By WES HUETT
PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ No matter how intricate the art or meaningful the message, Andrew Hattermann says his studio’s work comes down to one simple thing: Beauty.
“We try to make a church more beautiful than it’s ever been,” the Peorian says. “That’s our goal.”
And for nearly 20 years in more than 50 churches across more than a dozen states, the Peoria artists of Murals by Jericho have done just that _ beautified religious spaces in myriad ways and methods.
Hattermann’s artistic journey is long and winding. The 56-year-old Limestone grad had studied art for years _ but his life truly changed 20 years ago when he met business partner Robert Hill while teaching a drawing class at Bradley University.
Hill then worked at Adams Outdoor Advertising and brought Hattermann on board to help on mural projects for restaurants, homes and malls. “We were getting whatever work we could,” Hattermann said.
One of the jobs was painting some simple interior murals for Byblos, a Lebanese restaurant located on the Peoria riverfront. Seemed simple enough. Yet the work caught the eye of some of the priests from St. Mark Catholic Church in Peoria as they grabbed lunch one day.
After plenty of phone tag, Hattermann and Hill eventually connected with the church, which hired them to work a complete overhaul of the church’s interior.
“We weren’t looking to get into this business, we were just looking for work at the time … it’s changed our lives dramatically,” Hattermann said. “It’s kind of divine providence the way things have worked for us.”
Included in the work for St. Mark’s was reproduction of paintings from Italian renaissance artist Fra Angelico, also the patron saint of arts. The work impressed Bishop Daniel Jenky, who in 2002 rededicated the church. Two years later, when the work was completed, Jenky designated the church as a shrine to Angelico.
“This all has been word of mouth,” Hattermann said, “and all been started by this one project.”
Since, Murals by Jericho has taken on projects in 13 states, including multiple churches in Texas and Illinois, including five total in Peoria. The work reaches as far west as California and Oregon, stretching east to Vermont and Virginia. Hattermann said he’s currently working on projects for churches in Alabama and Australia.
And it’s not just fine art paintings. The studio also designs furnishings, frames, stained glass and inlaid flooring. Plans for each church vary. Sometimes the leadership has specific ideas, other times they lean into the studio’s artistic expertise. Mostly, it’s a partnership.
“This is my work. I don’t do anything else, really,” Hattermann said. “The individual paintings aren’t as important as the overall affect we create by putting the artwork inside the space. For an artist to have his work be seen and mean so much to other people, I can’t think of anything better.”
It’s a family business for Hattermann and Hill, both of whom get help from spouses and children _ be it as business managers or as models for paintings. Most of the art is done in home studios and then installed on site at the churches. Paintings are done on canvas with artist oils and then glued to church walls with wallpaper paste.
“It’s like hanging a giant piece of wallpaper, 22 feet wide … getting bubbles out and getting it flat with dry paint rollers and plastic smoothers,” Hattermann said. “I’ve lost some sleep over that.”
Hattermann feels blessed to be making a living in art, but especially doing so in faith.
“It’s transformed our lives,” he said. “We do this a lot of times seven days a week . The incredible people we deal with, you can’t help but be affected by that. Our faith has grown a lot since this has all started.
“I still walk into St. Mark’s and Sacred Heart, and I am humbled they would let us do that. Our work is meant to inspire the faithful, and beauty inspires.
“I feel blessed.”