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Late last fall, we were approached by Ashley Barber, owner at Manifest Makeup, LLC for our consideration to participate in a styled shoot at an abandoned church, City Methodist Church, in Gary, IN! I was immediately intrigued by the idea, and once I took a look at previous photos of the church posted on Instagram and elsewhere, I realized that we might not have another opportunity like this for a long time, and we decided to move forward with agreement to participate.
I had previously met Ashley at The Big Fake Wedding, Chicago, last June, and we kept in touch by Instagram, so I was really thrilled that she thought of us for the furniture and accent pieces needed to complete the styled shoot. Ashley and I spoke a little about the areas that she hoped to have styled, specifically a ceremony area, a sweetheart table area, and a Lounge area for the reception. Originally, we had hoped to use an outdoor area for the Lounge area, but with unrelenting rain for several days beforehand, we decided to move the Lounge area inside, to protect our furniture from layers of soft ground. It was also November, and we weren’t sure just how long the weather would last to shoot outside, either.
As I gave this abandoned church some real thought, it seemed like the idea of using elegant furniture and accent pieces was the look we both wanted to show, so I gave Ashley a detailed description of my vision, and she agreed with everything. In order to get everything there that we needed however, we loaded a 17 ft. truck to make the trip to Gary, IN, and the weather that day was perfectly sunny, and only a little bit chilly! As parts of the ceiling and walls continue to collapse and fall from the structure, each group that receives permission to use the space for video/photography, has to sign off on a waiver of liability. It wasn’t until we reached the site, however, and I walked inside, that I could understand why!
The structure was massive; including a full size 1000 seat theatre, a gymnasium, a Sunday School and a dining hall, and was part of a nine-story complex. Some stained glass pieces were completely gone, and others remained that were breathtaking as the sun shone through! I was so glad we had arrived almost an hour before everyone else, and I had time to look around and take it all in. I could just imagine all the hundreds of people that had attended church there in it’s glory days, the music that had filled the space, the weddings performed there, and all the lives touched in that beautiful structure. At a cost of nearly $800,000, the construction of this church began in 1925, and took nearly 21 months. I took as many pictures as I could on my IPhone, just to remember what I had seen and felt, and then we started unloading the truck.
We worked quickly unloading chairs for the ceremony area, along with pillars, candleabra, cylinder vases to line the ceremony walkway, and a pillar backdrop that was beautifully decorated with a garland of fresh flowers, a lounge seating area, and sweetheart table and chairs. Fresh rose petals were scattered along the walkway that had pieces of slate from the ceilings, wooden beams, rocks and dirt scattered along the path. We set the path with chairs on each side of the aisle, and lit the candles, creating such a beautiful reminder of how things looked many years ago as couples walked the aisle to be married. While Ashley did last minute touches of makeup and hair for the models, we moved on set up in the next area.
We turned to set up of a reception area, including the sweetheart table and chairs where the couple had a few photos taken. The walls were filled with graffiti, and scattered remnants of squatters who had lived in the abandoned space were visible all around. These things only added to the awe of the magnificence that the space used to hold, and I was just captured by it all! As I was searching for a small piece of wood or something to act like a riser for one of our cement urns, I spied something that took my breath away. Having played the piano since I was a young child, I have a real love of music, the history of music from ages past; it’s something that often needs no explanation, but to take in the feeling that bores deep in your heart. In the words of Hans Christian Anderson, “Where words fail, music speaks.” I find this true so often!
And, what I found lying on the ground was the heavy steel harp of a grand piano (the piece that all the strings are attached to inside the piano case). It was aged green, and the steel strings were still attached, but broken into tiny little lengths. My heart nearly stopped as I bent down to see that this was really what I thought it was. Immediately, my mind traveled to the music that had been played on this grand piano, and where and how it got to this place, lying in the dirt. If only I could bring it home with me!
Back to our styled shoot – I set up the dining area with our Sweetheart table and chairs, candles, flowers surrounding a wedding cake, and a full table setting for the bride and groom models, who are a real couple, as well! As the sun faded, to really started to get chilly, so much that as soon as a group of photos were taken, the couple quickly bundled back up with waiting jackets to stay warm!
While the photographer, Nicole Fasoranti, was taking these photos, we quickly moved to setting up the Lounge area in front of a huge fireplace. We carried in a large Persian area rug in rich blue tones, and placed a burgundy settee along with two ivory French Bergere chairs across from it, with an elaborate coffee table and accents. As it was quickly getting dark, I lit candles in each of the clear cylinders, and they gave off light in this Lounge seating area, that was stunning.
I will never forget all the emotions I felt while styling our pieces for this shoot; it was a cavernous space, but the touches of so much beauty still remaining made it clear that it’s really possible to take nearly any setting, and with the right furniture and decor pieces, make that area come alive and be breathtaking, again! The abandoned City Methodist Church became just that for me, amongst the piles of trash, broken slate tiles, lumber, and collapsed walls. I was able to look past all of that and imagine what this church had been when it was built beginning in 1925, and imagine again, just for an hour or two, that we were decorating the City Methodist Church of Gary, IN, for a memorable wedding ceremony!
The opportunity to be part of this styled shoot proved to me, once again, that this creative endeavor, providing and styling furniture and decor rentals for events of all sorts, allows nearly any space to become what the client wants it to be. Whether it’s rustic or luxurious, a meadow or a French-inspired garden, an abandoned church or an urban loft, it’s the details that bring the space to life, and that’s what we enjoy bringing to every event!
And the kitty? This little stray kitten heard us talking and working, and once he realized we were friendly, would not leave our sight! Ashley made a run to McDonald’s to get a fish sandwich for him, and he gobbled it up! And, after several phone calls to shelters in the area were unsuccessful in finding a safe place for him, he went to a new home with one of the members of this creative team!
All in all, it was such a fun day! We finished loading all of the pieces of our inventory about the time it was completely dark! The candles in the mantle gave us enough light to get everything gathered up before it was too late to see if we’d left anything behind. What a great experience! We were told that plans were to close entrance to the church following our visit, and begin work to create a ruins garden! I hope plans are successful; even in it’s state of decay, there’s still so much beauty to be seen, and I really hope they use the piano harp in some creative way.
So, whether your wedding or celebration is in a beautiful location, or something as simple as a field of flowers, adding just the right touches with furniture and decor will bring your event to another unforgettable level, and we’d love to be part of the creation!
Ashley Barber, hair and makeup, www.manifestmakeupllc.com
Nicole Fasoranti, photography, www.nikolemarie.com
Sean @ www.luxeproductions.com
Angelica Grace Bridal, www.angelicagracebridal.com
Gretchen @ edith-elan.com
Vintage Rentals and Styling, Elements Preserved