Pop into this quirky pop-up museum

Admire Christian kitsch at the Museum of Precious Moments.

The+museum+features+a+colorful+candy+shop+titled+%22Sweet+Jesus.%22

Marlena Lang // THE CHIMES

The museum features a colorful candy shop titled "Sweet Jesus."

Kayla Santos, Arts & Entertainment Editor

(This story was originally published in print on Feb. 20, 2020).

What do Precious Moments figurines, Veggie Tales and felt board illustrations all have in common? They all fall under the umbrella of “Christian kitsch,”—the bits of commercialized Christian culture that usually go unquestioned. For Biolans who want to relish in the nostalgia of their Sunday school days, look no further than the “Museum of Precious Moments” at the Earl and Virginia Green Art Gallery.

CHRISTIAN KITSCH 

Since the end of last semester, associate professor of art Daniel Chang has been working with students in his integrated design classes, along with art gallery director Jeff Rau, to bring the pop-up museum to life. In it, visitors will observe the old school, tacky components that commercialized Christianity has taken on as its own. 

While the exhibit does not serve as an opportunity to poke fun at the faith itself, senior art and music major Hannah Thigpen says it takes a playful look at the silly things that people have come to associate with Christianity. And nothing screams commercialized Christian culture more than vegetables who tell Bible stories and classic foldable chairs in a youth group space. 

“[We are] being very careful along the way never to poke fun at our God or our faith itself—just taking a playful look at the commercialization of our faith and the kind of silly things we’ve done with our faith along the way,” Thigpen said. 

FAMILIAR FACES

As soon as visitors walk in, they will immediately enter into a typical grandmother’s living room, a segment of the museum that Thigpen oversaw as a project lead. The room—composed of Precious Moments figurines, overlapped floral patterns and a cozy cross wall by the fireplace—should make visitors feel like they’re right at grandma’s. 

Thigpen and her team were dedicated to making sure the room included aspects of all cultures, not solely focusing on the westernized grandma’s living room. They wanted to do everything they could to make sure all cultures feel welcome, which Thigpen felt was the greatest challenge to overcome while preparing for the museum. 

Thigpen asked friends of different ethnicities to describe key elements commonly found in living rooms. She noticed a common thread in many people’s answers—a cross and a Last Supper painting. Thus, visitors can expect nothing less than to see these two elements in the living room, along with multiethnic Precious Moments figurines, to garner a sense of belonging.  

Thigpen, along with other students from Chang’s integrated design class, have been designing the spunky spaces. The gallery also features interactive segments, such as a Last Supper coloring wall, which invites visitors to color in drawings of commercialized Christian culture’s biggest stars—Larry the Cucumber of “Veggie Tales” and Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel and Kevin of “3-2-1 Penguins.” 

Plus, everyone knows felt boards were a Sunday school teacher’s best friend since they are, no doubt, the best way to tell Bible stories. Another interactive feature of the museum includes a felt landscape that welcomes visitors to make their own character out of spare felt and attach it to the landscape. 

Not only does the museum feature a coloring wall, a cozy living room and an interactive felt station, but it also presents a local candy shop, coined “Sweet Jesus,” that flaunts a crown jewel and a neon sign at the storefront. 

CHURCH MERCH 

Through each segment of the museum, the team hopes to convey a sense of playfulness through the “church merch” that has been embedded into Christian culture. Additionally, they hope to evoke familiarity and nostalgia in all who pass through the exhibition—whether they grew up in westernized Christian culture or not.  

Senior art major Grecia Cordova Galdamez, who hails from El Salvador and serves as a lead for the project, was not at all familiar with this idea of  “Christian kitsch.” But she and her peers found common ground as they joked about Christian cartoons. While she did not grow up watching Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber on television, Galdamez grew up watching “Ovejitas & Ovejitas,” a biblical-based cartoon that stars sheep with human hands.  

Whether it is through tacky felt characters or Thomas Kinkade paintings plastered against the wall, Chang and his students hope the “Museum of Precious Moments” makes visitors feel at home. 

“We’re breaking down bits and pieces of everyone’s memories and experiences through their sort of Christian journey and then just amplifying it,” Chang said.