On March 21, 1912, seven-year-old Torger Thompson made a crayon drawing that depicted a large sinking ship that had just hit an iceberg. The picture showed people jumping into lifeboats. On April 12 of the same year, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank.
Prophetic? Or just a child playing with crayons?
While intriguing to the mind, the complexities of a great artist often are never fully understood. Throughout his life, and since his passing in 1989, Thompson’s depictions of Biblical events became his hallmark. Today, his works are on display at the Biblical Arts Center, 7500 Park Lane at Boedeker (214-691-4661 for information).
Scott Peck, co-director of the Center, spends much of his time talking about Thompson’s works.
“You can’t talk about the museum without talking about Torger Thompson,” Peck says.
In the late 1960s, Thompson created the museum’s most significant work, Miracle at Pentecost. The painting, a 124-by-20-foot mural, depicts the events of Pentecost.
“He wanted to paint anyone who is mentioned in the New Testament that would be likely after Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection…they would all be gathered and wanted to see what really happened,” Peck says.
Thompson used local figures, including Stanley Marcus and Raymond Nasher, as models for some of the characters.
The idea wasn’t a hard sell to Dallas philanthropist Mattie Caruth Byrd who provided Thompson with a studio on the site of the current Biblical Arts Center.
“She really was motivated to want to help people and channel it toward Biblical things, but do it (in the way)…that was cross-denominational,” Peck says.
A sound and light show accompanied the viewing of the painting and, as interest in it grew, a theatre was built to house the work. This was the beginning of what would inspire Byrd to “create a whole museum,” Peck says.
While Byrd died before the realization of her dream, she left an endowment for the creation of the Biblical Arts Center, which opened in 1981.
Throughout the museum, you’ll find five galleries that contain a wealth of pieces, including an illumination from a 15th century French manuscript and a 17th century tapestry of Rebekkah at the Well. In the atrium is a depiction Christ’s tomb as an artist saw it in Israel.
“This was a big dream of hers (Byrd),” says Peck, noting her desire to have others experience Christ’s tomb as she had in Israel.
Another gallery features a different artist every four to eight weeks. Some upcoming exhibitions include a showing of abstract paintings by Kennard Haggerty, as well as a showing of works by Joni Earekson-Tada, a paraplegic who paints with her mouth.
“Most people do come for a devotional experience,” says Peck, who adds that the museum isn’t affiliated with any religion or church.
“I get people in their 30s and 40s who come in, and they go: ‘I remember when I was seven years old, and I saw the sound and light show, and I’ll never forget it.’”
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