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Smithville hymnals still inspire, years after devastating tornado

 

Kathy Parker of Amory was able to save several scattered church hymnals after the EF5 tornado that devastated Smithville in April 2011. She repurposes usable pages into art and donates many pieces as fundraisers for charitable causes in the area.

Kathy Parker of Amory was able to save several scattered church hymnals after the EF5 tornado that devastated Smithville in April 2011. She repurposes usable pages into art and donates many pieces as fundraisers for charitable causes in the area. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

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This collage by Kathy Parker depicts an angel chorus with wings created with pages from the saved hymnals.

This collage by Kathy Parker depicts an angel chorus with wings created with pages from the saved hymnals.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

A piece of jewelry turns a fragment of a hymn into a keepsake.

A piece of jewelry turns a fragment of a hymn into a keepsake.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

Mixed media artist Kathy Prescott Parker remembers standing on the deck outside her Amory home on April 27, 2011. She anxiously checked the sky for any sign of an approaching tornado. The sun was shining, but dire weather alerts were prolific. That spring afternoon, Amory would be spared, but the small neighboring town of Smithville would fall into the bullseye of a catastrophic EF5 tornado, part of a "super outbreak" of deadly supercells wreaking havoc from Mississippi to North Carolina on that date. Monroe County suffered 17 fatalities, Parker said. Much of Smithville was destroyed -- half the houses, 14 of the town's 16 businesses, the police station, Town Hall, post office and four of its six churches. 

 

"Thoughts of that day still bring chills to me," said Parker.  

 

About 10 days after the storm, she visited Smithville with a friend who lived there. They went to the friend's church, Smithville Baptist -- or rather, to the mountain of rubble that remained. 

 

"I was shocked when I got to Smithville, especially when I got up on top of what was left of the church and (looked out). It was just staggering," said the artist.  

 

With permission, Parker gathered up the few scattered hymnals she could salvage, saving them from a landfill and hoping she would one day be able to give them new life in a meaningful way.  

 

Her eventual inspiration has been to repurpose usable pages of the hymn books into paintings, collages, jewelry pieces and other remembrances. Parker has created multiple pieces to donate to fundraisers benefiting Smithville and other charitable causes in surrounding areas.  

 

Most recently, she has used them to help God's House of Hope (GHOH) in Nettleton. That residential program ministers to people grappling with addictions. Parker's own daughter became a resident and is now a staff member, so the home's mission is well-known to the artist. 

 

Parker said, "To some, the residents who seek help are not unlike the hymnals, believed by many to have lost their purpose in life, but met with a willing heart and tender touch, they heal and are made new through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." 

 

Parker donated several of 12 salvaged hymnals to the home, where she taught residents to make keepsake jewelry pieces and artwork to sell for fundraising. 

 

GHOH board member and treasurer Jennifer Sprayberry said, "We've got residents from Columbus, Caledonia, Lee County, Monroe, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas," adding that resident-made artwork is sold on the premises, at bake sales and other area events. "All proceeds go right back to God's House of Hope," she noted.  

 

Parker continues to create hymnal pieces as well. One of her 12-by-17 1/2-inch collages is being raffled by the House of Hope through Dec. 20; it features a trio of angels in red, with wings fashioned from hymns.  

 

"As long as I have hymnals I'm going to continue to make things and donate part of the proceeds to various groups," Parker said. 

 

View examples of the artist's work by searching Google Image or Pinterest for Kathy Prescott Parker. For more information about her Smithville hymnal art, contact Parker at 662-257-5363. 

 

For more information about God's House of Hope services, call 662-591-7100 or 662-650-0103.

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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