For more than 2,000 years, frescoes have been a beloved form of art all over the world. Ancient Egyptians to Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael have painted thousands of examples throughout history.
Notable examples include the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Sigiriya in Sri Lanka and the 20th Century Mexican Muralism movement. Contemporary examples of the art can be found in, of all places, the High Country.
Inside the sanctuaries of Ashe County’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Jefferson and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Glendale Springs, collectively known as the Parish of the Holy Communion, are larger-than-life frescoes by Ben Long, an artist who has mastered the ancient art of fresco painting.
Long grew up in Statesville, and apprenticed in Italy to learn the challenging medium of fresco painting. Unlike painting on a canvas or just a normal mural, a fresco is made when the artist presses pigment into wet plaster. The pigment then becomes chemically bonded with the plaster, which produces a surface that is resistant to time when it hardens.
In the 1970s, Long first gave Ashe County a long-lasting work of art with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in 1974.
The first Ashe County fresco, “Mary Great with Child,” was followed by “John the Baptist.” Long then began work on “The Mystery of Faith,” which would become a magnificent image covering the entire sanctuary wall at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
In 1977, Long, along with his apprentices and assistants, created a fresco called “The Last Supper” at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. All of Long’s frescoes are still on display in the churches they were painted in, and have been preserved in magnificent fashion for longer than 40 years now.
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church hosts the annual Festival of the Frescoes in the Fall, which raises money for various outreach programs.
Long also painted a fresco titled “Suffer the Little Children” in Avery County’s Sloop Chapel, located at the Crossnore School.
The frescoes Long brought to the High Country have since gone on to become well-known tourist destinations, with many visitors flocking to peruse the painted plaster.
Long went on to become a well-decorated artist, doing works for Bank of America, the City of Charlotte and multiple schools. Some of his many achievements are listed online, along with information about his current artistic endeavors, at www.BenLongFineArt.com.
For more information about the Ashe County frescoes, and the foundation created to preserve them, visit www.ashefrescoes.org.
To see the artworks for yourself, visit St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 400 Beaver Creek School Rd. in West Jefferson, and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church at 195 J W Luke Rd. in Glendale Springs or the Sloop Chapel at 100 DAR Drive in Crossnore.