HANDS OF THE SPIRIT: The Musical

For his family and community of Mitchell, Georgia, J.B. was like a fire from heaven coming in the midst of their quiet, small town life. To the world of art, he was a reminder of the joy and passion of creation for a cause beyond oneself. He stirred anger and he stirred resentment. He stirred up a new belief in miracles as his community and family watched his art and its message being transported to places far beyond the small rural Georgia town. Those from the world of art were stirred by the power of his marks created from passion and vision. Hands of the Spirit is a musical about one man’s following his vision with courage and how his fervency and conviction disrupted and changed everyone around him.

Hands of the Spirit is based upon the true story of J.B. Murray, who had a vision in his early 70’s and began painting and drawing marks on anything at hand that he believed the Holy Spirit led him to create. These marks were soon to be appreciated as art and today his work is included in museum collections all over the world. I was inspired from the moment I was introduced to the art of Murray, I felt his was a story that should sing and dance!

In creating the musical version of the artistic life of J.B. Murray, I have kept true to the factual story except for age changes of some of the characters, some added family dynamics, and shortening the time J.B. created his art from ten years to three. Some of the dialogue and lyrics are taken directly from the words of the actual characters. The names of the characters have been changed, except for J.B. I use dancers and a choir to convey J.B.’s abstract art and the visions that he claimed he saw which inspired his journey of passion, vision, and art.


2004 REHEARSALS

2007 PERFORMANCE


J.B. MURRAY AND HIS ART

In his early seventies, J.B. Murray (1908 – 1988), a quiet African-American man from rural Georgia who could neither write nor read, suddenly began to write, paint, and draw flowing yet often erratic abstractions. Believing that he had received a vision from God, Murray suddenly began to create art. Murray believed that the Holy Spirit was moving his hand and that God had a message for him to deliver to the world. The abstraction of Murray’s compositions distinguishes them from work by other visionary self-taught artists whose figurative paintings express their spirituality. Murray created ghostly figures with transfixed eyes and long, vertical bodies that converge toward the center of a painting of brightly colored abstraction. To Murray these elongated shapes were “the people what is lying, them is the people what is living like God don’t exist.” He often repeated the words, “Give me a louder word up,” as he looked through a jar of well water at his colorful daubs of paint, erratic dots, and his script hidden in between larger shapes, as people from all over the country visited him in Mitchell, Georgia. To him the work was “the language of the Holy Spirit direct from God.”
Within seven years after Murray began his first marks on discarded materials, his art was being shown nationally and occasionally internationally, and is now included in various collections in the world. This book shows how a non-literate, retired farm worker in rural Georgia, within ten years after his initiating vision, rose to be an acclaimed artist. This book seeks to unveil the symbols, impetus, and meaning of the work of J.B. Murray, who created his work through the inspiration of his perceptions of eternity. This book explores the influences of the rural South that shaped Murray’s understanding and led to his explosive creativity. This book examines the confluence of African and Christian spiritual understanding that was the driving force behind his art. This book additionally explores what visionary self-taught artists such as Murray have to offer as artists and speculates upon the implications for acceptance of such artists within the world of art and beyond.
Murray shared the message of salvation through his figures, expressed his veneration for the Word of God through his script, and counseled people in his home through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he gazed through a jar of water. His paintings are the manifest heralds of redemptive praise, jeremiads postulating demise by way of his numerous haunting figures that stare out from polymorphous abstractions and script that gives the instructions of salvation, while the Holy Spirit inspires the words of advice Murray gives to his visitors. This book demonstrates how Murray’s southern evangelical view of the world not only gave him a reason to create as he followed his “call”, but deeply influenced the form, components, and the ritual connected to his art.

Murray Gallery

IN THE HAND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Visionary Art of J.B. Murray published by Mercer University Press, 2000

My Book
In 1978 a seventy-year-old black farm worker in rural Glascock County, Georgia, received what he believed to be a call from God. Though unable to read or write, J. B. Murray began to draw and paint flowing abstractions under what he understood to be the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Over the next ten years, Murray created paintings of ghostly figures and elogated shapes that represented “the people what is living like God don’t exist.” By the time of his death in 1988, Murray’s work had been shown in art galleries all over the world, from Atlanta, Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles to London and Tokyo.


How an illiterate farm worker in rural Georgia rose to become an artist of international acclaim is the story of In the Hand of the Holy Spirit: The Visionary Art of J. B. Murray. It tells Murray’s fascinating story and analyzes his art and spiritual message. Throughout history the visionary artist has sought to offer a glimpse of the eternal in the midst of a temporal world. This book unveils the symbols, impetus, and meaning of Murray’s art. I tell how this fascinating folk artist expressed his perceptions of eternity and offered a redemptive metaphor for spiritual healing, regeneration, and ultimate salvation. The book won the award, Georgia Author of the Year 2000 in the Category Biography.

RESUME

EDUCATION

* Ph.D. in Art from the University of Georgia, 1998.
* Masters of Art Education degree from the University of Georgia, 1988.
* Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia, 1974.

EMPLOYMENT BACKGROUND
Artist in Resident at Wesley Theological Seminary 2010-2011.
* Instructor in Art Education, University of Georgia, 1996-00.
* Teaching Assistant and Discussion Group Leader for the class Cultural Diversity in American Art, University of Georgia, 1996-97.
* Painting Instructor, University of Georgia Center of Continuing Education, Athens, Georgia, 1990-93.
* Elderhostle Painting Instructor, Brenau University, Gainesville, Georgia, 1991-93.
* Painting Instructor, Philips Street Art Center, Athens, Georgia, 1988-89.
* Art Instructor for Richmond County and Oconee County Board of Education, 1978-88. The last two schools were Davison Fine Arts Magnet School in Augusta, Georgia, and Oconee County High School in Watkinsville, Georgia.
* Instructor for art teachers, Augusta State University, Augusta, Georgia, 1979-81.
* Activity Therapy at Metropolitan Psychiatric Center, Atlanta, Georgia, 1974-77.

GRANTS

* Grass Roots Arts Grant, Atlanta, Georgia, for a community quilting project, 2000-2001.
* Research grant from the Kansas Grass Roots Art Association, Lawrence, Kansas, for field work completed on southern visionary artist, J.B. Murray, 1995-96.
* Fulton County Council of the Arts, Artist’s Grant, Atlanta, Georgia, 1990-91.

PUBLICATIONS
“J.B. Murray” an article published by the magazine Raw Vision, RV58 Spring 2007.
* In the Hand of the Holy Spirit: The Visionary Art of J.B. Murray, published by Mercer University Press, September, 2000.
* “The Four Seasons,” (co-author with Dr. Christina Bain), an instructional resource using four paintings from the Georgia Museum of Art, published in the journal of Art Education, a refereed journal, 1999.
* In the Hand of the Holy Spirit: The Art of J.B. Murray, (Dissertation) UMI Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1998.

COMMUNITY PROJECTS

* Acting Board member of the Lyndon House Arts Center, Athens, Georgia, 2000-2003
* Acting Board member of the Oconee County Arts Federation, 2001-2004.
* Art workshop for the Oconee County Senior Center, 2002.
* Community Quilt Project for Black History Month, The Georgia Museum of Art, February, 2001.
* Co-coordinator for the cross-cultural, cross-generational quilting project, “Giving Quilts,” 2000.

AWARDS

* “Georgia Author of the Year 2000” in the category “Biography” for the book In the Hand of the Holy Spirit: The Visionary Art of J.B. Murray, 2001.
* Best in Show, Art in the Park, Sandy Creek Nature Center, Athens, Georgia, 1991.
* Award of Merit Athens Clarke-Heritage Foundation Juried “Works on Paper,” Athens, Georgia, 1987.
* Award of Merit Madison-Morgan Cultural Center Regional Juried Exhibition, 1987.
* First place painting at the Pen Women Regional Art Competition, 1985.
* Merit Award painting at the Savannah Arts Festival, Savannah, Georgia, 1982.
* Second place painting at the Annual Juried exhibition at the Gertrude Herbert Art Institute, Augusta, Georgia, 1982.
* Second place painting at the Annual Juried exhibition at the Gertrude Herbert Art Institute, Augusta, Georgia, 1981.
* First place painting at the Annual Juried exhibition at the Gertrude Herbert Art Institute, Augusta, Georgia, 1980.

ONE PERSON ART EXHIBITS
Georgia Center for Continuing Education, University of Georgia 2009.
* The Georgia Tech Student Center Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1991.
* Visual Arts Center Gallery, North Georgia University, Dahlonega, Georgia, 1990.
* The John Morrow Art Center, Milledgeville, Georgia, 1990.
* The Augusta-Metro Gallery, Augusta, Georgia, 1990.
* Athens Clarke-Heritage Foundation, Athens, Georgia, 1990.
* Equifax Headquarters, Atlanta, Georgia, Corporate Exhibit, 1990.
* The Tate Center Gallery, the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1990.
* The Loef Gallery, Athens, Georgia, 1988.
* Athens Clarke-Heritage Foundation, Athens, Georgia, 1987.
* The Institute of Ecology, the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1984.
* The Lyle Gallery, Augusta, Georgia, 1981.

GROUP SHOWS AND JURIED EXHIBITIONS
Visual Stories, Lyndon House Arts Center, Athens, GA 2009.
* “Fiber and Form”, small group exhibition at the Oconee County Arts federation, September, 2002.
* The Lyndon House “Helping Hands” Exhibit, 2002.
* The Lyndon House Juried Exhibition, 2001.
* Five Person Exhibit at Oconee Council of the Arts, October, 2000.
* Member’s Exhibition, Oconee Counsel of the Arts, September, 2000.
* Full House, an invitational exhibition at the Lyndon House Arts Center, Athens, Georgia, summer, 2000.
* The Lyndon House Invitational Exhibit, Athens, Georgia, 1999.
* The Artists Way Group Exhibit, Saint Gregory Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, 1999.
* National League of American Pen Women Group Exhibition, the Georgia Center at the University of Georgia, 1997.
* Visual Arts Gallery at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, “Primal Images”, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1993.
* Kennesaw State University Gallery, “Primal Images”, Kennesaw Georgia, 1992.
* Atlanta Regional Library Exhibition “Primal Images”, sponsored by the Fulton County Council of the Arts, Atlanta, Georgia, 1991.
* The 27th Annual Festival of Arts Juried Exhibition, Dalton, Georgia, 1990.
* New Visions Gallery, an exhibition sponsored by the Gwinnett Council for the Arts, “Primal Images”, Atlanta, Georgia, 1990.
* ARTstravaganza Juried Exhibition, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1990.
* Dekalb Annual Juried Exhibition: Georgia Artists’ 90, Atlanta, Georgia, 1990.
* The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center’s Annual Juried Regional Exhibition, Madison, Georgia, 1982-90.
* The Lyndon House Invitational Exhibition, The Lyndon House Arts Center, Athens, Georgia, 1984.
* The Athens Clarke-Heritage Foundation’s Juried Exhibition, “Works on Paper,” Athens, Georgia, 1987.
* The Gertrude Herbert Art Institute’s Annual Juried Exhibition, Augusta, Georgia, 1980-83.
* The Savannah Arts Festival, Savannah, Georgia, 1982.

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
The University of Georgia (12 paintings) Athens, GA
* National Educational Association Headquarters, Alexandria, Virginia.
* Davison Fine Arts School, Augusta, Georgia.
* Oconee County Elementary School, Watkinsville, Georgia.
* Athens Vocational Technical School, Athens, Georgia.

GALLERIES

* Art Masters Gallery, Watkinsville, Georgia, 1990-.
* The Galleries, Rome, Georgia, 1990-.
* The Creative Mark, Madison, Georgia, 1990-.
* Novus, Bennett Street, Atlanta, Georgia, 1990-92.
* Authur James Gallery, Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia, 1989-90.

MEDIUM

* Watercolor, acrylic, and mixed media.

LECTURE AND SLIDE PRESENTATIONS OF MY ART

* Slide presentation and talk, The Glenn Workshop, Santa Fe, New Mexico, August, 2002
* Slide presentation and talk, Westminster Christian Academy, Athens, GA, March, 2002.
* Slide presentation and talk at Timothy Road Elementary School, Athens, Georgia, March, 2001.
* Slide presentation and talk The Athens Art Association, Athens, Georgia, November, 2000.
* Slide presentation and talk for youth ministry at Faith Presbyterian Church, Watkinsville, Georgia, January, 2000.
* Slide presentation and talk for the Greenesboro Art Association, May, 1999.
* Slide presentation and talk at the Athens Counsel for the Aging, Athens, Georgia, March, 1999.
* Slide presentation and talk, Christianity and the Arts at St. James Methodist Church, Athens, Georgia, November, 1998.
* Slide presentation and talk for the student chapter of the Georgia Art Education Association, the University of Georgia, May, 1998.
* Slide presentation and talk at First Baptist Church, Athens, Georgia, 1996.
* Slide presentation and talk at Emanuel College, Franklin Springs, Georgia, 1994.
* Slide presentation and talk at Young Harris Methodist Church, Athens, Georgia, 1992.
* Slide presentation and talk at Emanuel College, Franklin Springs, Georgia, 1992.
* Slide presentation and talk Oconee County High School, Watkinsville, Georgia, 1991.
* Slide presentation and talk for the Stroke Support Group at St. Marys Hospital, Athens, Georgia, 1991.
* Slide presentation and talk at North Georgia University, Delonega, Georgia, 1991.
* Slide presentation and talk at North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 1991.
* Slide presentation and talk at First Presbyterian Church, Athens, Georgia, 1991.
* Slide presentation and talk for the National League of American Pen Women, Athens, Georgia, 1991.
* Slide presentation and talk at St. Pauls Episcopal Church, Augusta, Georgia, 1991.

LECTURE AND SLIDE PRESENTATIONS PERTAINING TO MY BOOK ON VISIONARY ARTIST, J.B. MURRAY

* Slide presentation and talk, The Glenn Workshop, Santa Fe, New Mexico, August, 2002
* Slide presentation and talk, The College of Education, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, April, 2002.
* Slide presentation and talk, The Department of Comparative Literature, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, March, 2002.
* Slide presentation and talk, The Writer’s Club, Carrollton, GA, February, 2002.
* Presentation for National League of American Pen Women, Athens, GA, May, 2001.
* Book signing, Georgia Writer’s Conference, Atlanta, GA, May, 2001.
* Athens-Clarke County Public Library, Athens, February 2001.
* Barnes and Noble Book Store, Athens, February 2001.
* Blue Moon Book Store, Athens, February 2001.
* Young Harris Methodist Church, Athens, February 2001.
* Slide presentation and talk at Oconee County High School, fall, 2000.
* Slide presentation and talk at Folk Fest, Atlanta, Georgia, summer, 2000.
* Slide presentation and talk for the class Cultural Diversity in American Religion, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, February, 1999.
* Slide presentation and talk for the Athens Art Association, Athens, Georgia, 1998.
* Slide presentation and talk for the class The History of Art Education, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1997.
* Slide presentation and talk for the class Cultural Diversity in American Art, 1996.
* Slide presentation and talk for the class Southern Religion, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1994.
* Slide presentation and talk for the class Art Appreciation, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1994.
* Slide presentation and talk for the class Art Appreciation, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1994.
* Slide presentation and talk at the Transylvania Club, Sandersville, Georgia, 1992.
* Slide presentation and talk at the Museum of African Art, Madison, Georgia, 1992.

OTHER TALKS AND WORKSHOPS

* Goal–setting and Time-Management for the Creative Person, Artists Way Group, Athens, Georgia, 1999.
* Finding Your Passion in Art, Athens Council for the Aging, Athens, Georgia, 1999.
* Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography, Faith Presbyterian Church, Watkinsville, Georgia, 1999.
* Goal–setting and Time-Management for the Creative Person, Athens Fiber Craft Guild, Athens, Georgia, 1998.

UNIVERSITY TEACHING EXPERIENCE

* Instructor in Art Education at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 1996-00.
* Instructor for Teacher Education, Augusta State University, Augusta, Georgia, 1981.

CLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONS

* Georgia Art Education Association (District co-president 1998-2000).
* Kappa Delta Pi-National Honor Society.
* The Georgia Watercolor Society.
* National Art Education Association.
* The National League of American Pen Women—in Arts and Letters.
* The Georgia Writers Association, Inc.
* CIVA-Christians in the Visual Arts.
* CITA- Christians in Theater Arts.

OTHER

* Author of the ballet, A Vision of the Heart, performed by Athens School of Ballet, at the Morton Theater, Athens, Georgia, December, 2000.
Author of Hands of the Spirit: the Musical performed 2004, Lyndon House Arts Center, and the Morton Theatre, 2007, Athens, GA.

PLEASURE/JOY

“ Sometimes I wonder if not all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.”
C.S. Lewis

A FRIEND

“A friend is someone who stays with you in the bad weather of life, guards you when you are off your guard, restrains your impetuosity, delights in your wholeness, forgives your failures, does not forsake you when others let you down.”
Brennan Manning

THE SHINY APPLE

“Don’t reach for the shiny apple, don’t taste of the bitter fruit. Seek only for justice, search always for the truth. Because all that you really have is your soul.”
From a song by Tracy Chapman

CONDITIONS FAVORABLE TO ART

“There is no such thing beneath the heavens as conditions favorable to art. Art must crash though or perish.”
Sylvia Ashton-Warner

THE INEXPRESSIBLE

“The inexpressible is the only thing that is worth expressing.”
Frederick Franck

OUR GREATEST WEAKNESS

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Thomas Edison