About two years ago someone on Facebook told me that a benefactor had taken down the billboard that a group of us from St Johns Lutheran Church had positioned on I-81 near Abingdon, VA. It shocked me to remember something I did so many years ago. In 1996 I was a member of the St Johns Lutheran Church in Abingdon, Virginia. At the time I was a beginner iconographer and over the moon with wanting to share this beautiful practice. Frank Honeycutt was the resident pastor teaching us to minister to others and, urged all the members to do something beneficial for the public in Christ’s name. JJ Jesse of Bristol Sign, another parishioner, and I got thinking about public billboards for the highway. An offering of one second, to remember God while driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour, we were
living in the Bible Belt after all. So, the first Billboard we did was a large Pantocrator, 18 ft high with the message Peace Be Still
written beneath. To install the billboard with steel columns, the donated location came by way of Mary and David Haviland, from St Thomas Episcopal Church. Five years later, the icon of Jesus was falling apart so JJ took it upon himself to replaced it with other billboard we had painted but never found land for which was to go at the other end of town. Mary the Hoderguitria, with hands extended in Prayer, a message beneath saying Let it Be
I moved to Mexico abandoning our Let It Be Done Unto Me billboard of Mary, hoping she might end up on the highway with her son at the other end of town….
In 2016, Robert & Charity of Antiques at Winterhurst in Chilhowie got their hearts set on restoring the billboard. It was overgrown with branches and weeds, suffering from nature’s consumption of all that humanity leaves behind (as you can see in the photo). Charity said, “Each time I drove past, I could see nature slowly claiming more of her and praying she would not surrender. When I mentioned to Robert “Someone needs to save her” he replied, “Why can’t that be us?”
Charity sent me these photos and offered some final words. “ We apologize for not being able to fully capture the entire image (being so large and on the ceiling, it’s difficult to fully honor her when laying on the floor with a camera ). Mary Jane and JJ, thank you so much for creating Her. Saving her was a surreal dream for me. She has always held such an inspiring message for me. After she had been removed and moved to the new location, I drove past exit 19 that night and, out of habit, glanced toward where she always hung. Seeing her gone actually brought me to tears (even though I knew where she was!). It concerned me to think there might be other folks out there who were worried about where she went and we’ve truly tried to spread the word. Mary Jane, I am so happy you are helping to tell the story and guiding folks to where she can still be seen again in all her glory.”
Robert said, “Honestly, we didn’t realize just how big she actually was until we got it down and started trying to figure out where to display. Now, she’s hanging within a permanent custom built shadow box on the ceiling (the only place in the entire shop where it would fit!). Folks are in absolute awe when they look up and see her; such an unexpected surprise!” Even though it took a great deal of tedious work, she is safe from the elements where the message can continue to bring joy and inspiration to anyone who sees it. The proprietors of Antiques at Winterhurst are content to have ownership of the icon giving Mary a rightful place on their ceiling, looking down upon us from above, I love it!
If you’re ever in the area, please come by their shop and tour their beautifully restored historic mansion filled with fine antiques offered to both buyers and collectors. http://www.antiquesatwinterhurst.com/
or on Facebook Just follow the big sign after exit 29!!
Thank you Robert & Charity for your creative hearts, and persevering to find the necessary contacts to have moved her and your successful restoration and it can once again serve to inspire and fill wandering souls with joy and hope for many years to come.