By Brett DeNeve: Buffalo Rising
Mary Holland, founder of The Buffalo Religious Arts Museum located at 157 East Street of the “Black Rock” community in Buffalo, opened the paper in 2007 to see a two page article on local churches closing down. The article’s accompanying pictures spoke to her even more than the text. Holland had heard horror stories of stained glass windows being kept in awful condition in Las Vegas and baptismal founts being used for coolers. All of the outstanding historical architecture within these buildings had to go somewhere. These pieces of art had to be worth more than a price tag during a liquidation event or a few weeks’ pay for a demolition squad and some gas in a bulldozer. She knew she had to do something, and fast.
“If I could only save one piece, I would,” she thought.
The Museum, purchased in 2008, was formerly known as “The St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic German Church.” The parish itself was founded in 1849 primarily due to the parents of German-speaking children wanting a school. So before the church was even constructed, a school had been built on the premises.
When Holland walked through the doors of the church for the first time her attention went straight to the murals on the back wall.
“We can’t turn the heat off,” she said.
If they did the murals would begin to fade and peel away.
And then it clicked; this building would no longer be a church, but a museum. It could be used to preserve and protect artifacts that should not leave Buffalo, and so it has.
It is a three-step process: preserve the building, obtain artwork from closing churches in the area, and preserve the art as well. Buffalo has lost approximately fifty churches. In recent years, the total count could top a thousand closed doors from Northeastern cities alone: Chicago, Boston, Albany, and Columbus Ohio to name a few.
Holland has done an outstanding job, collecting work from Bavarian-born, German-born, Italian-born, and Polish-born artists. Diverse in nature, this historical collection is resonant of the countless numbers of European immigrants that came to this country or Buffalo in particular, in search of a better life.
“My dream would be that people understand the importance of this art and architecture and that they come to Buffalo to see these churches that are still standing. People will go to Europe to visit churches that have nothing to do with how religious or non-religious they are, people just go there. I think they can come to Buffalo because we have some pretty outstanding buildings,” said Holland.
To better get an idea of what this ethnic-rich atmosphere feels like, feel free to check them out online. Also, Squeaky Wheel, a nonprofit media arts center, is featuring a program called the Buffalo Youth Media Institute. This program challenges children grades eight through twelve for three months every summer to create their own documentaries. The presentations of their finished work will be held at the Burchfield Penny Art Center on Sunday, September 15th from 1:30 P.M. to 4 P.M. and Participant Noah G Williams has chosen to do his project on Holland’s Museum.