One of the wall banners circling the Heaton Hall rotunda at Myers Park Baptist Church features the likeness of a baby being tossed or held aloft by a series of celebratory hands.
Unto us a child has been given, it reads.
Below, Nicholas Williams embodied the message. The 9-month-old sat in the center of the large room, blithely unaware of the attention he drew from a crescent of working artists.
His only prop: an orange plastic bowling pin, which the toddler waved and pounded and tried to turn into brunch.
Nicholas was among the headliners at Myers Park Baptists open studio, an artistic/spiritual collaboration in which the churchs moms and kids served as live models for artists attempting to capture the mother-and-child image of the Christmas season.
This is such a perfect time to focus on this image, said Melanie Aves, an artist who chaired the churchs organizing group.
It not only is one of the richest in our faith, but it also extends beyond faith lines, one of the pivotal symbols of life and of art.
In this case, the resulting water colors, collages, and charcoal and fine-lined sketches gave the New Testaments central family drama an interpretive bent.
The use of real children took an image traditionally celebrated in stained glass and left it giggling and wiggling in the middle of the room.
After all, everybody knows how the journey to Bethlehem ends. But none of those on hand knew if Nicholas would eventually gum his bowling pin into digestible form. Did Joseph and Mary have similar concerns?
Whenever a child is born, you enter into the unknown, the Rev. Steve Shoemaker, the churchs senior pastor, said during a visit to the rotunda before the start of the 11 a.m. service.
The same applies to working with child models.
Rather than striking a pose and sticking to it during her 20-minute session, Emma Gray Bachrodt, 5, shared a chocolate cookie with her mother, Anna Daly, and chirped happily about her recent birthday.
Krissy Rafida, 3, sat barefoot on the floor with her equally shoeless mom Hannah, slapping her mothers open palms like a set of bongos.
Nicholas was an adlib, a refugee from the churchs nursery drafted into service after another mother and infant didnt show.
He sat with Sarah Reeves, a recent art graduate from UNC Asheville who served several stints as a stand-in madonna.
Reeves hoped the gathering opened new insights into the links between art and faith for all who took part, from the 10 or so artists on hand to the church members who browsed the renderings on their way to morning worship.
Creativity in a church is so vital, particularly in this day and time, artist Eva Crawford said.
Crawford, who teaches at Charlotte Christian school, captured Reeves and Nicholas in charcoal and watercolor.
She caught Reeves head bending over the toddler, whose big eyes return her gaze.
Myers Park member Ann Hester showed up without any art supplies but rustled some up from another part of the church.
She used collage to create her version of Nicholass face.
For her, the message of the morning is that there is no one way to make art, and no one way to make spirituality, either.
Two of the mothers found the modeling surprisingly intimate.
Rafida and Daly both used the 20-minute posing periods to have rare, uninterrupted chats with their daughters.
Now I know exactly what she wants for Christmas, Rafida said.
Daly later sat for a second time with her son, Hunter.
Two hours into the gathering, a blast from the church organ flared up in the rotundas speakers.
The 11 a.m. service had begun in the sanctuary. Voices rose around the familiar lyrics of Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel. Rejoice, rejoice, they sang.
Then Shoemakers voice took over, welcoming 8-month-old Harlowe Day into the churchs family.
The infants baptism will take place when shes old enough to understand and take part in the ritual. For now, Shoemaker wished her a life in which she feels the love of God and heeds a call of service to the world.
At Myers Park Baptist, that call can come early.
Fifteen minutes after Shoemakers official introduction to the congregation, Harlowe was sitting in Reeves lap, wriggling-and-giggling inspiration for the adults who sat around her.