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Helen Fuhrmann, Angelus Gallery in Wilmington hoping to tilt scales against urban blight

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Helen Fuhrmann is hoping her small art gallery will make a difference. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

WILMINGTON — The neighborhood around St. Peter Cathedral, like many others in America’s inner cities, has battled crime, drugs and urban blight. Helen Fuhrmann is hoping her small art gallery will make a difference.

Fuhrmann opened The Angelus Gallery at 417 W. Fifth St. in May after nearly two years of restoration. On the first Friday of each month, the gallery is part of the Wilmington Art Loop, and proceeds from sales benefit the Ministry of Caring. The nonprofit social-service organization maintains several properties in the Quaker Hill section of the city.

Fuhrmann purchased the vacant building in late 2016 without really knowing what she would do with it. She decided on a gallery on the first floor.

Fuhrmann and her husband first bought a home in Quaker Hill in 1994. They thought about apartments, along with a place for Fuhrmann to paint and sew, in the building. The second floor is her workspace, and the third floor is an executive suite they hope to rent out.

“I had this space. I do dabble in art. I thought, ‘I need to put a real show in here. I don’t have my own stuff together. I have to get some stuff on the walls,’” she said.

The Angelus currently features the work of Wilmington artist Martha Ann Szczerba, who met Fuhrmann on a pilgrimage to Medjogorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Fuhrmann had roomed with Szczerba on the pilgrimage but hadn’t seen her since their return to Delaware. One day after Mass at the Sacred Heart Oratory – maintained by the Ministry of Caring – she spotted Szczerba.

“I got up after Mass, I walked over to her, and I said, ‘Martha Ann, why don’t you put on a show of your work at my art gallery?’”

The Ministry of Caring certainly can use the funds. Fuhrmann refers to that section of Wilmington as “heroin central.” She lives just a few blocks from the gallery.

“You have to be practically religious to come here because it’s really tough here. I don’t just mean the street life of drugs and prostitution. In my back alley you don’t want to know what I pick up there. It’s really bad,” she said.

The grand opening for The Angelus was in May. Fuhrmann and Szczerba worked with the Ministry of Caring to get the Josephine Bakhita House open for tours. Local pianist Mark Blaschke performed at the grand opening.

“We had a great opening,” Furhmann said, “and we made money, and the money went to the brother.”

That would be Brother Ronald Giannone, the Capuchin Franciscan priest who founded the Ministry of Caring more than 40 years ago and remains its executive director 42 years later. He said the assistance is greatly appreciated.

“The proceeds from the sale of Ms. Szczerba’s art will help us provide food and shelter for the poorest among us, especially the children,” Brother Ronald said. “We thank Helen Fuhrman for her caring generosity and creativity in using art to improve the lives of others through the Ministry of Caring.”

According to Fuhrmann, Szczerba’s art – “Saintly Inspirations” – is not as traditional as that of other Roman Catholic artists. Her work brings out emotions and connects with people, Fuhrmann explained. One piece, of St. Michael the Archangel, sat in Szczerba’s back yard for years. It portrays the saint as a mythical creature, but without sacrilege. The divinity is still there, “but he’s real for us.”

All kinds of religious figures are represented on the walls, and there are smaller posters and other items for sale for those who perhaps can’t afford a painting. That includes stationery and smaller works on blocks of wood.

“We sell big and little things. It’s not for just the big donors,” Fuhrmann said.

One of the pieces that has been sold is a door that features Jesus on one side and Mary Undoer of Knots on the other. Jesus, she noted, is “not exactly a Swede” in the rendering, and Fuhrmann is in discussions with the Baptist church across the street about displaying the door where a stained-glass window used to be.

“With any luck, these images are going to go into those two bricked-up windows. Imagine Jesus knocking, and Mary, Undoer of Knots,” she said.

Fuhrmann’s vision is that The Angelus will become a home for sacred art and help generate the funds necessary to revitalize the area encompassed by Washington, Fourth, West and Eighth streets. There are people trying to make things better, but it’s an uphill battle, she said. She praised the work of the Daughters of Charity and the faculty and staff at St. Peter Cathedral School, which provides a safe space for its almost entirely minority student population.

Brother Ronald said Fuhrmann and The Angelus are assets to the Quaker Hill community.

“The gallery is a destination that brings people into the community, brings them together and to other nearby activities and organizations. We were very pleased that Helen chose artist Martha Ann Szczerba’s ‘Saintly Inspirations’ art to feature and also chose the Ministry of Caring as the beneficiary for the grand opening of her art gallery in May,” he said.

Future plans include a Christmas party, and she hopes to reach out to other Catholic artists “from age 6 to 100.” Students from Catholic schools could have their work on display for the community to see while helping the neighborhood and the Ministry of Caring.

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