Virginia City: Upside Down Church installed

Sam Shear

A rainbow greets the Upside Down Church as it arrives in Virginia City.

Here is the church and here is the steeple. Open the door and see – Oh, sweet Mother Goose! – a heart-wrenching mess.

Inspired by a “very personal, visceral” church gathering with his family, artist Sam Shear revealed his sculpture, Upside Down Church, on Sunday, May 27, in Virginia City. After a presentation, Jenni Charles and Jesse Dunn of the Dead Winter Carpenters performed a gospel hour of songs.

A Lake Tahoe resident, Shear owns Terrapin Ridge Productions and works with Devil Dog Productions, a major live music promoter in the area. He earned a degree at Sierra Nevada College, where he realized his passion for art and music. After a hiatus at his home-state Illinois, he moved back to Tahoe. Sunday’s event is part of Shear’s SNC master’s thesis in fine arts.

He said his art’s subject matters are things that affect him, controversial topics within the realm of social, political and environmental issues. Nothing’s more controversial than religion or heartfelt than family.

The concept of the Upside Down Church came to Shear at his grandmother’s funeral. Church steeples point heavenward on Midwestern skylines, but inside, familial demons dwell.

“My thought was my family could put issues behind us and move forward and unfortunately it was at that funeral service that I was very conscious and aware that my family was separated,” he said. “In the church, I saw nasty glares and heard sly comments. It was a very jarring experience, especially for someone who was not religious, like myself. I had all these preconceived notions of what a church is and what it does.”

The 1/20-scale replica of a Midwest style church, with its steeple planted in the earth, sits across the street from the St. Mary’s Art Center. Shear said it’s an appropriate site to be in Virginia City, with its historic buildings and hillsides scarred by mining in the 1800s.

“Like a ship on the water, where a ship leaves a wake behind it, the Upside Down Church, where the steeple meets the ground, leaves this deep trench,” Shear said. “The trench is a metaphor for the issues we have and the aftermath left behind.

Sam ShearSam Shear

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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