Son's gift to his deceased mother is a work of art

May 11, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Iris Adey and Elsie Williams, churchgoing mothers from Highlandtown, were fast friends who did everything together.

"Iris was the wheels," recalled Donnie Williams, son of Elsie. "She'd pick my Mom up, and they'd just go."

"They were inseparable," Mr. Williams continued, recalling the two women who often volunteered for their church, Luther Memorial Lutheran on Eastern Avenue, across from Francis Scott Key Medical Center. "They'd get in the car and come down here for a church dinner. They'd be the first two here and the last two to leave."

Iris Adey died two years ago. Elsie Williams died six years ago.

Yesterday, Mr. Williams, 42, an artist and sculptor, stood beside Iris Adey's son, David, 45, on Mother's Day, looking up at the 16-foot high covered memorial that Mr. Adey commissioned Mr. Williams to craft in Iris Adey's memory.

The two men tugged the cords holding the covering in place, and it fell away, revealing the figure of Jesus Christ, 8 feet tall and glimmering gold, nailed to the 16-foot-high Old German style wooden cross.

The crowd that had gathered yesterday on the church front lawn, facing Eastern Avenue, buzzed with reaction to the towering crucifix. "It's beautiful," murmured one parishioner.

"I like the expression on his face," commented Ellen Smith, 76, a longtime parishioner. "It shows the suffering and still the compassion."

"On her deathbed," recalled David Adey, a Highlandtown-bred electronics executive who now lives in Boston, "my mother said what she wanted to do was something special for the church, but she wasn't specific in any way."

The Rev. Thomas E. Davison, the church's pastor, suggested a roadside cross, in the style of many he'd seen when traveling through Germany and Austria. "They're very uncommon in this country," Mr. Davison said.

For an artist, the pastor and Mr. Adey didn't have to look far.

Mr. Williams, who operates a sign-painting business to support his family, is a trained sculptor with a master's degree. He attended the Maryland Institute College of Art on a four-year scholarship.

He still lives near Highlandtown and goes to Luther Memorial with his wife and children.

With Mr. Adey paying for the crucifix, which he said was "between $10,000 and $20,000," Mr. Williams went to work in the spring of 1990.

Designing, crafting and erecting the wooden cross took a full year, with Mr. Williams consulting an engineer to calculate how strong the cross' base should be to withstand heavy winds.

"We dug a hole 8 feet deep," said Mr. Williams. "There's 7 1/2 feet of concrete down there and reinforced steel. This can withstand 100-mph winds."

To cut the cross' heavy pine planks into the proper shape, Mr. Williams said he had to turn his electric chain saw into a table saw to get the curving effect he wanted.

Next came the figure of Christ itself.

Using the church choir room as his studio, Mr. Williams began spending almost every night and weekend there, painstakingly molding the body of Christ out of 2,000 pounds of clay, then covering it with 1,500 pounds of plaster to create the mold.

The figure was so huge that Mr. Williams couldn't cast it into fiberglass in one piece. Instead, he had to use a series of smaller molds and assemble the figure afterward.

Finally, after having the full figure put together, he got a friend who paints drag-racing cars to spray it with a weather-resistant gold paint.

Dave Adey said yesterday that his mother was probably smiling. "For her looking down on it," he said, "I think it's a fulfillment, and I think her wish has come true."

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