Katharine Jensen loved children and had been a Sunday school teacher at Holy Communion and playground leader for the City of Racine parks department. She was a Communications major at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and had dreamed of being a teacher someday. In October of 2003, when she was just 22 years old, Katharine was killed in an accident on Interstate 94. Her parents wanted to do something in Katharine’s memory that would reflect on her life and the things she valued. One morning her mother, Marianne Jensen, woke up with the idea of doing something for the Sunday school.
Marianne’s first idea was to donate towards the renovations that were taking place in the church’s Sunday school. When she made that proposal to Pastor Jeff Barrow, he suggested having murals painted. He had been impressed with the work of local artist David Holmes at Emmaus Lutheran Church and suggested they have Holmes create something in honor of Katharine at Holy Communion.
Having David Holmes, an art professor at UW-Parkside, paint the murals was a perfect fit for Marianne. Holmes’ daughter Raena was had been a friend of Katharine’s for several years and the two were roommates at UW-Parkside. “I knew at that moment that the murals would have been exactly what Katharine would have wanted,” Marianne said.
The murals completely transformed the dark wood paneled hallways on the second floor which lead to the Sunday school rooms. Holmes spent seven months painting the bold, brightly colored depictions of Bible stories. The mural begins with the stairway to the second floor and continues through two hallways. As you walk along you are completely surrounded by the stories of the creation of Adam and Eve, Moses parting the Red Sea, David and Goliath and many more. Holmes even painted the doors and incorporated light switches and other fixtures into the murals, which heightens the feeling that you have walked right into the painting.
“It’s like having the Bible wrapped around you,” Pastor Jeff said. “They work on the same principle that stained-glass windows do. In the Middle Ages, when there were a lot of people who didn’t read or write, Bible stories were told in stained-glass windows. Today, with all the video games and computer images out there, the way we teach has changed. We are using more oral and visual traditions in teaching and these murals fit very nicely with that.”
Holmes hid a trail of ants in the paintings because children like to look for things like that. He included many butterflies, not only as a symbol of resurrection, but because they were a favorite of Katharine’s. Raena Holmes painted a cut-out portrait of her friend which stands in the bright yellow arts and crafts room. Katharine and her father, Peter Jensen, enjoyed attending performances of a Madrigal group in town. In the portrait Katharine is wearing her madrigal dress, with silk flowers that decorated their dorm room in her hair, and she is surrounded by children.
The murals continued beyond the Sunday school rooms into the nursery and to the third floor where a room is painted to resemble “a very cool, ancient cathedral.” Holmes said, “I was given the commission to fill the hallways and I just kept going.”
“We got so much more than we bargained for” Barrow said of Holmes.
“It turned out to be a work of love for all of us,” Marianne said.