The Haywood Street congregation, home to the Downtown Welcome Table and a sanctuary to people searching for a sense of family, recently finished a three-year-long project to complete the first fresco in the city of Asheville.
“This is a modern-day portrayal of the European frescos, but based off of Beatitudes and ‘blessed are the poor’ principles,” explains Pam Siekman, chair for the project’s steering committee. “The entire concept, design, and completion was done here. We raised all of the money for supplies, materials, and to compensate the artists and marketing outside of the church.” (At first, the project was to be funded partly by the Buncombe County Tourism Authority, but protesters said such a move violated the church/state separation, and the church decided to pursue private fundraising.)
Last decade, Pastor Brian Combs designed a program, in partnership with local restaurants, to serve food to the homeless population, to people experiencing poverty and addiction, and to the general public. “More than 500 people are fed here every Wednesday and Sunday. It’s in no sense of the word a soup kitchen, though,” clarifies Siekman. “[Pastor Combs] believes we can all learn from each other if we sit down at the same table. And what it does for people who are housed — it’s humbling. It’s humbling to sit next to somebody who lives on the streets or struggles from addiction or doesn’t know where the next meal will come from.”
Principal artist Christopher Holt, who studied the ancient medium under fresco master Ben Long and has painted around the world, discussed the subject of inclusivity with Combs, and the ways messages of social justice can be brought together through art. “All faces in it are people who are homeless today, have been homeless, or were significant volunteers at Haywood Street,” explains Siekman.
Before the time-intensive process began — a fresco surface must cure for many months before it can be painted — Holt drew portraits from life, and his subjects were paid a modeling fee for their time. “The biggest message in this is that we see you,” says Siekman. “You’re a beautiful child of God. You’re a human being. You’re important and you’re special. Now, your image will be portrayed, living on thousands and thousands of years. These people have basically been immortalized.”
Haywood Street Congregation, 297 Haywood St., Asheville. To read more about the fresco and the congregation, see haywoodstreetfresco.org and haywoodstreet.org. Haywood Street will be serving Christmas dinner at the Downtown Welcome Table on Wednesday, Dec. 25 (see website for details, haywoodstreet.org). 828-575-2477.