“Thin Places” art show explores community

Thin Places, an exhibit by MaryEllen Hendricks, on display in Hoskins Hall at Saugatuck Congregational Church until Oct. 23

Thin Places, an exhibit by MaryEllen Hendricks, on display in Hoskins Hall at Saugatuck Congregational Church until Oct. 23

Sophie Call, Staff Writer

MaryEllen Hendricks first started thinking about her Thin Places Project after hearing a sermon at Compo Beach about the small island of Iona off the coast of Scotland.

“Thin places,” she explained, “are places where the distance between heaven and earth are tissue thin.”

She’s spent the last two years documenting people from the community’s thin places, places of reflection and escape. “What I love about it,” she said, “is that people have thin places in their own backyard, across the street, around the corner. You don’t need to travel to somewhere like Iona to find them.” She’s captured these photos on antique equipment, including a lens from the late 1800s.

Her husband, Michael Hendricks, explains how the primitive photography lends something to the photos that is lost with modern equipment. “They capture auras,” he said, “they leave room for interpretation.”

Now, the photos are printed on silk and displayed in Saugatuck Congregational Church. Some hang from the ceiling, fluttering in the breeze, while most are framed on the wall, with a small quote from the person who contributed the place.

All of the photographs have a full life behind them –– a photo of a small toy soldier on the beach simply captioned “I need to be my own knight in shining armor,” is the story of a woman who, after her mother’s death, had continued to visit the beach, a place her mother had so loved.

“I come here and I’m just at peace,” reads a quote next to a photo of the woods.

“All of a sudden this blinding joy came over me,” declares an image of a marsh at sunrise.  

“It’s about the stories first,” said Michael Hendricks. “The photographs are trying to catch the relationship between a person and a place.”

Looking at the photos, it’s easy to feel the connection. Priscilla Long of Westport said as she pointed to a photo of the sanctuary of Saugatuck Congregational Church, “This one is so peaceful. It actually brought tears to my eyes.”

Nicole Mathias ’16, who has known MaryEllen Hendricks since kindergarten, said of the photographs, “You can really see the movement of the natural world in her photos,” and went on to say that the creativity that she’s always admired in MaryEllen Hendricks is completely visible in this installation.  

Standing in this room, surrounded by the private places of dozens of people, it’s easy to feel the connection that MaryEllen Hendricks was photographing.

“At first, I thought this was going to be an exercise in photography,” she said. “What I quickly came to understand was it was an exercise in community and trust.”

Four of the Thin Places, printed on silk and hung from the ceiling