At First Christian Church's city of Nazareth, pastel painter and volunteer Sheri Ramsey becomes Rachel, the maker of beads.
Ramsey imparts her skill as Rachel to several young people as part of the Vacation Bible School that welcomes youths to the boyhood home of Jesus.
As Ramsey opens the clay used in a bead-making session, a girl says it "looks like Laffy Taffy."
"It does, although it doesn't taste so good," Ramsey says.
Ramsey relates the history of beads as each girl in the "Reuben Tribe" works on her own beadwork. She tells the group the different bead materials used through the years: shells, stone, metal, clay and glass.
"The beads were worn, not just as necklaces, but they were to show people how rich you were," Ramsey says.
"I think you're great bead makers. I think you guys could be good competition for me if you came to the marketplace."
The fact that Ramsey had never made beads before volunteering as Rachel didn't stop her from taking her role seriously. She did her homework so that her students could experience the joy she had in teaching them.
Ramsey has put in similar effort during her 30 years of teaching as well as several years with the world and local outreach department at First Christian Church. She also is dedicated to her pastel painting and the outreach work she has done throughout the years, particularly when it comes to helping people worldwide who face genocide.
Ramsey is founder of Land of Lincoln-Advocate for Darfur, which promotes awareness of and action on the genocide in Darfur, a military conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan. She was moved to act on behalf of those affected by rape and displacement after reading New York Times syndicated columnist Nicholas Kristof's columns about the atrocities.
LLAD has hosted art fundraisers to raise money to buy solar cookers for women in refugee camps. People also have been encouraged to write to their congressmen regarding issues about Darfur.
Showing God's beauty
While the needs of Darfur remain, Ramsey says, she recently has concentrated on her painting.
"I feel God wants me to paint, too. I think that's why I'm here, is to paint," says Ramsey, who teaches art appreciation at Fairview Elementary School through her church and loves to demonstrate painting.
"I do outreach, but it's more through my art and donating my art to causes and hopefully making money for causes that way.
"I've done that for a long time. I'm just doing it more. I used to say, 'I'm only going to do it for two organizations a year,' and now it's six."
As a new member of Dining for Women (a dinner-giving circle to help poverty-stricken women and girls worldwide), Ramsey learns about causes to which she can donate. Over the years she has donated her paintings to many organizations, including the Simmons Cancer Institute and Lincoln Memorial Garden.
Jim Matheis, executive director at Lincoln Memorial Garden, says Ramsey has been a big help to the garden through her paintings - in particular, with her participation in the Art in the Garden fundraiser.
"Having Sheri participate in the en plein air portion, once you've got Sheri, you've got one of the top artists in the area or in town, which always means that you're going to have some good bids on her stuff," Matheis says.
Ramsey says she hopes she's showing God's beauty.
"Springfield, I think, is a most beautiful place, and people don't realize it," says Ramsey, who has painted in Norway, France, Italy and Africa.
Ramsey doesn't take what she calls God's "gift" of her painting talent lightly. A visual medium, painting is something she couldn't do if she became blind from complications of juvenile diabetes, which she has been fighting since her teens.
"I would have been blind 20 years ago if it weren't for advances in eye care," Ramsey says.
"Each of my eyes have had vitrectomies and a total of 17 laser surgeries (due to diabetic retinal atrophy), and now I'm on drops for glaucoma. All of these things could have caused me to lose my sight at a pretty early age."
Although Ramsey, who wears an insulin pump, calls diabetes a disease of "inconvenience," she hasn't let it slow her down. Acrylic painter Delinda Chapman describes Ramsey as tenacious, energetic, compassionate and caring.
"She sees something that needs to get done, she does it," says Chapman, who has worked on Darfur projects with Ramsey. She and Ramsey are members of the Prairie Art Alliance and a women's group that writes papers for presentation.
"She's just a wonderful person, and very creative, of course, and committed to her art," Chapman says.
"She's just been a wonderful asset to the community all these years in terms of the art world, for sure, and of course everything else that she's touched."
About Sheri Ramsey
Family: Husband, Don; son, Ryan Ramsey; and daughter, Lia Kiddy. Three grandchildren.
Education: 1971 graduate of Indiana University with bachelor's degree in art education with a focus on drawing and painting
Work: Taught art at Center Grove High School in Indiana two years; in 1973, went full-time into Ramsey Art Studio, working in pastel and oil; moved with husband, Don, in 1974 to Springfield; in the mid-1980s, began focusing on landscape painting
Volunteer efforts: Donating original paintings, volunteering at First Christian Church, working on behalf of people facing genocide worldwide
Passions: God/church, family and friends, dogs, art
Story published Friday, September 2, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 5 )