the monastery who has been here many times."

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