Walking in His Footsteps

This is the story of Miriam’s 2003 Israel journey to walk where Jesus walked. To see the mountains He saw. To smell the flowers He smelled. To walk by the water He walked on. To breathe the air He breathed.

Miriam sketching overlooking Old Jerusalem, 2003. Photo by Yehuda Guy.
Touring English painter, William Hunt's home on the Street of the Prophets, Jerusalem.
Fish dinner with Danielle, Yehuda, Patsy and Miriam.

An artist's view of the Holy Land

by Miriam McClung

There was a concert at my church about fourteen years ago, and a wonderful pianist played a contemporary piece of the Stations of the Cross.  As I sat there listening I could see Christ going up our mountain, Red Mountain.  The next ten years I spent drawing and painting the fourteen Stations of the Cross. This body of work led me to Israel, to see the true Stations of the Cross.

In the summer of 2003 this dream became a reality.  A cousin and I went with Yehuda Guy, an Israeli tour guide, for three weeks on a special artist’s tour of the Holy Land.  After much anticipation seeing the real Stations of the Cross of Christ was an enormous shock.  One in particular was covered up with buying and selling, clothes hanging and clothes covering the walk in front of the Station. There was a man passing by unaware of the Station. Although my journey to the Holy Land inspired me to paint the works you’ll view in this online exhibit, I was struck by the indifference of the man upon returning home. How often do we just pass Jesus by in our daily lives? I hope the works in this exhibit will move you from indifference to inspiration, giving you visual bread for reflection.

Photo Credit: Yehuda Guy

Inside the door of Mary's Tomb.
Bethlehem at the alter of the wise men
Israel Artwork

The Shepherd at Galilee

Outside our bed and breakfast inn at Galilee, there was a sheepfold. In the morning, the shepherd came down the nearby mountain along a winding path with a cloud of sheep following in a thunderous herd. The shepherd had to walk really fast for the herd not to run over him. As they came down below the inn you could see part of the Sea of Galilee in the background with a fertile valley to the right. Here is where the Jordan River flows again down to the Dead Sea. It is interesting that the shepherd did not lead the sheep down to the fertile valley but up to a high, rocky landscape. I thought about that a lot and used this as the subject of this painting. The Shepherd leads us to high rocky places where we sometimes would rather not go.

John 10:14-16
“I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
"The Shepherd at Galilee" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. 40" x 66". In the collection of Saint Stevens Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama.

The Wall in Jerusalem

While in Jerusalem I visited the Western Wall—for centuries the wall was called the Wailing Wall but following the Six Day War it was renamed. This is a most sacred place for Jews throughout the world. Here lie the large stones of the outer wall of the destroyed Temple. It was a Friday night and the lights of the city of Jerusalem were casting a light of holy gold across the city made of stones in the desert. Men were praying in their black hats and prayer shawls called tallits. Women were leaving prayers written as notes into the large cracks of the stone wall, but it was the following Monday morning, the day Bar Mitzvahs were held, that left an impression on me as an artist.

Upon entering the security section, a group of Israeli soldiers walked by and a spontaneous clapping arose from the crowds as a centuries old song filled the air. It was a celebration of joy and thanks to all the young people that keep Israel safe.

The slope leading down to the wall made for a large plaza with a barricade wall closer to the wall itself. The women were on one side of the barricade, not being able to enter the plaza, hanging over the green fence and small wall. I thought of centuries of women from Europe, Russia, and other countries gathering there with their scarves colored by age telling their stories. I wonder how many times they had seen the massacre of the innocents.

The men came in lines carrying the Torah knowing they would pass the words of the Lord to the next generation. Phylacteries, small leather boxes containing the words of the Lord on vellum, were worn by the men as a reminder to keep the words of the Lord. The hope and happiness was seen in the faces of the young boys aged thirteen who had been schooled in Hebrew as they read from the Torah. What gladness and songs rang out with tambourines, drums, and music.

After capturing the scene for a couple of hours on my camera, it was not until processing the photographs that I could fully piece together the whole scene in my mind. One particular photograph showed a young boy riding on the shoulders of his Father going through the narrow gate in the opposite direction of those entering with the Torahs. He looked down at a few of the men, none of whom were in robes but were dressed in clothes from around the world. He was going through the gate for all of us. He did not leave the Jewish tradition but is dressed in it. I felt like the boy was looking to the poor, the humble, and to all and saying, “I am the way.”

Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

"The Wall in Jerusalem" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. 46" x 74". Available. Contact us for details.

The Damascus Gate

It was so hot up there, but the view was worth the heat. The Damascus Gate is my favorite painting. It tells the story of the country’s past, present and final meaning of Jerusalem. It says how beautiful the sun is, the sand, the ancient Gate, and the people so varied in dress. It’s the dentist working in his office to the right. The painter painting. It’s the woman in a white scarf going in and out the door. It’s a man in the center bringing the bread cart across the street to the woman sweeping.

He brings the bread in the hot sun to you and me not only in Israel but around the world.

"The Damascus Gate" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. Private collector.
"Mary at the Tomb" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. 60" x 60". Available. Contact us for details.

Mary at the Tomb

The Damascus Gate and Mary at the Tomb paintings are tied together. If the door of the Garden Tomb had not been closed the day I visited, then I never would have gone next door to a school to make a phone call. While I was there I asked to see the view from the top of the school—which is the view in the painting of the Damascus Gate.

Shortly before leaving Israel, I revisited the Garden Tomb and this time the gate was open. General Edmund Allenby, the British commander who entered Jerusalem in 1917 and ended the four hundred years of Ottoman rule of the Holy Land, noted a rock formation that looked like a skull. This was Golgotha, the site where Jesus was crucified. The hillside beneath the skull was later excavated, and a tomb and a garden were discovered that were dated to be around the time of Christ. It was important to me to put both the skull-like rock formation and the tomb in the same painting.

I was amazed to discover there are two rooms in the tomb, an outer one just inside the entrance door and a side room where a body was laid to rest. In my vision, Mary is about to come up to the tomb and the Gardener is standing nearby. It would be just a few minutes later when Mary would come out of the tomb weeping and the Gardener would ask, “Why are you weeping?”. Then He called her name and she replied “Rabonni” which means teacher, and she knew it was Jesus.

The Gates at Ein Karem

Ein Karem is traditionally considered the birthplace of John the Baptist, and also the site where Elizabeth met Mary before both John and Christ were born. It was one of my favorite places in Israel. I was there for only a day, but how beautiful that day was. As I came to the gate outside the chapel, I saw this beautiful black iron gate silhouetted against the sky with the olive trees and hills in the background. On the left was a group of Israeli soldiers along with a guide and on the right was a priest resting on a stone wall. In the center was a figure of a work man repairing the stone wall. The yellow sign in the center of the gate united the work.

Luke 1:39-40

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.

"The Gates at Ein Karem" by Miriam McClung, 2003. Oil on linen. 22.5" x 30". Available.
"Mary's Well" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. 16" x 22". Available. Contact us for details.

Mary's Well

It is always hot in Israel in August with no rain until October or November. In Ein Karem the well called Mary’s Well or Elizabeth’s Well is so cool and inviting. Outside women were painting rather like they do in our country — oils, easels propped up outside the well painting the view of the hillside. Inside there was an Armenian tour group singing songs of praises. Water was coming through these interesting three black holes into a trough. A gentleman was standing by with his kippot on and a cane. A young boy perhaps his grandson getting ready to hold his hand and lead him over to the water. A woman nearby in the habit that I had seen in Bethlehem, the one Mother Teresa wore in India. All the blues were lovely against the dark well. The water seemed to come out of the hillside. I do not know the water’s source, but it has been there perhaps 2000 years or so before Christ. Ein Karem is the place where Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth and the baby lept in her womb. This could have been the well that Mary and Elizabeth drank from during her visit.

Luke 1:39-40

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”

The Hebrew School

The greatest part about a trip for an artist is that one can record what they see onto a sketch pad. The “Hebrew School” shows the fun of drawing from real life situations captured on the sketch pad along with photographs from the scene. Simply a piece of charcoal and a few pastels are more than enough. The student looking out of the window could have been painted in any century, for how many times we as students have dreamed out windows.

Deuteronomy 4:9-10

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”
"The Hebrew School" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Pastel on paper. 36" x 18". Available. Contact us for details.
"Indifference" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Pastel on paper. 25.5" x 18". Available. Contact us for details.

Indifference

There was a concert at my church about twenty-five years ago and a wonderful pianist played a contemporary piece of the Stations of the Cross. As I sat there listening I could see Christ going up our mountain—Red Mountain, in Birmingham, Alabama. The next ten years I spent drawing and painting the fourteen Stations of the Cross. This body of work led me to Israel to see the true Stations of the Cross.

After much anticipation when I finally saw the real Stations of the Cross I was in shock. One particular one, Christ Meets His Mother Mary, was a lovely frieze over the doorway with the marker “IV” by its side. Below this frieze there were clothes and cloths displayed, and on the walkway in front there were tables filled with merchandise. There was a man passing by unaware of the station above. I was struck by his indifference while he was walking in the footsteps Christ once took to His own crucifixion.

Matthew 13: 1-3

Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

The Pool at Bethesda

John 5:1-18

Now there is in Jerusalem near the sheep gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

"The Pool at Bethesda" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Pastel on paper. 26" x 18". Available. Contact us for details.
"The Monastery in Abu Gosh" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. Private collector.

Abu Gosh - The Statue of Mary & Christ

We stayed at a monastery in Abu Gosh. From my cell like room I could see out on the roof tops of the Church with the statues of Mary and Christ on the top. At night it appeared to be Mary holding the man, Christ, against a strangely lit sky. There were many sounds coming up from the valley like gun shots. After a sleepless night the sister said it was only a wedding below and firecrackers. In the morning the statue from the front revealed it was Mary holding the Christ child.

Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

The Lost Sheep

The most beautiful place in Israel for me was the Sea of Galilee. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast above the Sea of Galilee and this painting was done from my bedroom window. Below us was a sheep fold. The shepherd came out every morning and took the sheep up to higher pasture. There was only one gate at the front. At the rear of the pen the shepherd seemed to be feeding and separating some of the sheep. The roof of the fold could have been in Alabama as it was a beautiful tin, but the trees behind were indigenous to Israel and few. There were rocks everywhere. Above the sheep pen were very expensive mansions. My thoughts when painting this picture were Christ’s words, “I am the Good Shepherd,” “in my Father’s house are many mansions,” separating the sheep from the goats, and “I am the door, no one comes to the Father except by me”.

John 10:1-3

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
"The Lost Sheep" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. Private collector.
"The Bread Cart" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Oil on linen. 30" x 50". Available. Contact us for details.

The Bread Cart

The bread cart was sitting beside the arch unattended. It was black and beautifully decorated, much like the one Degas painted with the little girl in white. The cart and the arch spoke to me of old Jerusalem. The wonderful bread lying open and ready to eat—uncovered with a cloth and the spirit of the word over it. Here were twelve loaves, twelve tribes, God’s chosen people.

I Peter 2:9-10

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The Cell Phone Tower in Israel

While in Israel that summer of 2003, I went to a service at St. Andrew’s Church, and I remember thinking how far away I was from my church at home. I was a little homesick. After the services I met the Pastor’s wife and was delighted to learn she too was a painter. The following week we went with a friend to paint the Damascus Gate.

At St. Andrew’s Church they had a gift shop that contained a lot of things that Palestinian women had made. I ordered a cloth for my daughter-in-law and returned the following week to pick the cloth up. Afterward, I sat on the wall outside the church and made a few sketches. That was the beginning of the inspiration of the man with the cell phone.

The man was so exposed and alone in the wide expanse of white on top of the roof. He was part of building a new world in the midst of the old. The scene also reminds me of how close Israel is to their bordering countries—just a stone’s throw away.

On the hillside on the left side of the painting is the King David Hotel and below the hotel is the Artist’s Quarter. The painting is not finished—it is a work in progress that reflects my belief that painting Israel will always be a work in progress.

"The Cell Phone Tower" by Miriam McClung, 2007. Oil on linen. 36" x 54". Available. Contact us for details.
"The Sheep Fold at Galilee" by Miriam McClung, 2003. Oil on linen. 50" x 42". Available. Contact us for details.

The Sheep Fold at Galilee

We stayed at a monastery in Abu Gosh. From my cell like room I could see out on the roof tops of the Church with the statues of Mary and Christ on the top. At night it appeared to be Mary holding the man, Christ, against a strangely lit sky. There were many sounds coming up from the valley like gun shots. After a sleepless night the sister said it was only a wedding below and firecrackers. In the morning the statue from the front revealed it was Mary holding the Christ child.

Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Preliminary Studies

Artists are known to paint from sketches and photographs. They do this because paints are so expensive and also to visually note the composition of the painting. I wanted to show the preliminary study for several of the paintings so you get a sense of a work in progression leading from the drawing to its final stage as a completed painting.

"The Damascus Gate" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Charcoal on paper. 46" x 52". Available.
"The Man with the Cell Phone in Israel" by Miriam McClung, 2003. Pastel on paper. 18" x 24". Available.
"Shepherd at Galilee" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Charcoal on paper. 38" x 51".
"Sheepfold Study" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Charcoal on paper.
"Mary at the Tomb" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Pastel on paper. 48" x 41". Available.
"The Wall - Sketch" by Miriam McClung, 2004. Pastel on paper. Available.

Exhibits & Shows

Scenes from the Holy Land

The Country Club of Birmingham | 2008

The Women’s Committee of 100 for Birmingham hosted an event saluting the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan at the Country Club of Birmingham in Alabama. Miriam’s work from her 2003 trip to the Holy Land was the featured art on display for the event. 

Walking in His Footsteps

university of west alabama, webb gallery | 2012

“This is the story my journey to walk where
Jesus walked. To see the mountains He saw. To smell the
flowers He smelled. To walk by the water He walked on.
To breathe the air He breathed.”
—Miriam McClung, Artist

In 2003, Miriam went on an art tour of sites around the Holy Land. She painted some of her most memorable works from her trip there. This exhibit was the first to show all the works on Israel that came out of that tour. Many thanks to the University of West Alabama and Provost Dr. Tim Edwards and his wife Kathy Edwards for sponsoring and curating this exhibit.