Years of service

Hancock church celebrates 175 years with painting by top American folk-style artist

June 04, 2010|By CHRIS COPLEY
  • P. Buckley Moss paints in a variety of styles, but has built a reputation on scenes of rural life.
Courtesy of P. Buckley Moss,

HANCOCK --St. Thomas' Parish serves about 250 families in the Hancock area. This year, the Episcopal congregation celebrates the 175th anniversary of the construction of its church.

On Sunday, the parish will note the anniversary with the unveiling of a portrait of the church. The painting was created by P. Buckley Moss, a nationally known painter.

The Rev. Allan Weatherholt Jr., rector of St. Thomas' Parish, said the public is invited to meet Moss and attend an art show featuring Moss' artwork from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the parish hall adjacent to the church in Hancock.

"We're celebrating our 175th anniversary and we were looking for special events -- at least one event each month," Weatherholt said. "This is our event in June."

Weatherholt said a friend in Clear Spring had contacts in the art world. The friend suggested commissioning a painting of the church from Moss. Church officials spoke with Moss and provided photographs. The result is a wintry scene in which the church stands out from a snow-covered landscape.


But there was more: In telling Moss about the church building, word got out about one of its prominent members: A cat.

"His name is Andrew," Weatherholt said. "He showed up in 2002, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The weather was bad and he needed a place to stay. I had too many animals at my house, so we let him stay at the church."

So Andrew, a sociable Maine coon cat, became St. Thomas' "church kitty." Unfortunately, in February, just before commissioning Moss to paint the church, Andrew died. Weatherholt said Moss was touched by story of the church cat, so she painted an image of him as well.

Both paintings will be featured at the show on Sunday.

Speaking by phone from her studio in Virginia, Moss said she connected with Andrew's story. She said when she was a child on Staten Island, N.Y., her family had a cat. When the weather was hot, the family opened the windows and doors to let in the breeze. The cat often jumped out a window and accompanied the family to church, Moss said. One day, it came into the church and jumped up on the altar. The pastor acknowledged the cat and continued with the service.

Moss remembered that story when she heard about Andrew. She said in her painting of St. Thomas' Parish, she wanted to present the church as a refuge from the cold.

"I wanted to convey the history of a lovely old building," she said. "You think of it as a warm place to go in the winter. And you think of the cat."

Moss, 78, is a hugely successful American painter. She studied art in New York City, then married and moved to rural Virginia when she was a young mother. She paints in a variety of styles, but she built her reputation on scenes featuring Canada geese, Amish and Mennonite farm families and other scenes of idealized rural life.

Now she has work in galleries across America, a dedicated museum in Waynesboro, Va., studios in Florida, Italy and Virginia, and a foundation aimed at children with learning disabilities.

Moss said her drive to establish the foundation came from her own problems as a child. Moss is dyslexic and struggled academically when she was young.

"I was accomplished in sports, but that was about it," she said. "I try to tell kids, 'You can fail.' I failed my way through school."

But she learned she was good at art and pursued that professionally. For most of her career, Moss said when she would attend a show, she would set up a presentation at a nearby school. She wanted to give hope to kids who "learn differently," as she put it.

"It doesn't mean you can't do anything. It just means you have to work a little harder," she said. "You talk to kids and you see how you can help someone and that makes you feel great."

Moss said she follows her own advice. She continues to work hard, even after a lucrative career spanning nearly five decades.

"If you come to our museum, you'll say 'I didn't know you do all this.' You can do what you want to, and it's great," she said. "I'm a worker."

Moss echoes Weatherholt's perspective on the celebration at St. Thomas' Parish. He said the church can't afford to just coast into the future by resting on its past success.

"Certainly one of the things we've said is we don't just want to look back," he said. "We want to look ahead."

If you go ...

WHAT: Reception to debut commemorative painting honoring the 175th anniversary of St. Thomas' Parish

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 6

WHERE: St. Thomas' Parish Hall, 2 E. High St., Hancock

COST: Free admission

CONTACT: Call 301-678-6569 or go to

MORE: The commemorative painting was painted by P. Buckley Moss.

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