Historic church painting found in Virginia

Pastel of St. George’s Episcopal Church was a $2 thrift shop bargain

This letter originally appeared in Rev. Belle Mickelson’s weekly community newsletter on Feb. 18. The letter is reprinted with permission of the author, Jim Stegall, of Stuart, VA. The Stegalls plan to donate the painting to St. George’s Episcopal Church in the coming months.

By Jim Stegall

For The Cordova Times

I have an interesting story I think you might be interested in reading.

I live in Virginia and my wife and I often browse antique and thrift shops. A few years ago, we came across a worn, but beautiful pastel of a church.

Since we collect church art, photos, paintings, etc., we purchased it for just $2. It has hung in our home or office since.

There was no identification of the church or its location, but on the back, there was a sticker showing where it was framed, at Lakewood Arts & Crafts, Tacoma, Washington.  Also, there was a message printed on the back cover that read: “To Fr. Wanner, Christmas 1952, Everett & Joy Pettijohn, — Pastel Drawing by E.H.P. “

Recently, my curiosity got the best of me. I started searching the Internet and came up with references to Everett & Joy Pettijohn and Cordova, Alaska. My search indicated that those folks were probably too old to be living, although I didn’t find any obituaries. I searched their family and came up with three children, the youngest being a Dr. David E. Pettijohn. I was able to track him to Englewood, Colorado, where he is 82, and living in retirement from the University of Colorado, where he was a renowned cancer cell researcher. In fact, there are numerous published findings of his on the internet. He was given distinguished alumni status from the University of Washington upon retirement from UC. His address was listed, but I couldn’t obtain an email address. So, I wrote him a letter identifying the pastel painting with his father and mother’s name on the back, asking if he could help me identify the painting.

Three days later, I got an email from Dr. David E. Pettijohn, saying he was indeed the son of Everett and Joy Pettijohn, both deceased. Nevertheless, I was delighted to hear from him. He informed me that his parents were members of St. George’s Episcopal in Cordova, Alaska. His dad owned a printing business there and later was owner and publisher of the Cordova newspaper. David Pettijohn identified your church and said he was baptized there as a small child. He said his father was a fine artist, but never sold any of his work. I told him, “Well, that’s changed because I paid $2 for one.” He laughed.

He said that his parents gave the pastel to Father Wanner as a going away gift when he left the church. He left for Pennsylvania and I assume he is probably deceased also. The pastel painting of your church somehow found its way to Swansboro, NC, a coastal town. My wife and I found it rummaging through some old framed artwork at the Hem-of-His-Garment Thrift Store.

Dr. David Pettijohn and I had a delightful conversation. He said he shared my letter with his wife and family, and they were all very touched that this pastel, created by their grandfather, is now in the hands of someone who values it.

Dr. Pettijohn sounded almost tearful. It was a very sweet conversation between two complete strangers nearly 1,500 miles apart. I offered to return the painting, but Dr. Pettijohn wanted me to keep it. I also mentioned that perhaps your church might like to have it when I go to meet my maker. I could send you a photo by email if you like and feel free to share this with your parishioners if you desire.

I have since googled your church website and I’m very impressed with its history and presence in your community — one of The Lord’s beautiful brides. And let me add the Mr. Pettijohn’s handsome pastel does it justice.

Just thought you might be interested in this little story. And, since Mr. Pettijohn used to own the Cordova newspaper there years ago, perhaps those folks might be interested also. Sorry this is so long!