Fresco at Sloop Chapel
A Work of Wonder: Ben Longâ€™s Fresco Comes To Life At Crossnore School For Children
By Babette McAuliffe
as published in Carolina Mountain Living
â€œMen, women, the young and the old are moved to tears when they see the fresco. It is certainly more powerful than I ever imagined possible,â€ says Dr. Phyllis Crain of the latest work of internationally acclaimed artist Benjamin F. Long.
The fresco, located in the E.H. Sloop Chapel in the heart of the schoolâ€™s campus, is titled â€œSuffer, the Little Childrenâ€ and was commissioned by Crain, executive director of the Crossnore School for Children.
Sixteen feet long and nearly 10 feet high, Longâ€™s fresco tells the story of how Jesus received the children as the crowds surrounded him. â€œLet the children come to me, do not stop them,â€ he said according to Mark 10:13-16. â€œFor it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.â€
â€œIt was a dream I had all along,â€ Crain said of the fresco. â€œI envisioned it would be a comforting work for the children here at Crossnore. Benâ€™s work has surpassed all my dreams.â€
Work began in earnest last June. Accompanied by a small group of dedicated apprentices, Long worked tediously to produce a work in plaster and rich pigments, detailed with sand, lime, and passion. Six weeks later, Long applied the final stroke, the scaffolding came down, and the fresco became a permanent part of the chapel.
â€œTo see the image of Jesus in the fresco and how He gathered the children around â€“ that is what touches everyoneâ€™s heart,â€ said Crain.
Before the fresco could become a reality, Crain had to see if the funds for the project could be raised.
â€œI knew all along that we could do it,â€ she said, recounting how she envisioned about 10 people who would hear about the project and call her. And they did. â€œThey are lovers and collectors of fine art and they see the bigger picture of what we are doing here in Crossnore.â€
The fresco has now been added to the Benjamin F. Long IV Fresco Trail - which includes his Ashe County frescoes at St. Maryâ€™s Episcopal Church in West Jefferson and Holy Trinity Episcopal in Glendale Springs - and will stand the test of time in the Sloop Chapel as a testament to not only his work, but the work that is done day in and day out for the children at the school.
â€œPeople will come from as far as Iceland to stand before Longâ€™s creation and admire the beauty and will see Godâ€™s work that is being done with the children in Crossnore,â€ Crain said. â€œIt touches them in the deep part of their soul â€“ helping make all of us more trusting, humble and more childlike before Christ. A mythology of sorts is already being created around the comments and impressions from the frescos.â€
While many of the children in the fresco are composites of some of the children at Crossnore School, those who were not used as models feel as though they are represented. One of their little girls, Megan, said with enthusiasm upon seeing the finished fresco, â€œThat has to be me. The cheeks are just like mine.â€
Long was born in Texas in 1945 and grew up in Statesville and studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Art Studentâ€™s League in New York. Long later lived in Florence, Italy, where he began his apprenticeship under Maestro Pletro Annigoni. He has since achieved international fame as a master of fresco, drawing and oil painting.
Crossnore School has been in operation since 1913, educating, training and helping children in need. Under Crainâ€™s direction, the facility, which houses, feeds, nurtures, and educates children placed there from dysfunctional family settings by the stateâ€™s social service agencies, has become totally self-sufficient.
The chapel is open to the public every day from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. except on Thursdays, when the chapel is in use from 2-3 p.m. For more information call 828-733-4305.