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Wet-Wall Tattoos: Ben Long and the Art of Fresco

Richard Maschal

John F. Blair, Publisher
978-0-89587-215-9
$12.95 paperback
5 ½ x 8 ½   
212 pages
black-and-white photos throughout
8-page color insert
Published in 1993

In September 1987, Ben Long got his first look at the altar wall of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Over 30 feet high at its peak, encompassing 1,540 square feet, it was the size of a small house. Long's job was to cover it with a fresco painting.

He was not intimidated. With frescoes in Italy and the North Carolina mountains to his credit, Long had a reputation on two continents. A modern man practicing an ancient and demanding technique, he liked the challenge of creating an artifact for the ages, an artwork designed to last as long as the building containing it.

The project consumed the next two years of his life. Long and the priest at St. Peter's, Father John Haughey, sometimes disagreed bitterly over the content of the fresco, recalling the battle of wills between the more famous prototypes, Michelangelo and Pope Julius II.

This is the story of the St. Peter's fresco from its birth, when the struggling church was given a second life, to its aftermath, when Long received a commission for a major fresco in the Bank of America building in Charlotte. It tells of the small crew of artists who paid their own expenses to learn fresco from Long. It tells of the wall itself, with its great capacity for absorbing plaster and pigment, love and anger, wine and sweat, exhilaration and despair.

But mostly, it tells of Ben Long, a talented, complex man who learned his craft from teachers as different as his evangelist grandfather and an Italian master, in places as diverse as Vietnam and Florence—a man bucking the tide of contemporary art in his effort to create something of lasting beauty.

Praise:

“This slender volume weaves two narrative threads—the life of artist Ben Long and the making of a huge fresco on the altar wall of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Maschal, a journalist for the Charlotte Observer, employs strong narrative and detailed anecdotes to describe the two-year project and its colorful protagonists. Conflict soon erupted between Long and the priest at St. Peter's, recalling the battle of wills between their more famous prototypes, Michelangelo and Pope Julius II. A former Marine combat artist, Long emerges as a complex and highly talented man committed to his vision and artistic beliefs. Recommended beyond regional collections for its vivid descriptions of a contemporary religious commission and Long's buon fresco technique.” —Library Journal