Art & Ministry
HUNTINGTON — If you are in the All Nations Revival Center’s house of worship Sunday morning, then you are already know about it. And have for the longest time.
For the rest of the region, it is becoming a secret no more. Pastor Frederick Hightower is equally as skilled as an artist as he is in the ministry.
It is at All Nations where Hightower takes to the pulpit in front of a breathtaking 75-footby-30-foot mural that he painted of Christ’s Second Coming that takes up the entire front wall of the church.
And it is at nearby West Virginia State University where, in August, Hightower put the rest of the world on notice of his work, turning in his first life-sized sculpture to honor fellow WVSU grad and retired NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson in time for her 100th birthday.
If everything happens in God’s time, then for Hightower, who is 54, the time to use his gift of art seems to be right now.
“It has been a struggle, but I sort of in some ways consider my art an extension of my ministry. I definitely know it is a gift from God and so when I do my art I really believe I am expressing God’s glory in the way that someone would if they were singing,” Hightower said. “I know that some people struggle as to wherever or not there is even a God, but when I do artwork it really solidifies to me there is a creator. I understand in order to do intricate artwork it takes tremendous creativity, and so I see God as the ultimate artist, because when I see these flowers I see artistic creativity.
“You can throw paint on a canvas until you are blue in the face, and yeah, you might get pretty colors, but you are not going to get art doing that. When I do my art, I believe we
are, in a sense, emulating our creator in making beautiful things.”
For Hightower, the exploration of the spiritual and the art worlds began early.
He is the son of the late James Franklin Hightower, a Huntington native and Douglass High School graduate who also served as the pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Huntington. His mother is the late Annette High-tower-Grenz, the first African-American nurse anesthetist in West Virginia.
“I pretty much did art all of my life,” Hightower said. “Growing up, we kind of went back and forth. My parents got divorced early so I went from living in small-town Madison where my mom was from to Charlottesville, Virginia, but we came back here and I graduated from St. Albans High School in 1982.”
After high school, Hightower enrolled at Marshall University, where he got most of his art training.
“I got inspired to do sculpture here at Marshall University. It was in the 1980s and I was encouraged in sculpture and I did my first piece here,” Hightower said. “I was inspired by some local artists in Charleston and I always wanted to do some large pieces. A particular sculptor shared with me that, well, until you can do something big just do small pieces. A lot of people don’t realize but doing small pieces can be a lot more complicated than large pieces. But the idea was if you could do it small you could do it big and so that is what I have been striving to do. Now, I am wanting to do more large pieces.”
Because of an illness in his family, Hightower ended up transferring to West Virginia State University in Institute, just outside of Charleston. He graduated from there in 1989.
Like many, he figured it was a one-way ticket out, and felt like West Virginia could not be a place where he could make a living as an artist.
“When I graduated the first thing I said is that I needed to go somewhere like New York so I could make enough money to raise a family, but I was involved in the church, so we decided to stay here,” Hightower said. “It has probably taken a lot longer but some of my work is getting to be discovered. I’m very appreciative of that.”
Instead of moving away, Hightower followed in his father’s footsteps into the ministry.
He moved back to Huntington after graduation, where he answered the Lord’s call to work in the ministry at Encourager’s Fellowship. He and his wife Michelle settled into ministry and family life, raising four children (now all in their 20s) in Huntington.
“I was wrestling between the art field and the ministry and initially I would say for the past 20 years I was really focused on the ministry,” Hightower said. “I kind of got drafted because they needed a pastor and I said I would fill in and before you knew it, I was the pastor.”
From there he did outreach work for the now-famous West Virginia native Bishop T.D. Jakes. Then he established a church in the Charleston area called the All Nations Revival Center in Dunbar.
Since most Appalachian pastors are “bi-vocational,” meaning they work for the church and do another secular job as well, Hightower has always done other work — from a stint owning The Peanut Shoppe in downtown Huntington and the Huntington Mall, to the past few years trying to ramp up his art work into a viable business.
“About 10 years ago I decided to go part-time in the ministry and full-time in the art,” Hightower said. “I am still involved with the church but as far as a career is concerned it is mainly with my artwork.”
Hightower said that Jakes has long been a supporter and champion of his art, commissioning several pieces. The pastor of the Dallas mega-church The Potter’s House, Jakes, a South Charleston native, is viewed as one of America’s most influential pastors.
They are still in touch, and in fact, Jakes will be part of a late October conference at Hightower’s church in Dunbar.
“He is one of the most down to Earth people,” Hightower said. “He came from a very humble beginning, and I think if people understood his beginning, they would really appreciate where he is at. He is born and bred in West Virginia and still has roots here. He has been to me a blessing and an inspiration. He’s supported my art career very much and has commissioned a lot of work from me, and I really appreciate that.”
At the All Nations Revival Center, Hightower has been letting his art light shine.
“I am developing in itself to not just be a church facility but to be an arts facility as well,” Hightower said. “I have done a mural there. We are looking to start a school of fine arts and maybe do a sculpture park, and things like that to help beautify the community.”
That mural, a two-year labor of love, is hard to miss, and it ain’t your grandpa’s church baptismal mural.
“It’s a mural of the Second Coming of Christ, it was sort of fun,” Hightower said of the project. “I grew up in the 1970s with black lights so I was putting all of these colors in it and I was thinking, ‘Where am I getting all of these colors from?’ I was like ‘Oh yeah, that’s from growing up in the 70s with all of those psychedelic posters.’”
Normally a realist sculptor and painter, Hightower, whose business is called Excellent Images Art, said most of his work has been paintings because they are more affordable. However, he is hoping to pick up more sculpture work after being selected to make the sculpture of Katherine Johnson. That August dedication made news around the globe when six of Johnson’s grandchildren pulled back the veil to reveal the statue, which stands between Cole Complex and Dawson Hall on West Virginia State University’s campus.
Hightower said that project came about thanks to the idea from one of Johnson’s friends and the leadership and guidance of WVSU President Anthony L. Jenkins.
“I did a bust for a general and an older lady came up to me and told me she was a friend of Katherine Johnson and she felt that something should be done of her,” Hightower said. “I looked into it and we presented it to President Jenkins who really is one of the best things to happen to State. He carried the torch and went to meet her and sold the idea to the family. He asked me to go forward with it.”
That forward was a fast-forward. Hightower started the job in January and he finished it by the first part of May. From there it was sent to the foundry from May until about the middle of July, where there was work that had to be done in the foundry in Lancaster, Penn., Hightower said.
“It was a little bit of a rush. A statue like that probably should have had a year to do it but we wanted to have it done by the time of her birthday, her 100th birthday, which was like the day after the unveiling,” Hightower said. “We got it done. It was a real honor for me to do a sculpture of such a great woman. It wasn’t just the fact that she did work to put Americans in space and on the moon but she is just a wonderful lady and a godly woman. Her husband is a pastor, and a lot of people may not realize that about her. She is just a wonderful woman, very humble, and she would have never asked for something like this for herself, and that is what the movie is all about, being a ’hidden figure/I am really glad they represented her.”
That taste of making a large-scale sculpture for such a highly revered West Virginian has made him want to see more great women of the Mountain State honored.
“We really don’t recognize the great women of West Virginia because if you stop and think about it, that is maybe one of the only sculptures of women in the state,” Hightower said. “I know there is one at the Capitol that represents women in general, but to honor a specific individual like Katherine is unique. There are other women, I think, who should be recognized and people do tour the United States to see sculptures and to see great works of art. That brings people to the state, it brings tourist dollars to the state. I think if we invest in art, we invest in our state.”
Hightower, whose father was an all-state Douglass High School basketball player, would also love to be the artist who makes a statue of the legendary Hal Greer, the Huntington born-and-raised Douglass, Marshall and NBA Hall of Fame basketball star who died at the age of 81 this past April.
“I found out that they are wanting to do a statue of Hal Greer and that is something I would love to do. My dad went to school with Hal Greer and my family lived on Hal Greer Boulevard, so that would be a dream come true. And that would probably help me pay for my daughter (Charity) who is going to Marshall, so they’d get the money back,” Hightower said with a chuckle.
Hightower, who would like to do a Hal Greer project on campus in conjunction with Marshall’s School of Art and Design at the Sculpture Warehouse, said whether or not he gets the job, he hopes Huntington and Marshall continue this current creative arc toward putting up more public art and sculptures.
“Huntington could be a destination. I think there should be more art and more sculptures here, so I am really glad that Marshall is going to do one of Hal Greer. I would definitely love to be chosen for it, but I definitely hope they consider a West Virginia artist to do it,” Hightower said.
While he waits, Hightower continues to feel blessed to be able to see and appreciate the glory and beauty in the world around him, humbled by the work of his Creator.
“The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of the Lord and that the firmament showeth his handiwork, even when we are sitting here and I look at these buildings, there had to be a blueprint for them, and an inspection code before you could even go in it. That lets you know it took an intelligent hand to do that. One cell of our bodies are more complicated than anything that man has created,” Hightower said. “We are sitting here looking at each other through cameras that we call eyes, that are able to take light and beam it into our brain and we are able to communicate with this sound system. To me, everything shows that there is a God and he is an artist.”
OCCUPATION: Painter, sculptor and pastor of All Nations Revival Center in Dunbar
FAMILY: Wife Michelle and their four children Charity, 28, Maria, 27, Angelica, 24, and Frederick Hightower Jr., 21.
EDUCATION: A 1982 St. Albans High School graduate, Hightower first attended Marshall University then transferred to WVSU where he graduated with a bachelors degree in art
MOST FAMOUS WORKS: In August, his life-sized bronzed statue of Katherine Johnson (“Hidden Figures”) stands between Cole Complex and Dawson Hall on the campus of West Virginia State University.
HIS MURAL WORK: Check out Hightower’s mural work of Jesus’ second coming at All Nations Revival Center, 325 Academy Drive, Dunbar.
ART WEB SITES: https://www.facebook.com/ExcellentimagesArt/ and https://www.zhibit.org/fullerhightower
CHURCH WEB SITE: https://www.facebook.com/ALL-Nations-Revival-Center-152416244795702/