Feather by Feather: A Vision of Wings

📷 all photos by Carol Thompson

Tyler artist Elisabeth “Buffy” Hall had forged a single copper leaf in a coppersmithing class when she received a calling at a dinner one evening. Her friend at the table explained that the archangel Raphael told him Hall was to build a nine-foot copper sculpture of wings. “I did not see it,” she recalls. “I was not equipped. I didn’t have a clue.”

The following week, Hall envisioned wings everywhere, even in dreams. When another friend who was not present at the dinner revealed she had also been told in a dream to help Hall make wings, she gave in. “I threw in the white flag,” she said.

With wings on her mind all the time, she began creating clay angels of all shapes and sizes. When the angels turned out with an iron metallic sheen rather than looking like clay, “I didn’t question it,” said Hall. 

Hall calls the “Wings of Love” sculpture a symbol and message of God’s love through the archangel Michael’s wings “being broadcast and radiated throughout the neighborhood.” The vision brought to fruition is visible to anyone trundling the brick streets of West Houston Street in Tyler, where the artist lives in her historic 1895 home with friends and her dogs, Maybelline Monroe “May May” Hall, Pudge Rodriguez and Zeke. Spirituality “is part and parcel of my art,” said Hall. She calls her surrender to God the turning point. “My art bloomed out of that.” 

Hall, who has a registered nursing background, comes from an artistic family who paint, quilt, build dioramas and cut stained glass. She did not see her place in her family of artists until she was in her 40s. When her marriage “exploded,” a friend encouraged her to take a hand pottery building class. She recalls thinking, “I like this. I can do it.” After taking a fused glass jewelry workshop, fusing glass to pottery and turning out bowls and wall crosses, she began creating glass mosaics. Her first was the “Dove of Peace.” Hall learned she is “a tactile artist who works with my hands.” 

At her “wit’s end” following a difficult divorce, Hall decided in 2016 to move to Tyler where she grew up the child of Elizabeth and Fred Maddux, with siblings Helen “Holly,” Mary, Meg and John Maddux, and where she had not visited for 20 years. There had been no reason for her return to Tyler following the death of her mother in 1990, she explained.

With her spiritual journey “in a knot,” she asked God to “bless it or block it.” When she saw the “secret garden” of her now home, she said, “I gotta buy the house.” The place was “overgrown, a wreck,” she said, but she saw potential in the sunny courtyard. “I pictured sitting out and looking at the courtyard full of flowers,” she said. Hall planted orange Turk’s Cap lilies for the hummingbirds, as her mother did, and potted flowers.

Hall was shown in a dream how to begin constructing the wings, the foundation of which is a two-inch iron pipe fashioned in the shape of a crosspiece. A friend came to help with the crosspiece on which the wings would hang. About 12 people in all worked in the breezeway, helping Hall with the project. Friends, she said, would call to say, “Are we working today?” They invented the process “feather by feather” as they went along, she said, using come-along or tie-down straps to suspend the wings while working. 

It took about four weeks to wind the copper wire around the iron pipes of the sculpture’s skeleton. Randy Martin, Edom copper sculptor, taught Hall to solder and came by to check the project setup. “Randy was a rock star,” she said. The project took three months total – “lots of ten-hour days and sandwiches” – until the wings were finally hung in the middle of the night on May 18, 2019. 

The wings are layers of delicate copper feathers, said Hall, noting that “copper is a conductor of energy with a frequency.” People love the wings, said Hall, and often sit near or under the sculpture, and are welcome to take pictures. Her housemates have noticed people stopping by and sitting on the wall near the sculpture in the summer heat. “It just feels good to people,” she said. 

Hall said creating the “Wings of Love” allowed her to see herself as a person and an artist. “I empower myself through knowing who I am,” she said. She could never have envisioned herself as a 3D (three dimensional) copper artist back in 2016. “I don’t take credit for it,” she said. “It was a total group conception.” 

Hall’s home is set off by a railed porch and her stained-glass creations. “For protection of the house,” said Hall, her stained-glass archangel Michael hangs in the rear breezeway of her home high on the hill. “Wings of Peace,” a smaller sculpture somewhat camouflaged high in the backyard tree, is also visible from the street. “Wings of Peace,” she said, was her “training wheels” for sculpting “Wings of Love.” No longer a glass mosaic artist because of health constraints, Hall is creating an indoor home gallery for acrylic pour painting. Her home re-do includes a floor loom for weaving fabric. The artist knows her art therapy “saved my sanity” and is willing to teach others interested in artistic endeavors. 

The hummingbird, a messenger of hope and new beginnings, is the logo of Hall’s Pica Fleur Studio.  She practices a “Christian faith with deepened dimensions” and acknowledges her art is “heart easing” after her divorce and the death of her sister Helen “Holly” Maddux in 1977. “I can now say Holly’s name – my muse or art angel – with joy,” she said. Her artistic path is not about Holly, said Hall, “but my own journey.” 

Carol Thompson, a former newspaper reporter, has been published in “We Need Not Walk Alone” and National Public Radio’s (NPR) Marketplace. A member of the Rusk County Poetry Society and The Poetry Society of Texas, Carol is a coauthor of “Souls in the Sand” and “Twelve East Texas Poets.”

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