After taking turns standing at the podium, we headed toward the choir loft. At the bottom of the stairs, Davis pointed out the annotated diagram of the frescoes, listing artist and subject.
Later, when I read up on the building’s history, I learned that this was no Tom Sawyer-style, “Let’s all paint a church, kids” project. Three national competitions, juried by such prestigious judges as the directors of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, selected the young contemporary artists to paint the frescoes. They included some of the founders of the Skowhegan School, including Willard Cummings, Henry Varnum Poor and Sidney Simon. According to the South Solon Historical Society, the artists received these instructions: “There shall be no limitation of subject matter; however, bearing in mind the religious character of the building, which has been non-sectarian from its inception, it’s suggested that the New and Old Testaments offer rich and suitable subject matter. This material should be interpreted in imaginative terms which allow complete freedom to develop symbols, association, or legends.”
In the choir loft, we took turns ringing the bell, then kept gasping over more frescoes. Up here, they’re groups of angels with harps and lutes and horns and cymbals. One carries a man in flight; I struggled to remember the Bible studies of my youth, then gave up and just kept taking it in without trying to analyze.
Besides the frescoes themselves, the most surprising thing about the meetinghouse is that it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no admission fee or even an attendant. If Davis hadn’t been mowing, we wouldn’t have seen another soul. No wonder people come here for weddings and other celebrations, or to just sit and meditate, or like us, to wander around and marvel.
It was obvious with one whisper that another special thing about the place are the acoustics. “They’re fantastic,” said Davis, and not only when the music is of the organized variety. Once, he came in to find a couple playing guitar on stage, with no audience other than him.
He smiled at the memory: “The sound was just so, so sweet.”
South Solon Meeting House
South Solon Road and Meeting House Road
Open daily round the clock. Free, donations appreciated.
Yonan is on book leave in Maine. He can be reached through his Web site, www.joeyonan.com.