The painting hanging in Fairview Church is more than a picture; the painting of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is a sermon and witness to the people who view and study it. The few verses in the Gospel of Luke 22 simply tell us that Jesus left the city and went, as he usually did to the Mount of Olives to pray. His prayer the evening before his crucifixion on Golgotha was impassioned but humble, one in which he relinquished his will to suffer for the sins of mankind. Luke says Jesus’ three friends, James, John and Peter, were not able to pray with him one hour. Jesus admonished them to ‘Get up and pray that you will not fall into temptation,’ Luke 22:46.
Ralph Stuckey portrayed the prayer event in oils on a 4 x 6’ canvas. The painting won awards for the painter and might have been sold for a large sum, but in the 1930's Ralph chose to trade it for burial plots in the Fairview Cemetery for his parents and himself. Ralph was a talented man, attended Iowa Wesleyan College at Mount Pleasant learning art and participating in sports, and music. In his teens Ralph was stricken with epilepsy, an illness which was still a mystery to local doctors. Although today Ralph could have been treated effectively with simple medications, in the 1930's those were unknown.
Ralph lived at home with his parents, took art lessons and traveled to local churches sharing his musical talent in a quartette, on the piano and playing the flute. At one point he performed with the Chautauqua. He also kept a huge flower garden. When he was in his 50's, his parents died. He stayed for six months with a Baptist minister in Centerville. For a time men were hired to care for him at his Udell farm home and drive the car for him. When his condition worsened with age, he was taken to Mount Pleasant sanitarium.
The painting has continued to inspire sacrifice. In the Spring of 1944, the Fairview Church caught on fire. As the congregation gathered to fight the blaze, Dwight Powell, a member, was motivated to enter the burning building to get the painting. As Dwight entered he became disoriented in the smoke and fumes. Only the encouragement and yells of his friends guided him out to safety. Thus the painting became the link between the old church and the new building when the structure was completed a later that year.
The painting which stands as a focal point upon entry to Fairview Church has assisted worship of the viewers for more than 75 years. For the first 25 or more years the painting hung front and center in the sanctuary behind the pulpit to cover the baptistery opening. Membership classes included the story of Gethsemane and the history of the painting. Each person who viewed it brought their knowledge of the Scripture and Jesus’ saving love to their experience with the painting. If sermons seemed dull or not meaningful to the hearer, the painting provided inspiration and challenge to live prayerfully remembering what Jesus sacrificed.
In 1960 when the church members built an addition for Sunday School rooms, the painting was placed in the entrance, directly across from the outside doors to set the stage for worship and reflection.
What about the painter? His life too was impacted by misunderstanding and sacrifice, over which he had little control. Ralph Stuckey was never happy in Mount Pleasant. He wrote many letters to friends and family begging them to assume responsibility for him so he could be released. He was not mentally ill; he did not belong there. Although he had occasional attacks of epilepsy, he was talented and could work productively.
Unfortunately, no one stepped into rescue him. Like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Ralph had to bear his cross alone. In a small way he lived out the story of self- sacrifice through misunderstanding of an illness. Misunderstanding caused Jesus Christ much anguish in Gethsemane. Was the experience painting the picture how Ralph Stuckey identified with his Savior and found comfort? Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is a painting by Ralph Stuckey circa 1930. A painting, but so much more; it’s Ralph’s continuing sermon of love and sacrifice.
Marilyn J. Koehler, 2007
"If you will, take this cup of suffering from me. However, not my will, but your will be done." -- Luke 22:42
Church of the Brethren
Northern Plains District
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