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FBC Townley preserves unique 1934 baptistry, muralcomment (0)

March 1, 2012

By Julie Payne

FBC Townley preserves unique 1934 baptistry, mural

The sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Townley, constructed in 1920, contains many artistic points of interest. 

Light darts in through windows made of imported Florentine glass teeming with soft purple, yellow and blue-green hues. 

The sanctuary’s dark wood molding and woodwork, original pews and elaborate tile ceiling speak of the church’s history in the community and a congregation that has lovingly tended to its care for almost a century.

Aside from all these distinct elements is another gem that catches the eye’s attention. 

Stretched across the majority of the front wall is a mural of the Jordan River. The scene is pastoral, with a shepherd tending his flock shown prominently on the left of the painting. A warm golden glow envelops rolling green hills. Trees reflect in the river, and distant small buildings and villages dot the landscape. 

In the center of the mural, a cavelike, three-dimensional area protrudes out where the baptistry is enclosed. 

The baptistry exists in such synergy within the larger context of the painting that one may have to look twice before realizing it is there.

“It’s supposed to look like you’re coming out into the Jordan to be baptized,” Pastor Andrew Dickerson said.

Details about the history of this work of art and its creators are hard to come by, but church member Norman Patton is a good resource. His great-great-uncle, William Patton was the founding pastor of First, Townley, when it began in the 1890s. 

According to Norman Patton, who has studied the church’s history, some historical details about the artwork have been lost but general parts are known. 

As the story goes, the pastor at the time wanted a unique item for the sanctuary. One day in 1934, a man named Fullerton got off a train and appeared at the church looking for a meal. Once he saw the church, he offered to paint a mural on the sanctuary wall. Two men were hired as assistants for the duration of the project, and Patton thinks it took them only a couple of weeks to complete.

The men put up a large tarp to cover their work in progress. 

“When they got it finished, they had a big gathering,” Patton said. “[The church was] packed to full capacity.” 

When the mural and baptistry were unveiled, people were in awe. 

“They could just not believe that was what they were looking at,” Patton said.

Upon close inspection of the painting, the name “Fullerton” and the date “1934” can be found in the bottom right corner. In the bottom left corner are the names “Harless” and “Codner” and the word “assist,” indicating the two assistant artists’ names.

Closer examination reveals that a combination of time and the sanctuary’s natural light has begun to slowly erode certain areas. 

A chicken wire and papier-mâché combination was used to sculpt the three-dimensional trees and base area surrounding the baptistry. Words from newspaper pages used for the papier-mâché peek through the wire at some lower points of the base.

Dickerson pointed.

“It’s cracking some at the top,” he said as he craned his neck upward to inspect the mural. 

He then directed his gaze to a painted dove. “They tell me [the paint] used to be a lot brighter than that,” said Dickerson, who came to First, Townley, in 2010.

To his knowledge, no restoration work has ever been done. But that doesn’t mean the artwork is not well looked after.

“We almost go out of our way to make sure that we keep this as intact as possible,” Dickerson said.

Lucky Teague, director of missions for Walker Baptist Association, is one person who was struck by the baptistry’s uniqueness. 

“When I saw it, I was just amazed,” he shared. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Teague is not aware of any other sanctuary like it in the area, and he called it “a treasure for Walker County.”

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