Enjoy Greenville’s Extraordinary Peace of Art
Peace Garden Offers Serenity With Ethnic Angels Relief Sculpture
Greenville has a secret mural. It is actually a relief sculpture in a very serene setting. The artwork is in a cemetery, a graveyard, a place of eternal rest.
About one mile from Interstate 30, tucked in the eastern corner of Forest Park Cemetery, just paces from Highway 69, sits a monument rivaling those of the ancient Greeks. A brisk stroll or drive along the graveyard’s paved path leads visitors to Anna Mary Stringer Spence Memorial Peace Garden. A shin-level plaque identifies the garden and its contributors. The cobbled trail encircling a solitary shade tree invites visitors to meander into the garden. Three benches and a few small sculptures line the trail, creating a park-like setting with ample vantage points from which to observe the main attraction.
Centered along the far side of the cobbled trail, a graceful host of “ethnic angels” ceremoniously emerge from a 25 by 10 foot limestone wall. Bearded, braided, clipped, curly haired, and draped in modest garments, eight larger-than-life beings congregate in peaceful prayer. Each figure represents an archetype of a different ethnicity and both genders. The angels’ wings are expansive, intricately detailed, and more diverse than their faces.
Several of the divine individuals bear offerings including calla lilies, cloth, fire, even bushels of wheat. They are surrounded by foliage, conceivably an extension of the peace garden’s former plantings. Although the unpainted stone is only colored by mildew and age, one can almost imagine rich hues and fragrances emanating from this angelic scene.
Just right of the center, a ninth face retreats into the menagerie of wings, faces, foliage, and offerings. Is it the face of another angel? Perhaps it is the garden’s namesake, the late Anna Mary Stringer Spence, whose family helped establish Forest Park Cemetery nearly a century ago.
Spence was born in Greenville in 1912. She was the fourth and youngest child of Iley Mason Stringer and Jesse Franklin (Jenkins) Stringer. Anna’s father Iley was the city’s first undertaker.
She married George Washington Spence, became a mother and step-mother, and lived out her days in Laredo. Upon her 1988 death, an endowment was left to the City of Greenville with specifications to improve Forest Park Cemetery with a mausoleum or other memorial.
Funded by a portion of the endowment, the monument was carved on-site by sculptor Kirk Tatom in 1993. The limestone was mined locally. Although the mural deviates from Tatom’s distinctive abstract style, four smaller dove sculptures along the trail epitomize his paradigm. The doves help frame the main attraction and add to the garden’s theme of peace. Depending on the time of day, the faceless birds range in appearance from speckled gray to luminescent white.
Anna Mary Stringer Spence Memorial Peace Garden is an ideal setting in which to rest, reflect, draw, or take a walk. The remarkable mural is a testament to the sort of peace people can aspire to attain in their hearts and communities. One whole hour might be enough time to take in the scenery and contemplate the many facets of the reverent artwork.
This monument to peace is a miraculous gift worth celebrating for its artistry and message. In a garden, within a cemetery, one of Northeast Texas’ fine art treasures quietly awaits observance.