Immediately upon entering the front doors of the Fellowship Hall, a dramatic image of the Samaritan bending over a beaten and bloodied stranger serves as an important reminder of the intimate relationship between the teachings of Christ and the work we are called to do. It measures 8 feet high and 28 feet long and is painted in the true fresco style of the 15th century masters. Its life-size figures retell the familiar parable from Luke 10:35-37, with the robbers splitting their spoils in one corner and the city in the distance in the other corner. The priest and the Levite saunter on, unmoved by the suffering, and the children serve as witness to the bad, the indifferent, and the good.
Fresco painting is an exacting art. The technique involves making a plaster by mixing sand and lime together, placing the mix on a wall and painting it while it is wet. The surface must be just right, neither too wet nor too dry. Pigments and lime crystals are ground finely enough that they are drawn into the porous plaster as it dries. The pigment bonds quickly to the plaster so that great skill and meticulous planning are required of the artist. The resulting expression becomes a part of the wall on which it is painted.
A special wall for “The Good Samaritan” was installed during the construction of the Fellowship Hall. The artist and his assistants spent many months in their studio composing the scene. Preliminary drawings were sketched, then watercolor and oil studies were created and refined as the composition took shape. Full-scale drawings, called cartoons, were created to transfer the design accurately to the plaster wall.
The fresco at First Presbyterian is one of several other frescoes in Uptown Charlotte. Other frescoes by Ben Long in the area are located at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Bank of America Corporate Center, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Law Enforcement Center and Transamerica Square.
A native of Statesville, NC, the world-renowned Ben Long graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied figurative drawing in New York under Robert Beverly Hale at the Art Student’s League. After a tour in Vietnam, he traveled to Florence, Italy, to apprentice with Maestro Pietro Annigoni in the ancient art of fresco painting. Among his other works is a fresco of the Return of the Prodigal Son on the Montreat campus.