Shel Silverstein came to my elementary school classroom via my son, the year I became a public school teacher in 1980 and Ray went to the University of Alabama as a freshman. Ray and I were both poetry lovers, but Where the Sidewalk Ends was a different style of poetry than the poems I read him as a little boy, the poetry of Eugene Field and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was Ray’s first adult gift to his mother, and I treasured it and shared it with children my entire teaching career. I did not know anything about Silverstein then, except that he was a rugged-looking Jewish man. I soon found that he wrote books for adults as well as children and articles/cartoons in Playboy, a magazine definitely not on my reading list. Silverstein was born in Chicago and was drafted into the Army soon after entering university. There he used the gift he had discovered in early elementary school, drawing cartoons, for the Pacific Stars and Stripes. I later learned that he was a playwright, and a song writer, even the writer for Johnny Cash’s big hit “A Boy Named Sue.” I continued to get each new Silverstein children’s book . The Giving Tree was his first prose book. I acquired it, and it touched me with the tenderness and self-sacrificial love it portrayed.
The book came to the Magic of Marble Festival by way of Warren Strickland. The Giving Tree was shared with him by a friend at a time when it spoke to his heart because of some things going on in his life. As an artist who created mostly with clay, wood, and soapstone, it was ironic that a beautiful piece of pink alabaster from Colorado became his focus for the stump of a tree. Thinking through his project, he looked at many stumps, drawings, and photographs of stumps. When he began his work, he did so without first making a clay model. It is beautiful. If you wonder why he did not use Sylacauga marble, this year was his first time to sculpt at the Sylacauga festival. When he visited last year, Dr. Ted Spears invited him back to participate, and Warren is excited about the event and the opportunities to learn techniques, etc., from resident sculptor Craigger Browne, the Italian sculptor, and others who attend.
The magic continued when librarian Teresa Offord who is retired from B.B. Comer School, volunteers at Knollwood Christian School, and is also librarian at First Baptist Church in Sylacauga was working in the sale room for the festival. Her eyes and her heart were immediately drawn to Warren’s piece with Silverstein’s book standing beside it. Since it attracted attention from many other visitors, Teresa was afraid it was going to sell before she could devise a way to buy it.
Mulling over where she could put it in her home, she thought of where it might be visible for more people, especially for children who love the book. An expensive piece for a school, another thought came to mind. Jeannine Parrish, beloved deceased First Baptist librarian, had money left to the library by her family to honor her service to Christ in that place. Immediately Teresa set the wheels in motion to purchase The Giving Tree.
She knew the perfect place in the recently remodeled church, in the library window where it would be visible to everyone. A talented church friend made a beautiful oak table for the alabaster piece which sits on a green marble base The Bright Parrish Media Library is a focal point at First Baptist’s newly remodeled Fort Williams entrance.
A First Baptist church library was first established by Mrs. Catherine (Woodrow) West in 1943. In 1970 it was named for E.T. Bright, beloved FBC Sunday School Director. In the early 1980’s, Mrs. Parrish and the library were recognized with a Merit Achievement Award presented by the Baptist Sunday School Board for meeting all the standards set up by them for media center excellence. That was when Parrish’s name was added to Mr. Bright’s, and the library became officially the Bright Parrish Media Center. Space prevents naming all of those who have contributed time and money to make it a great library. Mrs. Offord and staff continue to enrich lives with the resources it provides. In its first Sunday at the church, the alabaster stump from the book was recognized by an excited child. I hope that if you do not know this book, you will make it a point to read it, and better yet, stop in to see the sculpture.
So, Warren Strickland, a Birmingham sculptor, provides for First Baptist Church a beautiful reminder of the power of sacrificial love. The book and the sculpture will be shared with countless people, young and old, and Christ is honored through the power of love.
Warren has a basement studio in Birmingham where he and his wife reside. He works as a contractor. At the local festival, he worked tirelessly with a piece of Sylacauga marble. At a later date, I plan to share pictures he sent me about the process from stone, to plans, to completion. Thanks, Shel Silverstein and Warren Strickland who touch our hearts with art and beauty. The Magic of Marble Festival was aptly named, and this story is part of that magic that happened right here, and not so long ago at that.