Carl White's Life in the Carolinas

Unexpected Treasures
Churches of the Frescoes
by Suzelle Sinclair
suzelle.sinclair@earthlink.net

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful,
for beauty is God’s handwriting.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is no surprise to find magnificent works of art within the walls of the grand cathedrals of Italy, Michelangelo’s frescoes at the Vatican, the works of Giotto at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. It is expected that such impressive architecture  would be home to these amazing treasures. But sometimes the most beautiful treasures are found in the most unexpected and ordinary places.

My travels in Ashe County, North Carolina, took me along winding dirt roads, past hillsides of grazing cattle, to a quaint little country church, Holy Trinity Episcopal, in Glendale Springs. This charming white-clapboard country church is surrounded by a neatly manicured lawn and white picket fence. Standing outside, one would imagine the interior to be modestly furnished and equally quaint. Few would imagine based on its external appearance, that within its walls are amazing works of art that rival those of Italy’s great cathedrals. Yet, one step into the chapel and you will be immediately mesmerized by the grand fresco of The Last Supper by Ben Long.

THE LAST SUPPER FRESCO BY BEN LONG AT HOLY TRINITY EPISCOPAL CHURCH PHOTO BY SUZELLE SINCLAIR
EXTERIOR OF HOLY TRINITY EPISCOPAL CHURCH PHOTO BY SUZELLE SINCLAIR

Long is a North Carolina native who studied and learned his craft in Italy. He was an apprentice of internationally renowned Maestro Pietro Annigoni in Florence. This is where he learned the art of True Fresco. The technique of fresco painting works pigments into freshly applied plaster. The painting is in the wall as opposed to being painted onto the wall.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church is one of two churches in Ashe County that is adorned with frescos by Ben Long. Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Jefferson is also home to the impressive work of Long and his students. There, he worked in the 1970s on several pieces, including The Mystery of Faith, completed in 1977.

THE MYSTERY OF FAITH BY BEN LONG AT SAINT MARY’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH PHOTO BY SUZELLE SINCLAIR
EXTERIOR SAINT MARY’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH PHOTO BY SUZELLE SINCLAIR

In 1980, Long and 20 of his students worked for three months to complete the impressive Last Supper fresco at Holy Trinity. Local residents served as models for many of the biblical figures. Ben Long himself served as the model for the figure of Thomas. Seated at the far right of the mural, Thomas is the only figure that gazes out of the fresco to engage the viewer.

While sitting to study and admire the spectacular Last Supper fresco, I couldn’t help but think about how often we allow our expectations to limit our ability to see the true treasures. It would have been easy to drive past this little country church with a preconceived idea of what was inside and never experience this extraordinary moment. I wonder how many other treasures I have missed by hurrying past without stopping to explore. How many people have I passed by without learning about their amazing stories and talents or seeing their beauty?

As I study the mural, my thoughts are about those individuals who are depicted. At the Last Supper are Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, James and John, all of whom were fishermen, an ordinary profession. Who would have suspected that within them were treasures so very special that they would be among the twelve apostles? I suspect that even they were unaware of their great gifts as they cast their nets. I wonder, even as they sat at the table on that Passover evening, could they have imagined the amazing things they would do.

As I turned to leave, I gazed one last time at this spectacular image as a reminder to look for extraordinary treasures in even the most unexpected places, in all people and within myself.

PAINTING OF HOLY TRINITY EPISCOPAL CHURCH BY SUZELLE SINCLAIR

For more information about Holy Trinity and Saint Mary’s including directions and how you can help maintain these treasures, visit: www.ashefrescoes.org

For more information about these frescos and Ben Long’s many other works,

CHARLOTTE WEATHER