The city of Huntsville is getting ready to temporarily say goodbye to a local icon. Since the 1970's, a mosaic has dominated the skyline downtown. It has also earned a nickname that has been a real head scratcher for those not familiar with the mosaic.
The original name for the mosaic is The Cosmic Christ—but, not everyone calls it that.
“Most people in Huntsville know it as Eggbeater Jesus.”
That’s Travis Collins, he’s the Pastor for The First Baptist Church in Huntsville.
“ We don’t call it that, in house, but we also understand that it is what it is. We know that in common, street language it’s Eggbeater Jesus to Huntsvillians.”
The image of Jesus, with his arms outstretched, is made up of almost one and a half million tiles. It stretches across the front of the First Baptist Church in Huntsville. Logan Blake has been a parishioner at the church for over a decade. He explains how the Cosmic Christ got its more colorful nickname.
“So we call it the Eggbeater Jesus or the Eggbeater Mosaic because it’s Christ in a robe but instead of seeing his feet, his robe rounds out to look kind of like an old-school egg beater, like a whisk.”
So, whether it’s called the Cosmic or Eggbeater —the mosaic is undergoing a five year renovation project to replace the mosaic on the front of The First Baptist Church in Huntsville. Blake says removing the old art began years ago.
“While our parents were talking, we would go outside and pick up tiles off the ground that had fallen and try to find really rare colors like red and yellow. Since the mural is mostly blue, we had a lot of those, but when we could find a red or a yellow one, we got pretty excited. So we did that just about every Sunday for as long as I can remember.”
Blake says his family has a jar in their home full of rare colored tiles he and his brothers collected over the last 15 years. And according to Pastor Travis Collins, there have probably been tiles in family homes dating back to the 70s.
“It was put up in 1974, and frankly, has been falling ever since.”
Collins says the tradition for Blake and younger members of his congregation pointed to a bigger issue for their church.
“As beautiful as it has been, over the years with the elements- the rain, the wind, and so on- it just has become battered.”
The church decided it was time to update the kitchen hardware featured on the front of their building. Gravity started doing the work for them in the 70s, so they decided to finish what nature had started this year.
“It’s coming down in stages. There are eight bays, we call them, or sections, so the first bay already has come down and the tiles are going up on that bay.”
With 1.4 million pieces to take off the wall, and 6 million new pieces to put up, the process seems like one that will take quite a lot of time.
“So, it’s going to take almost five years to complete this. The next stage will be in the fall, and then the next in the spring, and we’ll probably go fall and spring for at least the next four years.”
Not everyone was happy when they found out the church decided to replace the mosaic. Blake says most of the frustration was over what would go up in its place. When the plans to renovate and not replace were revealed, Blake says parishioners were just as excited as he was about it..
“It was passed with huge popularity at our church because that is one of our almost, evangelistic tools because it gives us an opportunity to talk about our church, our faith, our family, and the community that we have there.”
Remember how Logan Blake kept fallen tiles from the mosaic in a jar? Well, last the church gave a nod to youngsters like him by handing out pieces of the mosaic to all those who wanted one. Collins believed it would be a good idea so the community could have something to remember the original mosaic by.
“This is such a landmark, such a historic place, in Huntsville that we thought people might want a little piece of history.”
Now, the big question is what is going to replace Eggbeater Jesus? Collins says to expect a difference in the new version, but not when it comes to what gave the work it’s nickname to begin with…
“It’s the same design just with different material, and in fact, a more brilliant, not only more brilliant, but also more sturdy material. We’re using smalt, a kind of glass produced in Italy, and there are going to be over four million pieces of smalt. The colors are more vibrant. It’s been compared to going from a standard def to high definition on television.”
Collins says that the restoration of the mosaic is part of a bigger picture in the city of Huntsville. The city has undergone many changes in the last couple of years, including renovations of Big Spring Park and the installation of murals around downtown Huntsville. The renovation of the church is expected to enhance the artistic esthetic that the city is looking for.