Martinsville, Virginia


First Baptist to shine on Martinsville-Henry County Garden Day

The late afternoon sun streamed through four long windows. The windows contain hundreds of pieces of faceted glass in the colors of the rainbow. They sparkled like jewels.

The Rev. John Fulcher, pastor of First Baptist Church, stood in the doorway of the church parlor, gazing upon the windows. With the intense light shining through, he said, “It looks like they are on fire.”

Such windows can be found throughout the church. They comprise one art treasure First Baptist will share on April 26, Martinsville-Henry County Garden Day. 

The church holds dear another kind of artwork, that of a beloved church member, the late Wanda Prillaman. The well-respected watercolor artist worshipped at First Baptist for more than 50 years. She joined the church in 1963 during the period when the new church building at 23 Starling Avenue was under construction. The church had had a number of homes over the decades since it began in the cottage of Clarence Kearfott and his bride, Rebecca.

The couple arrived in town in 1883 on the first train to Martinsville, where they found there was no Baptist church. The pharmacist and his wife called a meeting in their home to form a church. That led to drawing up a church covenant the following year.

First called Martinsville Baptist, its congregation relocated as it grew, including to two locations on Broad Street before coming to Starling Avenue during the 1960s.

Work on the Starling Avenue church was done in sections. The sanctuary and bell tower were erected during the construction’s latter stages. Creation and installation of the faceted glass windows came even later.

Rev. Fulcher, a Martinsville native who grew up in First Baptist, remembers one of the windows for the sanctuary, not yet installed, down at ground level. “It was huge,” he said.

One of the most dramatic features of the sanctuary is its tableau of 12 panels of faceted glass. They stand side by side, forming the better part of one of the sanctuary’s walls. Church members call it “the window wall.”

The window wall’s panels highlight the story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. During services, member Joan Haynes said she has often noticed little faces turned toward the window, as children study its scenes. Parts that often capture their attention depict Noah’s ark, and Jonah and the whale.

The chapel has faceted glass windows, including one whose four panels form a cross. And one of the church’s windows depicts the Good Shepherd with the children.

The window honors the late Dr. Chevis Horne, who helped shepherd Martinsville and Henry County toward integration and the brotherhood of man.

The First Baptist windows were the creation of Dr. Henry Lee Willet. Willet Hauser Architectural Glass, as the company is now known, is North America’ s largest studio for stained glass and faceted glass. 

Back in 1910, William Willet beat out Lewis Comfort Tiffany for the commission to create what is called “the great sanctuary window” in the Cadet Chapel at West Point. Work by his studio can also be seen in National Cathedral, among other places.

Faceted glass differs from stained glass. Leaded stained glass is hand-painted, while faceted glass is raw, thick and usually unpainted. Pieces shimmer in the light due to their facets. When pieces in varying rich colors are assembled, the effect is reminiscent of a mosaic, often with a comparatively bolder, abstract feel.

Visitors can see the windows on Garden Day, for which First Baptist will open its doors. Garden Day tour sites this year also include two with exhibits of artwork by Wanda Prillaman: Piedmont Arts and the Historic Little Post Office.

Piedmont Arts will show a number of her watercolor paintings as part of an invitational exhibit created in her honor. The Little Post Office will show a collection of Christmas cards she created yearly, which recipients often prized and collected.

Joan Haynes recalled that when one First Baptist member heard that the tour would feature the two Prillaman exhibits, the member thought, “‘since she’s one of ours, we should do this, too.’”

Taken together, the three exhibits give an idea of the range of Prillaman’ s work. (She also painted a mural in her home.)

When the church celebrated an important anniversary, members decided they would create “Heritage Recipes,” a cookbook of members’ recipes. Prillaman painted watercolors for the cookbook’s cover and section dividers. She also created artwork for a church directory. 

No longer in print, Joan Haynes said the church cookbook has become a rarity. “I had to rob from my own children” to get a copy, she said, laughing.

The First Baptist cookbook is “an absolute treasure. “It has personal meaning, as well as being useful. “I knew the people whose recipes were in the book,” she said. Originals and prints made from work Prillaman did for her church will be on display. “She loved her church,” Joan Haynes said. First Baptist is happy to share its treasures.

What: Martinsville-Henry County Garden Day
When: Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Headquarters: Piedmont Arts Association, 215 Starling Ave., Martinsville, VA
Tickets: $15 pp. for advance tickets; $20 pp. for tickets sold on tour day. $10 pp. for children ages 6 to 12. Available on tour day at the tour headquarters and tour homes. Proceeds benefit restoration projects of the Garden Club of Virginia.
Advance Tickets:  Available online at At Martinsville-Henry County Visitor Center, Piedmont Arts Association, and Patrick County Chamber of Commerce.
Facebook: Historic Garden Week in Martinsville and Henry County
Instagram: Historic Garden Week in MHC
Sponsors: The Martinsville Garden Club, The Garden Study Club and the Garden Club of Virginia