St. John’s frescoes soon to be unveiled

The center arch of Jesus stands 17 feet high, with the arches of Moses and Elijah rising to a height of 15 feet each. Photo supplied

The nearly finished frescoes that stand outside St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stacy are a sight to behold.

An image of the Transfiguration of Christ is portrayed across three towering arches that overlook a scenic section of Carlos Avery State Wildlife Refuge.

Jesus stands in the middle with the prophets Elijah and Moses at his side.

The outdoor frescoes – the first completed by anyone in over 700 years – are the works of world-renowned artist Mark Balma, who has family in the Stacy area.

The frescoes will be officially revealed to the public Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m.

A dinner will be served at 5 p.m., where attendees will have the opportunity to meet Balma.

Vannelli’s of Forest Lake is catering the dinner. Tickets are $20.

The unveiling is free to the public.

From a vision to reality 

Pastor Dr. Alfred Valerius, who has been with St. John’s for 25 years, said the frescoes started out as “a dream,” but a community of people came together to turn that dream into reality.

He lauded Balma, who donated his time, expertise and painting materials, but also said he wanted to thank others who were involved.

He noted the frescoes wouldn’t have come to fruition without church administrative assistant Mary Welty, who was a driving force behind the project, local concrete company Cemstone, which built the three gothic arches, and others who donated their time.

Welty said if Balma had charged for the work, the cost just to create the frescoes would have likely topped $300,000, with a final appraised value being around $500,000.

“We had a very limited budget of just a few thousand bucks,” Valerius said. “But we managed to somehow get it constructed.”

St. John’s Lutheran Church Administrative Assistant Mary Welty standing next to the covered frescoes. The frescoes will be unveiled to the public during a 6:30 p.m. ceremony Sept. 29. Photo by Derrick Knutson

Inspiration for the images

Balma’s rendering of Christ is unlike any image ever painted or sculpted of him, due to the process Balma went through to create what he seems to be the most accurate representation of Jesus ever made.

Balma worked with computer graphics artist Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth to design the image of Christ.

Those familiar with the Shroud of Turin might know of Downing.
In March of 2010, the History Channel released a two-hour documentary about the shroud, a 14-foot length of cloth believed to be the actual burial shroud of Jesus.
A face, believed to be that of Jesus, is imprinted on the shroud. Using the fabric and the aid of computer imaging, Downing produced a three-dimensional image that Balma used to create the “most historically accurate” rendering of Christ ever produced, Welty said.

Welty added most people associate Moses with Charlton Heston’s portrayal of the prophet in The Ten Commandments, so Balma’s work is similar to that image, but Elijah is “an open book.”

Welty said Balma actually modeled Elijah after a man he met in a restaurant.

“Mark came up to this gentleman, explained who he was and told him to Google his name,” she said. “He then asked him if he’d model for the image of Elijah.”

Balma made a portrait of the man and then used that image when creating the fresco.

With a laugh, Welty said, “He’s actually going to be at the unveiling.”

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