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Bethel will show it's true colors this year

(From The Clarke Times Courier dated 20 8mo 1997.)

Bethel will show it's true colors this year

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 1997.
By Val Van Meter
Times Courier Staff Writer

Times-Courier Staff Photo by Val Van Meter

FREE HAND: Philip Ward creates the vertical striping on the wall at Old Bethel Church freehand. The original painters did not have the luxury of masking tape, so authentic reproduction must be done free hand. The secret to making straight lines, says Ward, is a brush full of paint, a steady hand and a "clean conscience!"
     The old Bethel Meeting House will show its true colors to visitors Sunday.

     After half a century, the historic structure is being returned to its original decoration pattern by the husband and wife team of Phillip Ward and Linda Croxson.

     The restoration will be showcased Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m., at the annual meeting at Bethel, where Grace Gary, director of the Williamsburg Tourism Leadership Center, will be the guest speaker.

     Following the program, the traditional covered dish picnic will begin, with pony rides and games for the children, music, and a sale of plants, preserves and baked goods, which helps support the historic church.

     Bethel Meeting House was first a house of worship for the Quakers. A log structure was built as early as 1765. The Baptists took over the church in 1808, and when it was destroyed by fire in 1827, replaced it with the present brick building, which was completed in 1833.

     The historic building, with its airy and elegant proportions, is now owned by the people of Clarke County and administered by a Board of Trustees.

     It has been undergoing a lengthy restoration, both inside and outside.

     Participants at next Sunday's meeting will see, perhaps unexpectedly, what Old Bethel's true colors really are.

     Beneath layers of white and green paint, Croxson and Ward found a light gray-white divided by dark bands of a reddish brown, and set off by a dark grey paint on the bottoms of the walls.

     The color scheme was a surprise.

     "No one knew the banding was there." Ward explained.

     The husband and wife team are experts in historical painting. Ward is a fine arts major who specializes in medieval painting, while his wife is a master of decorative painting. When the Bethel Trustees decided to do a historical renovation, not simply a repainting, they called on Croxson and Ward to try to discover the original color scheme.

     The investigation revealed unexpected dark bands of color around the door frames and in the seams in the corners of the room.

     "We were very curious about where the bands went on the altar wall," said Ward. What they found was a painted archway over the altar.

     Their discovery was later confirmed when a picture in a 1947 copy of The Clarke Courier, showed the painted bands still visible on the altar wall.

     The dark grey was painted just above the pews on the rear wall. Ward said the height of the dark grey is just level with where a person's shoulders would hit the wall while sitting in the pews. He believes the choice of the dark paint was made so that the walls would not show dirt or smudges from clothing when people leaned on them.

     "It seems very practical," Ward said.

     The color scheme which the couple have recreated is "very simple, very effective and very elegant," Ward said.

     The painted arch emphasized the altar wall, he said, in a skillful, but economic way.

     Ward admired the proportions of the church, with its double columns and noted that the interior lighting is "beautiful, the way it comes through the huge windows."


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