The streets surrounding Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and its mission house were lined with cars as the smell of barbecue and sound of music floated on the autumn breeze on Saturday.
To residents of Glendale Springs, this familiar image heralds the arrival of the annual Festival of Frescoes which brings hundreds of people to their small community.
The Festival of the Frescoes has come a long way since it was “basically a glorified rummage sale” in its infancy about 18 years ago said church member, Paula Riggs.
According to Riggs, the festival was moved to the grounds of the mission house and expanded to include crafts and food about 15 to 16 years ago. “We (ladies of the church) made all the crafts back then, before there were vendors,” said Riggs.
The grounds of the mission house were bustling with activity as festival-goers strolled amidst local craft vendors’ tents. Children with painted faces dueled with balloon “swords” and folks lined up for food while others perused goods vendors had contributed to a silent auction to benefit the Fresco Foundation.
Across the street at the church itself, groups of people crowded inside to view the magnificent work of art. In the vestibule of the church, there is a button that says “push to hear talk.” The button activates an eight-minute tape describing the history of the famous fresco which visitors can hear any time they come to the church.
On Saturday, church member and former faculty member at NC State, Walt Skroch supplemented the information on the tape by giving talks and answering questions. About 20 people at a time sat in the pews or filed through the church as Skroch beckoned for them to come in. He said, “It’s been like this since nine this morning, and it’ll probably be that way all day.”
“Last Thursday, we had five buses here,” said Skroch. The tour buses usually come from a network of churches in the Piedmont area, but there have been foreign tours, too, said Skroch. According to Skroch, Holy Trinity has around 30,000 visitors every year.
Skroch told visitors that artist Ben Long completed the fresco “The Last Supper” in July of 1980 after 47 days of work. Long mixed his own pigments, consisting of ground minerals, which he applied to wet plaster to create the fresco. Long is an internationally acclaimed artist who is now working on a seven-year contract in Italy, restoring works of art.
Garret Briggs, a member of the Ashe County Frescoes Foundation, manned the information booth at the festival. Briggs said that the organization was founded in 2009 by members of the community and members of the church who “realized the importance of the frescoes to the economy of the county.”
According to Briggs, there are nine people on the board including president Barbara Sears and vice president Gene Hafer. “It is the foundation’s responsibility to make sure the frescoes are in good condition and that the settings are presentable at all times,” Briggs said.
Funds for the upkeep of the frescoes and the church grounds are provided by donations from the congregation, private donations, proceeds from benefit concerts, and grants. Recently, the foundation received a grant for $19,000 from the Episcopal Diocese of Western NC, said Briggs.
A benefit concert for the Frescoes Foundation was held at the Ashe Civic Center on Friday, Oct. 12. Briggs said around 200 people were in attendance as Wayne Henderson, George Hamilton IV, Steve Lewis, and young musicians from the Junior Appalachian Musicians program performed. The event was a success thanks to the organizational efforts from Friends of the Foundation, Cabot Hamilton and emcee Jan Caudell, said Briggs.
For more information about the church including driving directions and worship schedules, visit www.churchofthefrescoes.com, and for more information on the Ashe County Frescoes Foundation or to make a donation, visit www.ashefrescoes.org.