Church honors artist for work
Winchester — A local church has an informal art gallery of Bible scenes in its fellowship hall, thanks to the contributions of an artist and friend.
After he slowly and steadily donated Bible scene paintings to Mount Pleasant-Lamps United Methodist Church over the past few years, the church felt it was long past time to thank Virgil Austin publicly. He was honored recently at a reception at the church.
Austin is not a member of the church, 1800 Wardensville Grade, but he and his wife, Kathy, are friends with several members who knew about his artistic talent, said Dena Gardner, director of the Vacation Bible School at the church.
A few years ago, the church asked him to paint a variety of Bible scenes on large sheets, to be used for VBS and other children’s Bible classes. Once those were completed, the church asked him to do something more permanent, she said.
He started painting various scenes from both the Old and New Testaments from Genesis to the Last Supper, said Brenda Milhon, administrative council chair. The Last Supper is the final of 13 total art pieces, finished last spring, and it hangs in the church sanctuary.
“The paintings make the Bible stories more interesting for the children,” Milhon said. “They read a Bible story and then can see the scene depicted on the wall,”
Adults, too, enjoy the art and visitors are often intrigued with the works, she said.
The paintings are acrylic on plywood, and in each, he takes a little artistic license, said Austin, who lives in Gore. The Last Supper, for example, is depicted as taking place in a garden.
“I try, especially with the Bible, to make it as original as possible. There are so many interpretations of the Bible, so I like to put some drama into each painting,” Austin said. “These are basically for the children, so I try to make them inquisitive when they look at my art.”
The paintings displayed in the fellowship hall include Creation, Jonah and the Whale, Samson fighting a lion, The Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac, the Garden of Eden, and others.
Each painting is large and bright and makes the viewer think about the message being displayed. The painting of Noah’s ark, for example, depicts a hand releasing a dove over murky water. In the Garden of Eden, Eve is crying and clearly in anguish over leaving Paradise.
“These aren’t just paintings. Virgil has shown total dedication to the cause of getting children to church to teach them about the Bible,” said Gardner.
Each painting takes about six months to finish, with some of that time devoted to research, said Austin. He has been an artist “since I was in first grade and drew with crayons on my bedroom walls.”
He had a graphic arts business in Burbank, Calif., for many years and worked for various aerospace companies, before moving to Winchester in 1999. He continued to work until health issues caused him to retire in 2003. His wife works part time at Wilkins Shoe Center in downtown Winchester.
Austin has done other projects around town, including a large fiberglass apple on Piccadilly Street and several paintings for the outpatient surgery center at Winchester Medical Center.
Mount Pleasant-Lamps United Methodist Church has about 40 members in attendance at 11 a.m. Sunday worship service. Sunday school is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. For more information, call 540-877-1744, email email@example.com, or go to mtpleasantlampschurch.com.