Let me introduce you to Mr. Ferdinand Barry, a tinsmith sculptor. He was the very talented artist who created this very large arm and hand that has been on the tall steeple of the Second Baptist Church for many years. The church's motto is “Our feet grow dusty in the path of service.” A lovely 1974-75 yearbook was dedicated to Rev. J.H. Robinson who said, “Life consists not within the years you live, but it is what you do while you live.” Rev. Arthur Townsend said, “We join together to serve in what we give for the space we occupy upon the face of this earth, and He who is chief among you, let him serve.” Ferdinand's hand is – and will always be – a warm and inviting landmark in our city. I glance upward each time I pass by Second Baptist Church and whisper a little prayer to God.
Early one morning — probably in 1970 — I headed down Louisville Street from our family home bumping over the rusty railroad track, stopping at the stop sign at old Langley's Grocery Store and turning on Gillespie Street. I was making my way to the Second Baptist Church to spend a glorious morning and afternoon painting to my heart's content of a beautiful tin piece of sculpture with a slight look of old tin now it has the aging of soft patina on the tin. My subject was just waiting for me on the tip top of the old white shingled roofed steeple. The closer I got to the arm and hand, I realized that it looked very heavenly in the blue sky with the colorful autumn leaves leaning, touching and almost kissing the arm and hand.
I said a prayer asking God to guide my heart and soul as I expressed my deepest feelings toward what I was about to create of another artist's creation.
As a little girl, I actually met and knew Mr. Ferdinand Barry. My daddy had employed Mr. Ferdinand to build tin gutters around our old family home. Daddy thought he was so talented and he respected him very much. I knew that he had his own tin sculpture shop. He had an extra room in the shop with a tiny bedroom and bath so when he was working really hard, and he and his wife could not go home sometimes until after midnight, they would spend the night in his tin shop until morning came.
It does not take me very long to go into my own "Bubble World" — blocking out the traffic sounds, noises close by me and folks milling around. I have to get completely lost in my own private world concentrating only on what I am seeing right in front of me. The sky looked exquisite with several shades of blues, dark navy, cobalt and light with an almost delicious white whipped-cream clouds floating gently along complimenting the all the blue colors.
Sip in the beauty with your eyes of the white steeple. See the colors of grays, purples and golds in the shingles themselves forming a triangle shape leading your eyes upward and onward to the arm and finally the hand itself. Ferdinand used three huge pieces of tin to form the hand and you can see the nails holding each section together. See the darker, reddish purple within the tin itself and finally the strong cupped hand with the little finger, fourth, third finger folded together. The large fat thumb and the one second finger pointing straight towards Heaven.
Look at the dark purple around the edge of the thumb and the three finger tips. The darkness draws your eyes to the main two fingers. Finally, see the strong, determined and forceful second finger which gives a strong positive and certain feeling of determination and most importantly gives us a feeling of direction of where we should and must go.
Heaven is looking upward to the blue sky, and Hell is looking downwards to the dark dirt. This finger pointing to the sky is the way to live your life so that we might all t get into a heavenly home someday. This painting is a simple painting with only three subjects. Left to right you will see one leaning limb filled with all the autumn leaves of the colors of red, oranges, yellows, golds, greens, and on dark tree limb leaning towards the steeple and hand. The wind and the sky is slightly blowing, and it seems that this blue sky on the right side of the canvas is blowing towards the main subject too. Now, look at the limb and the sky together they have formed a special nest for the intriguing steeple and the strong arm and hand of maybe a Heavenly king.
What does this painting say you? Think of your your own journey through this thing we call living life.
When I drive by Second Baptist Church almost daily, I look up at this tall steeple, holding up this arm and its strong cupped hand with the one pointing finger pointing somewhere upwards, and I suddenly feel that maybe I should think of helping others along their way as we together make our way in this journey called living life daily. Through my life as an artist, maybe I have lifted you up through my sketches, paintings, artistic creations and writing. It has, and continues to be, my greatest honor and pleasure.
I hope this painting speaks to you. It breathed and lived on my canvas that day. I leave you with these simple words, “It's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived. I may not be the most important person in your life, I just hope that when you hear my name, you smile and say, 'That's my friend.'”
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .