The First Baptist Church Baptistry – A Bit of Church History

by Agnes Keatley

Six baptisms in November have given me reason to reflect more closely on the lovely painting in our baptistery. When I actually focus on the painting I never cease to be amazed, and to conjure up remembrances, thoughts and, questions.

Surely you will agree that the painting in our baptistery is lovely; it is so peaceful, so serene and calming; just as we would want and expect it to be. I am sure that many of you know the origin of this painting, but it occurs to me that many of you may not. Allow me to tell you what I know about this painting, not only FYI, but perhaps for . . . POSTERITY. I believe that these stories NEED to be known . . . preserved. And also, because the history of this painting involves a very favorite person from my past.

Mr. Glenn Sallack (1901 –1985)

Glenn Sallack was Director of Music at Woodrow Wilson High School from1924 thru 1966. He was Choir Director at First Baptist in the 30’s thru 40’s.It is impossible to describe the musical abilities of this man, or his many accomplishments during his 44 year reign over the highly acclaimed Woodrow Wilson Flying Eagle Band, the WWHS Orchestras, Jazz Bands, Glee Clubs and other musical offerings.

Glenn Sallack graduated from New York’s Syracuse University School of Electrical Engineering, where in his early 20’s his natural abilities and interest in music involved him greatly in the universities musical programs. He was a gifted cellist. His love of music overcame his education and abilities in electrical engineering. However, as a second job he worked as an electrician evenings, weekends and in the summer months. He also taught electrical engineering.

Wanda Pearl Lowe attended FBC, and following their 1931 marriage Glenn Sallack and Wanda (Lowe) Sallack attended Beckley First Baptist along with, subsequently, their two daughters. Betty Anne Sallack Wilson (George) of Beckley was born in 1936 and Barbara Ruth Sallack Southern-Stoops (Darrell) of Scott Depot, WV was born 1939.

As a little something to do in his spare time (☺) Glenn Sallack directed the choir at FBC in the 30’s thru the 40’s. He was known to be a very benevolent man, a helpmate in times of trouble.

Some 80 or so years ago, Glenn Sallack met an out of work artist; a street person. It is said that the man was merely a tramp, a drifter or vagabond, “down on his luck” and in need of work. Glenn Sallack was able to arrange for the man to paint the backdrops for the stage at the old WWHS.

He then arranged for this same man to paint The Baptistery in the First Baptist Church, Neville Street, Beckley, WV.

A vagabond. A hobo. A street person. Would we welcome him into the church today? This unknown, out of work, down on his luck artist was commissioned to paint the serene, tranquil, calm, peace filled picture that you see when you sit in the nave of our church today.

Folks, this painting has stood the “test of time” for over 80 years. We are not sure what year of Mr.Sallack’s 44 year tenure at WWHS or his 10-20 year span as choir director at FBC he arranged to have the painting done. His daughter Barbara recalls “day dreaming” about the painting when she was young, pretending that she was climbing over the rocks, hiding in the trees, splashing in the water.

Jacqueline (Lowe) Kelder is Mrs. Sallack’s 90-year-old niece. She relates that as a young girl, elementary school or younger, she would attend evening choir practices with her parents, and sitting in the church pews would ”playact” or pretend about being in the painting, the same as Barbara Sallack did. Was the scene the same when I was baptized in this baptistery as a nine-year-old, in 1945? Apparently it was.

Who was this artist? This vagabond. This street person? We do not know his name.

How much could he, would he have been paid to do this painting? Did the monies help him to “get back on his feet?” Did he perhaps become famous; is there a wonderful artistic work that bears his name hanging in some famous gallery somewhere? We just do not know. And, can you imagine what it would cost to have this painting done today!

What wonderful, amazing materials did this drifter choose, that would have held the beauty, precision and clarity as they have throughout these many years? Where did he get the materials, and who paid for them? How long did it take him to paint this scene, and where did he live while he painted it?

Was the scene something that he copied from another painting or print, a postcard perhaps? Or, was it something that came from his own imagination, his character, or spirit? His artistic soul?

I rather believe that the painting in the baptistery at FBC is simply “one of those things.” Something that we don’t fully understand, can’t fully explain, may simply “take for granted.”

One of those things that God, in His great and marvelous way just sort of . . . put together. One of those things that we don’t pay a lot of attention to, spend a lot of time or thought on, but it’s there . . . something. . . “out of the ordinary” . . . special. One of those wonderful things that… just happens. “A God thing!”

Hebrews 13:2 “Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.