The Hinesville Area Arts Council sponsored a dual reception Thursday evening for local artist Benjamin F. Turner Jr. and local author and senior pastor of Hinesville First United Methodist Church, Dr. Richard Wright.
“It’s so remarkable that we have this kind of local talent,” said Leah Poole, director of the Hinesville Chamber of Commerce, who said art exhibitions and book signings help the community learn about its otherwise-hidden talent.
Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Director Vicki Davis echoed Poole’s sentiments about the community’s hidden artists as she pointed out the elaborate details in one of Turner’s paintings, which lined the walls of the art council’s gallery. The exhibit is called “Coastal Scenes and Images.” A steady stream of visitors browsed the gallery, many pausing in front of paintings to comment about the color, lighting or shadows that seemed to give the works life-like features.
Samples of Turner’s work began with a painting of two roses called “Double Delight” then continued down the wall with scenes of natural beauty, including one called “Autumn Whitetails,” depicting a whitetail buck and doe on opposite sides of a rocky stream amid a colorful autumn backdrop. Among the paintings on the center wall was a huge work featuring two large shrimp boats with dolphins, seagulls and pelicans churning the intracoastal waters in the foreground.
“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” said Hinesville resident Richard Mitchell, who seemed as surprised by Turner’s artistic talent as his humility. “We’ve been neighbors (with the Turners) for over three years, and I never knew he was this talented.”
Mitchell and his wife, Lil, were among the first guests to arrive at the exhibition reception. Turner gave his neighbors and Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas a private tour, explaining each of his paintings and why certain details are included in each one, particularly the shrimp boats painting, called “Bountiful Harvest,” which was featured on the cover of “Where to Eat at the Beach,” Tybee Island’s shopping, dining and activities guide.
“I used 15 photographs to work with to paint that picture,” Turner explained. “I just laid them out on a table like pieces of a puzzle that I had to put together. This painting took me 24 months.”
Turner said his works take six to 34 months to complete. He doesn’t hurry to finish a painting but works on it until he feels that he’s captured the beauty that is God’s nature. Admitting he’s always been fascinated with nature, Turner said when he was an elementary school student growing up near the tidal waters of Virginia Beach, Va., he’d catch frogs and toads and put them in Mason jars then try to sketch them. Inez C. Wilson, his high school art teacher was a special inspiration to him, having taught him to work with watercolors, tempera, pen and ink, charcoal, pastels and oils.
When he joined the Army in 1966, Turner said, he tried to enlist as an Army artist but instead assigned was to be a tracked vehicle mechanic. During 27 years in the Army with duty stations that included Germany, Vietnam and Iraq, he continued to develop his natural talent, painting and selling prints to fellow soldiers, even winning recognition in an all-Army art contest.
He admitted there was a 10-year stretch prior to his retirement in which he had little time for art. But in 1994, as a civilian contract with General Dynamics, Turner was sent to Saudi Arabia where he re-immersed himself in his work. His paintings are showcased at the Tybee & Atlantic Beacon Gallery and the Gallery by the Sea, but he and his works will be at the arts council’s gallery, which is open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until March 5. For more information, call 258-4235.
“Painting takes time — time to be by yourself,” Turner said. “I thank God for the talent he has given me to capture the beauty and drama of nature’s gifts.”
Wright uses his own God-given talent as a pastor to explain how churches can reach out to absentee members in his book, “Stop the Church’s Revolving Door.” A graduate of Columbus State University, Emory University and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Wright laughs when people learn he was a soldier then ask if he was an Army chaplain. The former Airborne Ranger said that was another part of his life. Now he works for the Lord.
Wright was motivated to write his book because two-thirds of the members of most churches do not attend church on a regular basis, and most churches don’t know what to do with inactive members. He added that his prescription for how to reach out and form new relationships with inactive church members also can be used by civic organizations.
“Salvation is our relationship with God,” Wright said. “About 78 percent of church members come to church because of their relationship with somebody else in the church, so the church must take the initiative to re-establish those relationships when they’re broken.”
Wright’s book can be purchased through his website, www.drrichardmwright.com, or through other online media outlets.