By Stan Friedman
HILMAR, CA (June 10, 2014) — The vacation Bible school curriculum Hilmar Covenant Church is using this year includes simple instructions for building a simple tree that would be part of a forest. It shouldn’t take artist and set designer Mike Schulze any time at all.
“But simple is not Mike Schulze’s style,” says Sarah Barton, the director of children’s ministry.
Schulze dispensed with the directions and designed a set himself. Three weeks later, with the help of his college-age son, Luke, he had hand painted a backdrop that stretched across the entire stage complete with a waterfall.
Then there was the tree: It stands 17 feet tall, 32 inches wide and spreads 16 feet out over the stage. Should parents let them, children could swing from the branches. The jungle vines tangling the tree are strong enough to allow the actors to swing across the stage.
The tree also has a door that children can go through and then climb up the trunk to perform puppet shows.
“Mike is an unbelievable artist,” Barton says. “He takes a simple idea, dreams about it, and works countless hours to provide an environment that transforms a space into a place where kids get excited and are eager to learn. Mike is a gift to our church, children, and community.”
For the current project, Schulze began by finding and then transporting an old 11-foot water tank from the Claus Dairy for support. He created the huge leaves from a heavy plastic called “slipsheet” that is used under pallets in warehouses.
Barton isn’t surprised that Schulze would produce something fantastical. Last year, she asked him to design a set that matched the royal theme. Schulze created a massive castle with two 16-foot turrets.
“His creation was the talk of the town,” Barton says.
And all that work for a VBS that runs a week and will serve about 100 kids. “I had the privilege of growing up in a church that cared about kids and consistently made an investment in their lives,” says Schulze. “God gave me the gift of being creative and artistic, and I want to use it to glorify God. Being able to serve kids with this gift is what it’s all about.”
The town has come to expect the extravagant. “The Schulze home Christmas outdoors décor draws spectators from far and wide each year, and their backyard is more like a theme park than a garden,” Barton says.
Creativity runs in the Schulze family tree. He is a second-generation artist. His mother was known for her paintings, and his brother is an award-winning photographer.
The church has sought to pass down faith from generation to generation. “We want to do that in a way that is as exciting, wonderful, and colorful as the faith itself,” Barton says. “We have a group of fantastic people that share this vision and are willing to pour their passion into this one week, for the children in our community.”