How Great Thou ART

Story by Kelsey Boyd

He gave some to the apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists… and some to be artists?

While Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, may not specifically list “artists” among those in the Church, there is one in Russellville who is filling the spot.

Local artist Winston Taylor has lived in the Russellville community with his wife, Kristen, and recently married daughter, Megan since 1990. The Taylors have attended First United Methodist Church (FUMC) since coming to Russellville 17 years ago and have watched the church grow in membership and in size.

Because of continued growth, FUMC decided to construct a new building starting June 2005. The new building, completed in April 2007, houses a sanctuary, choir room, and several classrooms.

That’s where our artist comes in.

The idea for featuring a piece of original artwork in the church arose when Winston’s friend, Maysel Teeter, suggested that Winston donate his artwork to the new building at FUMC.

“I really liked that idea,” Winston said.

He approached the planning committee about contributing artwork to the new building, and after hearty approval from the committee, started planning for the sculpture.

While digging through books at the Arkansas Tech University Ross Pendergraft Library one day, Winston stumbled across a painting that caught his eye. The painting depicted a scene described in Mark 2, verse 13, “Once again, Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.” (NIV).

Inspired by the artwork in the book, Winston sketched his own version of the painting to be used as a model for his sculpture. He decided to create a circular sculpture depicting Christ teaching his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Winston used a bas-relief (pronounced BAH-releef) sculpting method in which a picture-like image is sculpted on a flat clay slab.

Winston planned the entire piece from beginning to end, a process that took him three years. During the three-year planning period, Winston and the team of builders and engineers working with FUMC pre-determined the sculpture’s exact measurements, calculated its estimated weight and plotted how to best hang the massive sculpture on the wall.

The sculpture, which was to be eight feet wide and one inch thick, was to fit in a circular recess in the wall and would be displayed in the entrance hall directly above the doors entering into the church’s brand new sanctuary.

After comprehending the magnitude of project that lay ahead of him, Winston realized this was no ordinary sculpture.

“I’d never done anything like that,” he recalls, “nothing even close.”

Winston remembers having “no idea how long it would take.” He said he could only hope and pray—literally.

Winston began the bas-relief project the first week in October 2006 with 1200 pounds of moist clay and many doubts.

“At first I was really apprehensive about the project,” he said, “but eventually, everything started working.”

He used a room in the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center as his workspace and built a rolling bridge that allowed him to hover over the large sculpture. By maneuvering on the moveable bridge, Winston was able to reach difficult places that were hard to work on, particularly the center of the enormous carving.

The first thing Winston did was create an overhead transparency of his sketch of the sculpture. He traced the sketch’s reflection from the overhead onto a transfer sheet, which he laid atop the clay circle, which actually began as nine-and-a-half foot diameter slab of clay one inch thick. He then carefully carved the massive image of Christ and his disciples into the clay.

Winston built up the sculpture by adding clay on top of the one-inch slab. Using simple, household items such as dinner forks, skewers and chopsticks, he began bringing the sculpture to life.

He also had to account for the percentage of shrinkage of the clay after firing it and used metric measurements to achieve the utmost precision. He fired a test image of Jesus’ face that measured one square foot in diameter and determined the percentage of shrinkage from the wet to dry clay.

Winston continued to work on the project for several weeks and was pleased at how nicely it was turning out. When the sculpture was nearly complete, Winston said he started “showing it off” and “feeling really proud” of his work, until he considered something he had lost sight of:

“This was not all my doing,” he realized.

While reading in his daily devotional one morning, Winston encountered a meaningful passage of Scripture from James 1, verse 17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father… (NIV)”.

“I know I wasn’t doing it by myself,” Winston remarked. “I truly feel that God worked in me.”

Winston recalled many problems that came up during the project that he had not planned for, but was able to solve them quickly. He attributes the solutions to God’s guidance.

After re-focusing his project and examining it through renewed eyes, Winston gathered his strength for his last efforts on the piece. He finished sculpting on Christmas Eve, 2006 and entitled his work Christ Teaching.

In order to fire the clay and transport it to FUMC, Winston cut the sculpture into 106 pieces. Twelve kiln firings were required to finish all 106 pieces of the sculpture. After its final firing, the entire clay sculpture measured exactly eight feet and one inch in diameter and weighed an estimated 800-900 pounds.

“It came out just as planned,” Winston remarked.

Winston and his now son-in-law Andy Beard transported the pieces of the carving to the church in two pick-up trucks. His daughter Megan lent a hand in assembling the pieces and preparing them to be hung on the wall. Wire was run through each piece and fastened to the wall to hold the carving in place.

After nearly four years, the sculpture was complete.

In spite of the anxiety, excitement, fears and doubts Winston felt while creating the project, he was able to see the bigger picture.

“It was kind of a growth thing for me,” Winston recalled while looking back on his experience. “It just seemed amazing to me that everything worked. I’m satisfied with it!

Winston Taylor
Winston Taylor has spent 35 years in pottery. He attended Little Rock public schools and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Art. After serving as a studio assistant to the late Rosemary Fisher, he taught pottery at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. He moved to Russellville in 1990 to take a job at the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center and has been teaching pottery in Russellville since that time.

While at the arts center, Winston formed the pottery program that is in place today. In 1993, he received the Arkansas Arts Award for the “Kids-at-Art” program he developed for children in the River Valley.

Winston has taken workshops from noted artistisans Paul Soldner, Don Reitz, Harvey Sadow, and Aldelphia Martinez. Winston’s work is most often raku fired and intended as objects of art.

Winston’s wife, Kristen, is a teacher at Sequoyah Elementary and has taught school for 31 years. Their daughter, Megan, recently married Andy Beard of Russellville.

Today, Winston continues to teach a few pottery classes at the arts center and the Community Christian School. For information on class offerings, contact the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center at (479) 968-2452 or visit the studio at 1001 East B Street, near the corner of Knoxville and East Main Streets.

 

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