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Art of worship

Christ United Methodist's windows illuminate the life of Christ. A sculpture embraces the story of two sisters.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007


Janice Buchanan shows one of the church's 82 stained-glass windows. Most windows depict the life and ministry of Christ.
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[MARTHA RIAL | Times]
Sisters Sammie Ingram, 74, above left, and Helen Prescott Amole, 76, both of St Petersburg, modeled for their mother, Hilda Prescott, who sculpted this frieze, below, which shows Christ with two children. Ingram was the model for the girl on the left. Amole's image was portrayed as the boy on the right. "I'd have to hurry home from school, because Mother would be waiting for me," Ingram said.

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ST. PETERSBURG - From her desk in the Sebring Building, Paulette Wallingford can see two downtown buildings that showcase her grandparents' artistry.

She never tires of pointing out the sculptural frieze at Christ United Methodist Church. It features the likenesses of her mother and aunt.

"All my co-workers know about it," she said. "I tell everybody about it." Her mother, Sammie Ingram, 74, and aunt, Helen Prescott Amole, 76, were little girls when they modeled for their mother as she created the piece that would portray a child praying on each side of a statue of Jesus. Helen's likeness was used for the boy and Sammie's for the girl.

Prayer and potty breaks

Today the sisters' words tumble out as they tell the story of the work's creation. For little girls, it was a tedious process.

"We would get potty breaks," Amole recollected recently.

"I'd have to hurry home from school, because Mother would be waiting for me. To me, it was a job, and I was so tired. You've got to be on your knees all the time, and you've got to be quiet. I used to tell everybody I was just so tired of praying, because that was the position I had to be in," Ingram said.

"We were the live models. Jesus didn't come back to model. I don't know why."

Their mother's work is part of the monthly tour at Christ United Methodist Church, 467 First Ave. N, which boasts 82 stained-glass windows in the sanctuary and chapel, and a chair used by Richard Nixon when he visited St. Petersburg as vice president.

Director of music Janice Buchanan, who conducts the tour, usually starts in the Dorothy Hortin Chapel, pointing out its windows - one in memory of Aymer Vinoy Laughner, who built the Vinoy in the 1920s - the organ that retracts into the floor, and the colorful mosaics that tell the history of Methodism in America.

The stained-glass windows were recently releaded as needed, and a special protection was added to their exterior. The current church, which opens into a courtyard, is the third on the property.

Room for 1,000

The sanctuary seats 1,000 and is a venue for St. Petersburg's First Night celebrations and concerts year-round. When it was built in the 1950s, the theater-style seats were unusual for a church, Buchanan said.

The congregation liked the seating they had found in the Florida Theater, where they worshiped while the new church was being completed. They didn't want to return to hard pews, she said.

The Christian education building, built in 1940, is believed to have been the first in the area to have an elevator. It is on this building where the sculptural frieze with the childhood likenesses of Amole and Ingram can be found.

Besides the work at Christ United Methodist, their mother, Hilda M. Prescott, also collaborated with their father, Sam, to create ornamental work at St. Petersburg's City Hall next door. The couple also worked at the Don CeSar, Snell Arcade and other area buildings, and did ornamental work at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and repaired statues and made frames for some of the paintings.

Working as a team, Hilda Prescott made the clay molds, and Sam Prescott did the casting. Later she converted the cast shop at the back of the family's property at 46th Avenue and 46th Street N to an art, dance and music studio.

Sister act

The sisters, St. Petersburg natives, describe an idyllic small-town life during their youth. They knew developer C. Perry Snell, lived in a log cabin near Joe's Creek, played on the banks of Mirror Lake and performed as the Prescott Sisters at places such as Williams Park and the Pier.

"In spite of not having much money, we had a lovely family life," said Amole, who inherited her parents' artistic talents and creates murals and other artwork. At 43, she went to college to become a nurse and retired as an instructor at Pinellas Technical Education Center. She encouraged her sister to become a nurse as well.

"I was 63 years old when I graduated," said Ingram, who is in her 10th year as a nurse for PARC.

Today, Amole belongs to the church where their younger likenesses appear.

Wallingford, Ingram's daughter, looks for her mother's image each time she goes past the church.

"It's just incredible, because I can see in her face the same resemblance, and in my aunt, too," she said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 727 892-2283.

Fast facts

Church tour

Christ United Methodist Church Tour, 9:30 a.m., second Saturday of the month, 467 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 822-3343. Free.

[Last modified November 20, 2007, 20:46:50]


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