Everyone can use some inspiration sometimes, especially lately. Chris Bainbridge has the perfect destination for you. Join him as he journeys to Ashe County to explore another hidden treasure tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In the 1970s, a man named Ben Long approached the pastor of two small Episcopalian churches with an offer—to donate his services by installing frescoes on the worship space walls.
“We’ll take it!” exclaimed Minister Faulton Hodge. He quickly followed with, “What is a fresco?”
A fresco is an ancient art form. Technically, cave paintings are a form of fresco. Ben Long employed this style decades ago, here in Ashe County, in the same style that Michelangelo used for painting the Sistine Chapel.
Ground earth pigments are mixed with water and then applied to a damp lime plaster surface. Those pigments absorb as the plaster dries, becoming part of the wall itself. Pretty cool, right?
Long completed “Mary Great with Child,” right here inside St, Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Jefferson. He also painted “John the Baptist” and “Mystery of Faith.” Long never stopped working on the frescoes, not even during service. However, he did pause to accept communion, then went right back to work.
Just up the road in Glendale Springs is Holy Springs, two more of Pastor Hodge’s churches. Long applied his gifts here too. He painted the sweeping fresco “The Last Supper” and installed the piece while the church underwent renovation.
For the paintings, town locals and Long’s family members served as models for many Biblical figures. Long’s dedication to his father, who passed away while Long was working on the fresco, can be found near the foot-washing bowl. A portrait of his wife and children is located on the other side of the church, and if you’d like to see the artist, St. Thomas is a self-portrait of Ben Long.
The Ben Long Trail, as it’s become known today, travels through the Highlands. You can find his works in Montreat, Ashe County, Wilkesboro, and Morganton. A quick search online reveals many websites to help guide you in your exploration.
If you visit AsheFrescoes.org, you’ll find a resource for the ones Bainbridge showed you in the video above. So, come and be inspired by an ancient art form and a stunning local resistance.
To learn more about Ingles Market, visit their website at ingles-markets.com.