William Alvin Blayney


originally worked as an automobile mechanic, but eventually became a Pentecostal preacher with a roadside ministry in Oklahoma. He used his complex, messageladen paintings to illustrate his interpretations of biblical prophecy. The imagery of the Book of Revelation has been a fruitful source of inspiration for American folk artistssince the early nineteenth century, but Blayney’s apocalyptic compositions stand out for the sense of drama and urgency that he brings to them.Beginning in the mid-1950s, Blayney was drawn deeply into evangelical Christianity, through an intense study of the Bible as well as the ministry of Kathryn Kuhlman(1907–1976), perhaps the most widely known radio preacher of the day. Blayney attended her meetings in Pittsburgh, Kuhlman’s headquarters from 1948 to 1965.By 1957, Blayney had begun to paint, taking his subjects almost exclusively from biblical narrative, especially the Book of Revelation. His first composition,
Moses Holding the Tablets,
depicts the lawgiver descending from Mount Sinai. The artist used oil paints on canvas or Masonite, occasionally creating a relief effect by mixingsand into the paint. His compositions generally include written inscriptions, and he often quoted or paraphrased biblical texts.In 1966, Blayney moved from Pittsburgh to Thomas, Oklahoma, where he became associated actively with Pentecostalism. As some of his most ambitious worksreveal, he accepted the ideas of dispensationalism, an interpretive approach to the Bible that divides human history into successive ages or dispensations. It relatesspecific historic events to biblical prophecies: the course of ancient empires, the waging of great wars, and the occurrence of exceptional natural phenomena.Dispensationalism also emphasizes the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ and the dawning of the millennium. Blayney addressed these themes in many of hiscompositions. Ironically, the artist, who preached an end-time message, was obsessively concerned with protecting the rights to his paintings. Several of his major works are replete with repeated trademark and copyright notices and other reservations of rights.Although the most impressive of Blayney’s paintings are crowded with strong, colorful images and lengthy texts, they are exceedingly well composed, emphasizing the theatrical quality of the Book of Revelation’s visionary themes. Blayney effectively captured the catastrophic flow of the biblical narrative in such worksas
The Double-sided Christ
Reign of the Gentile Kingdoms/The Sealed Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ,
Church and State/Spiritual Powers of the Nation,
two of his most successful works, and fitting complements to his doomsday preaching. In using his paintings to help his audience understand hisinterpretation of the complicated endtime chronology of the Book of Revelation and other apocalyptic texts, Blayney joined a tradition with deep roots in Americanreligious history.
See also
Religious Folk Art
Curry, Marshall. “William A.Blayney,” in
Self-Taught Artists of the Twentieth Century: An American Anthology,
edited by Elsa Longhauser, et al. New York: Museumof American Folk Art, 1998.Owsley, David T. “William A.Blayney/Self-Taught Pittsburgh Painter.”
Carnegie Magazine,
vol. 54 (March 1980): 4–9