A downtown church is exploring the connection between religion and art.

Story and photos by Tia DeVincenzo

If you are sitting in downtown Harrisonburg’s historic L&S Diner, you will look out to the view of a cross towering above its surrounding buildings. What was once a beaten down auto-body shop has been transformed into The Church of Incarnation. This place of worship is already unique architecturally from your stereotypical church, but its interior design isn’t the only thing that stands out. Within the church is 292 N. Gallery, an art gallery that not only lines the walls but is within them.

“We are kind of reviving an older thought on faith and art. They aren’t separate,” Levi Fuller, the director of the arts council for the gallery, says. 292 N. Gallery began as a small project within the church as its members placed their works of art along the walls. Over the past four years it has progressed by building up its social media presence and expanding its artists from inside the church to any artist who wants their work on display. Fuller came into the director’s position in September of 2015 and took charge the gallery. He jokingly says his biggest contribution is “slapping a sign” on the front door.

The arts council of The Church of The Incarnation consists of seven artists. Possessing a variety of skills, these artists have an age range from 20 to 70. Within the arts council are photographers, award winning water colorists, sculptors and more. There is one artist who stood out among the rest: Zeke Trainum. Trainum is one of the founding members of 292 N. Gallery. He works with wood and metal, and has embedded his own artwork into the gallery by creating the expansive wooden doors that make up the entryway and the baptismal font in the center of the church. “We built the gallery right into the church. We are half church, half art gallery,” Trainum says.

Pieces of artwork hang in the open space in the 292 N. Gallery, which is displayed at The Church of Incarnation. 292 N. Gallery welcomes any artists to submit work by contacting them. The arts council wants the coordination of the church and gallery to be a reminder of how the church has historically been a patron of the arts, especially during biblical times. The church supported the arts from the beginning by having stained glass windows and intricate designs within the architecture, and The Church of Incarnation is bringing this vision back into the public eye. The gallery does not focus primarily on a religious calendar, but does try to incorporate religious works into their exhibits from November to May.

Most recently there was an exhibition created by JMU students revolving around Lent. It was entitled “Exploring Lent in Black and White.” Through photography, jewelry design, painting and abstract art, 13 students from JMU ranging from freshmen to seniors displayed their work during Lent, a time of reflection and repentance in some Christian traditions. “We only ask that you tell us your name and show us your work,” Fuller says. “We don’t shy away from art that’s real.” The arts council curates the gallery for the artists, giving their artwork an opening night. Exhibits normally last for a month. The gallery is free and open on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings as well as First Fridays in downtown Harrisonburg.

The arts council considers itself a family. Members enjoy meals together, discuss articles regarding the arts and welcome artists from all around to join them. 292 N. Gallery’s main goal is to connect with other artists and the greater Harrisonburg community. “We hope to see a city that is growing and thriving and we jump on that however we can through art,” Fuller says.