Banner Elk, NC Oct. 20th
We had a few specific destinations in mind as we began the day. First and foremost were two sites showcasing religious frescoes. Ben Long is a North Carolina native who, among other achievements, served an apprenticeship under the Italian fresco master Pietro Annigoni. He returned to the US and his first fresco commissions were churches in Ashe County North Carolina (a county just northeast of Banner Elk and bumping up to the VA and TN state borders). Long has created numerous other frescoes, religious and secular.
Fresco painting involves a technique of applying paint directly to wet plaster, allowing the paint to become a portion of the material and enhancing the color of the fresco over the years, rather than having the paint diminish. The two churches involved, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Jefferson and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church 10 miles away in Glendale Springs were mission churches dating from about 1900, but Holy Trinity was closed in 1946.
In the early 1970s, a new priest re-invigorated St. Mary’s and through a meeting with Ben Long, the fresco mural project was begun. In 1980, Holy Trinity’s church was restored and a fresco added there. Ben Long created three frescoes at St. Mary’s; focused on salvation, the foreshadowing, the promise, and the fulfillment. A fresco of John the Baptist in the wilderness is the symbol of the foreshadowing. The promise is uniquely portrayed as Mary expectant with the child Jesus. The fulfillment is shown as Christ on the Cross with God the Father overlooking him.
At Holy Trinity, the one mural portrays “The Last Supper”. Long created this with assistance from students of his. The community became involved in this project, volunteering as models, making meals for the students, etc. The murals helped spark a revival of the churches as well as encouraging visitation from around the globe. (Today, while we were in attendance, we were the only ones at St. Mary’s. Holy Trinity must have had at least 20 people during our time there. We also gave directions back to St. Marys for a couple who were at Holy Trinity.)
The churches are small and, while well maintained, are modest. There are audio presentations at each church explaining the development and meaning of each fresco. We found those both well-written and well-spoken. The frescoes themselves are vibrant and moving. Seeing Mary portrayed as pregnant was an unusual presentation that completed the theme very nicely. A further unusual piece of art at St. Mary’s was a painting of Jesus titled “The Laughing Jesus”, again, not the normal portrayal one comes across.
Our second stop was the Art and History Museum in Blowing Rock. Blowing Rock is the upscale, cutesy tourist town. We focused on the museum since it was featuring the work of female sculptors and other artists. The art exhibits were worth the visit.
Blowing Rock and the drive to it from Glendale Springs along the Blue Ridge Parkway continued to educate us about the area. Boone is home to Appalachian State University with 17,000 students. The counties in the area are home to major Christmas tree nurseries, many with cut your own options. Gem mining is a major tourist attraction from here all the way down to Franklin, due to the geology underlying the Appalachians. Banner Elk is a ski resort area, with more visitors in the winter than in the summer.
Due to the elevation, these counties attract vacation home residents and visitors from Dallas, Florida, and the Carolina coasts here in the summer for the coolness and in winter for the skiing. Their influx enhances the economy and varies the diversity of the area.
Finally we stopped at the Moses Cone Visitor Center. It too houses local handcrafts but the building was once the home of Moses Cone. Cone was the son of German Jewish immigrants, the family worked in the dry goods field and became successful. Eventually Moses set out on his own and with other partners became succesful in the textile business. He became known as the “Denim King” for recognizing and fulfilling the need of “regular” folk to have durable clothing. He began supplying denim to Levi Strauss and his company has been its main supplier to this day. He died in 1908 and his widow left the mansion they built and the 3500 acres of land they accumulated up in the hills to the local hospital which in turn sold it to the National Park Service with the proviso that it be named for Moses Cone. (Side note: Cone’s two sisters had money and became friends with Picasso and Matisse; their extensive art collection was donated to the Baltimore museum of Art.)
The Cone visitor center has 25 miles of roads to explore with forests planted extensively by the Cones with a variety of trees and plants. We were able to spend over an hour wandering among the woods along several trails. Once again, it would be nice to re-visit this area when the shrubs and plants are flowering. Maybe another time.
Ed and Chris 10:45 PM