News Obituary Article
RUTLEDGE: Jackson Bailey, big-picture artist
By JIM AUCHMUTEY
Jackson Bailey thought big.
When he suffered a stroke as a young man, the artist used his recovery time to sketch studies for a panoramic painting about Jesus. "The Life of Christ" eventually stretched more than three football fields in length and was crowned the world's largest religious painting by the Guinness Book of Records.
"I didn't set out to make it the biggest painting," Mr. Bailey explained. "I just needed the space to tell the story."
Andrew Jackson Bailey, 77, died of respiratory failure Monday at his Rutledge residence. Stricken with polio as a boy, he had suffered a relapse in recent years and was unable to paint. The memorial service will be 11 a.m. Friday at A.E. Carter Funeral Home in Madison.
Born and reared in Atlanta, Mr. Bailey was a self-taught artist who worked as a sign painter and commercial illustrator, designing, among other things, DeKalb County's official seal. But it was the idea for a colossal work depicting scenes from the life of Jesus that became his magnificent obsession.
A syndicate of investors backed the painting and planned to display it as a tourist attraction in a custom-built hall in Stone Mountain. After two research trips to the Holy Land, Mr. Bailey started work in 1967 with four assistants in a Conyers warehouse.
"He started me out painting sheep," said Beverly Bailey, who met her husband on the project. "I'd go to bed at night and all I could see was sheep, sheep, sheep."
Mr. Bailey used family and friends as models. His son, Jackson Bailey III of Stone Mountain, posed as Jesus, hanging from a scaffolding with strips of cloth so his father could study how muscles might have looked during a crucifixion.
It took more than three years to finish the 50 canvas panels that make up the 11-by-1,000-foot panorama.
That biblical size proved to be a burden.
The original investors ran out of money. After several short-lived exhibitions across Atlanta during the 1970s, no one could afford to display such a large painting, and it became mired in a series of failed theme park ventures and lawsuits. For the past 20 years, the artwork has been hidden away in storage.
Herbert Brown, a businessman in Clearwater, Fla., bought it in 1995. "I fell in love with it," he said. "I just didn't appreciate how big it was."
Mr. Bailey, who never owned the painting, never stopped trying to get it shown again. "It just broke his heart to see it locked away," said his son, who is negotiating with Mr. Brown to bring the work back to Georgia for permanent display.
Survivors include two daughters, Marcia Presnell of Jonesboro and Kriscinda Morgan of Kennesaw; another son, Jay Bailey of Monroe; four stepsons, Greg Williams of Buford and Eric Williams, Rodney Williams and Jeff Williams, all of Oconee County; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
© 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution