Harwich Artist's Latest Icon Honors The Emanuel Nine

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: local artist

The Emanuel Nine Icon created by Harwich artist Pamela Chatterton-Purdy. COURTSY PHOTO

Harwich artist Pamela Chatterton-Purdy does not want the Emanuel Nine, murdered during a hate crime shooting in Charleston, S.C. in June 2015, to be forgotten.

This Sunday, May 21, the Harwich United Methodist Church will hold a service focused on healing and race relations. Present will be the sister of one of the Emanuel Nine as well as an icon Chatterton-Purdy created to honor the memories of the victims.

“These people had significant, beautiful lives that were cut down,” Chatterton-Purdy said during a telephone interview last week. “I did this to honor nine beautiful people who had beautiful lives.”

The six women and three men killed ranged in age from 26 to 87. On the evening of June 17, 2015, they were attending a Bible study and prayer group in the 1816 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when 21-year-old Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, opened fire.

For several years Chatterton-Purdy has been creating icons memorializing those who were killed in the Civil Rights Movement and also honoring other African Americans such as the Obama family. Collaborating with her husband David A. Purdy, a Methodist minister, Chatterton-Purdy last year published “Icons of the Civil Rights Movement,” which followed on two earlier books of icons. Accompanying the books is a traveling exhibit of the same name which last spring was hung at the Zion Union Heritage Museum in Hyannis.

It was there that Chatterton-Purdy met Marjorie Coakley McIver, whose sister Myra Thompson, was one of those shot.

“Someone poked me and said, ‘her sister was killed.’ I went over and introduced myself. She cried, and I cried,” Chatterton-Purdy says. When Chatterton-Purdy hugged McIver, McIver whispered, “my sister had eight bullets in her body”—words that drove home for Chatterton-Purdy the horror of the shooting. Roof, who shot 77 bullets into nine people, was found guilty of 33 federal hate crime charges. He has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Yet, “I don’t want people just to remember Dylann Roof,” Chatterton-Purdy says. Due to the well-publicized trial, “all we hear about is Dylann Roof, Dylann Roof, Dylann Roof.”

So after meeting McIver, Chatterton-Purdy began work on her icon. At three feet tall and two feet wide, it is larger than her other icons, “the biggest one I’ve ever done.”

She began by designing three icons on graph paper and sharing the designs with McIver. Six weeks of intense work followed. “I wanted so badly to not offend anybody by the portrait I did,” she says. “These families are still hurting; I didn’t want them to think it wasn’t a good portrait.”

The icon, shaped like a cross, has four portraits on the crossbar, and five on the vertical. In the center is the badge of the African Methodist Episcopal church and on the aureole are words from the Bible: “Nothing can separate us from God’s love/Neither angels nor demons, neither death nor life.”

The icons are built on three-quarter-inch plywood, to which Chatterton-Purdy attaches sheets of gold leaf. She has taken a workshop in gilding techniques and for inspiration studied books of Russian and Irish icons. She cuts moldings for frames in a miter box and prepares the plywood by painting it red. She then adheres gold leaf to it with a gel medium allowing some of the red under-paint to leak through. She uses “puffy paint” for antique lettering. At the base of the Emanuel Nine are two doves, a traditional symbol of peace.

Under each portrait of the Emanuel Nine Chatterton-Purdy has printed the person’s name. McIver’s sister Myra Thompson, 59, is on the right arm of the cross, next to the Rev. Daniel Simmons. Thompson was a retired teacher, and on her final evening she was teaching a lesson from the book of Mark.

McIver will speak at the Harwich service and Chatterton-Purdy’s icon will stand on the altar. The church has a candelabra with 10 candles. Each candle will be lit, a chime rung, and the name of one of the Emanuel Nine spoken. The tenth candle represents Christ, Chatterton-Purdy says.

From Harwich, the icon will travel south to the Emanuel Church, where it will be on display. After that, plans are being made to donate the icon to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Chatterton-Purdy has also made laminated prints of the icon which McIver will present to each of the grieving families when they meet for a 10-day celebration of the Emanuel Nine in Charlestown beginning on June 17, the two-year anniversary of the shooting.

As McIver will note next Sunday, “Lest we forget, Pam’s commemorative icon will trigger a lasting memory, not of the tragedy itself, but a visualization of the warm, loving, caring people whose lives were senselessly and tragically taken.”

The service will be held this Sunday, May 21, at 9:30 a.m. at the Harwich United Methodist Church in East Harwich. A potluck luncheon in McIver’s honor will follow. All are invited to both the service and luncheon. For more information call the church at 508-432-3734.