Recreating a church mural meant hours of math, research and painting for one local artist

K.C. Cook
K.C. Cook
K.C. Cook

This article was originally posted on January 4, 2016 on

When K.C. Cook Hayes took on the job of restoring frescos first painted in 1901 at First United Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham, two things she didn’t count on were also two things she cannot stand: math and heights.

Before she could begin restoring the church murals to their original colors and ornamentation, she completed 33 hours of math to ensure the design would be precise on an arch that had sagged over time. The calculations were necessary to guarantee historical accuracy.

When Hayes started painting in the church, built in 1891, she put in 54 hours of painting over 11 days. But she didn’t realize the heights to which the work would take her. Each day she climbed 70 feet (several stories) on scaffolding, while putting her fear of heights aside as best she could.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand how contorted muralists have to be when they paint, especially if you’re not ambidextrous,” says Hayes, who explains that she was nearly in a backbend as she moved down the arch. “It’s a lot more physical than people would expect.”

Hayes even consulted with a yogi to reduce the likelihood of injury during the project. Four years ago she needed neck surgery after she painted another mural in the church’s chapel, an angel made up of 40,000 tiny squares. That painting is why historic preservationist Camille Agricola Bowman helped choose Hayes for this historic job.

“I don’t think I could have done this job if I wasn’t in the shape I’m in now,” Hayes says.

Wayne Hester, president of Hester & Associates, Inc., is active in the Birmingham Historical Society. His company oversaw the church’s renovations.

“When a building is being remodeled, renovated or restored, you need to get back to the roots of the building,” Hester says. “We went through a lot of research to find out the original colors and the original intent of the interior design of this space. We wanted to return at least some of the original artistry of the space.”

At the turn of the 20th century, church records were destroyed by fire in a warehouse where they were kept, yet two photos remained that showed the original murals.

“I am so honored to be a part of it,” Hayes says. “The gravity and historical significance of recreating what our forefathers intended for that area, as well as the responsibility that came with that, was overwhelming in good ways and frightening ways.”

Hayes grew up attending the church with her mother, Judy, and father, Jim, who was the organist and music director and is now choir director. Her husband, Mark, is the director of music and organist. (She and her husband own Hayes Pipe Organ Service, Inc.)

The project showed Hayes what she was capable of, with, as she says, help from God and her church family.

“On one level I gained a confidence that I can do something that is hands-down terrifying on about 10 different levels and do well, but also know that I wasn’t doing it for me, but for reasons much, much greater.”

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