W.G. "Pem" Pemberton
Courtesy of Tom L. Childers
The Conversion Of A New York Drifter
In the 1920's Winfield, Alabama was a sleepy village in Northwest Alabama located in the southern half of Marion County. A general store or two and a cotton Mill were its main businesses. Into this small village walked a drifter from New York who was penniless. He was looking for a meal and a place to lay his head. He went into Dee's café and was treated to a meal. He said his name was *Lloyd Pemberton and he was from New York. He was slight of build, dark skinned with dark hair and a pleasing personality. How and why he chose Winfield, Alabama is a mystery until this very day. Mr. Dee offered him a job doing odd jobs around the cafe. It was soon learned that Pemberton was an artist and he talked Mr. Dee into allowing him to paint a mural on the café wall. This served as an advertisement for his talents and soon the citizens of the town were asking him to do paintings for them. Within a short time he was selling enough paintings, along with his commercial artwork, to make a living. He saved enough money to buy a few acres of land, east of the town a few miles, and announced that he was going to build his dream home on the property. The house was unique not only because of its Spanish hacienda design, but the odd materials used to build it. Rocks, concrete, stucco, glass of all shapes and all types of tiles were used. The two most unusual features of the house was a bell tower (with no bell) and a huge built-in aquarium in the living room. There was a fireplace in every room. Outside the house was a courtyard with a fountain and a small flower garden. It is said that every man has a dream, and this house must have fulfilled Pemberton's dream.
Pemberton had a dark side to deal with also. He was a drug and alcohol addict. The Pemberton family name was one of New York's elitist family names, both socially and financially. "Pem," as he was called by his friends, may very well have squandered his fortune on drugs, alcohol and riotous living much like the prodigal son of old. His family may have disowned him as a result. He would mention on occasion that he had a son and daughter in New York. At one point in this odyssey, he became very ill and was at the point of death. A couple, who were members of the Winfield church of Christ, had befriended him and nursed him through his trial and long recovery. They cared for him and carried him food and water each day for several months as he fought the demons of his addiction. After his recovery, he remarried (His first wife had been a victim of cancer) and settled in to a new life. The Christian couple later introduced him to brother Gus Nichols who was in the area frequently in gospel meetings. This was likely the defining moment in "Pem's" life. Nichols was beginning to use visual aids in the form of charts in his sermons. He needed someone to paint the diagrams and scripture references on the charts for him. He hired "Pem" to do this work. As "Pem" proceeded with the tedious work, he engaged Mrs. Pemberton to verify the scriptures as he painted them. She would "lookup" the passages and in this way they both began to study the scriptures. After a few weeks they both were baptized for the remission of their sins, probably by brother Nichols. They literally had converted themselves by this daily study of the scriptures. Brother and Sister Pemberton became active in the Winfield church, and for several years Pem taught Bible classes in the congregation. He had a pleasing personality and evidently had a unique style to his teaching and over time became a favorite of the young people that attended there. He continued his painting and when the church built a new building, he was asked to paint a mural behind the baptistery. The scene he painted was of a beautiful stream flowing down toward the audience. I have seen many baptistery scenes over the years, but none stand out in my memory as vivid as the one Pem painted for the church at Winfield. It was so realistic that when a baptism took place, it appeared as though they were being baptized in the stream.
It was about this time that "Pem" decided to build a church building on the property he owned several miles East of Winfield. It too was built largely from rocks, stucco and concrete. He named the church Chapel Hill church of Christ. He would teach Bible classes there and the worshipers and especially the young people, again found his style of teaching different and very interesting. He brought some creative ideas to hold the young people's interest. He would hold the Bible classes on the front lawn of the house, weather permitting, near the small orchard that he had grown over the years. The congregation was small but effective. Services were conducted there for several years.
Brother Pemberton evidently had a need to preach the gospel. At this time in his life he was nearing the threescore mark. He sold the house and property and moved to Tennessee in the late 1940's. The brethren moved to a location nearby and meet today as the East Winfield church of Christ.
This writer has personal knowledge of some of the facts mentioned in this article. My father rented the Pemberton house in 1949 and 50. Our family attended Chapel Hill church. I have many fond memories of the house and the small country church. Although I was a young child, I remember some of the families that attended there. The Butler family (daughter Loretta is today the wife of the preacher at Winfield, James Wyers). The Rufus Aldridge family, the Lee family and the Willard Dodson family were members. Doyle Mills, who studied under Pemberton, and would later affectionately refer to Pem as his "father in the gospel," became a gospel preacher. I talked with Brother Mills while researching this article. He visits family in the Winfield area often and was a great help to me in verifying my memory. I was never acquainted with brother Pemberton as he had moved to Tennessee by the time my family rented his house. He preached for the church in a small town near Knoxville, until his death around 1960. [1962, SDH,ed]
As far as this writer knows, this prodigal served his Lord faithfully until his death. He left his mark for good on the many people who came under his influence. There are Christians alive today who were brought to the truth of our Lord (some are mentioned above) by the drifter from New York who changed his life and became an obedient servant of the Lord. This story proves that no matter our lot in life, we can change for the good and serve the one who gave his life for us.
Different Notations From And About W.G. Pemberton
Obituary — Pemberton, W. G. - 76, of Tipton Station Road, Rt. 16, died 12:10 a.m. Monday -- Baptist Hospital. He was a retired minister of the Church of Christ. He served Washington Pike, Vestal and Neuberts Churches of Christ. Was an artist illustrating sermon charts. Survivors: wife, Verta D. Pemberton. Funeral 2 p.m. Wednesday Berry's Chapel. Robert A. Anderson officiating. Pallbearers: Charles Nance, Jim Pounders, E. C. Coleman, Bob Surgeon, Clifford Exine, Claud LaMar. Interment Neuberts Church of Christ Cemetery. The body is at Berry's.
—The Knoxville Journal, Tuesday, May 8, 1962.
W. G. Pemberton Passes --- W. G. Pemberton, veteran gospel preacher and well-known chart maker, died in Knoxville, Tenn., May 6. Brother Pemberton was seventy-six years old.
—Editor. Gospel Advocate, May 17, 1962, 318.
More About W.G. Pemberton
Among the most interesting and colorful characters of the early era included W. G. Pemberton. Bro. Pemberton was somewhat of a drifter. He came into Winfield and worked as a sign painter and artist. He painted murals in baptisteries and in homes. The Pate family hired him to paint a water scene in their bathroom. The Burgess Anthony family had several of his paintings, and one now hangs in the City Diner building. Bro. Pemberton was a self taught artist, with a unique style all his own. Perhaps, he was best known for painting sermon charts for Bro. Gus Nichols. Many very well remember hearing Bro. Nichols preach from these colorful charts, Bro Penberton would take a white sheet and paint the lessons with great care and precision. These lessons became works of art. Some of our members are privileged to have some of these charts in their possession at the present time. Young people were fascinated by the charts. This is a lost art, with all of the technological learning taking its place. Many treasure those "bye gone days" more and more, as the years roll by. It was through Bro. Pemberton's sermon painting that he was converted. His wife would check the scriptures for accuracy before "Pem" would paint anything. After his conversion, he became a diligent Bible student, which led him into teaching and later preaching. He taught an adult Bible class in the second meeting house. Later, he built a church building on the east side of town what was known as the Chapel Hill Church of Christ. He became a beloved gospel preacher, overcoming a drug and alcohol addiction during his conversion. Because of asthma, he moved to Knoxville, TN where the air was better. He longed for east Winfield, but never did move back. He sold the white stucco house to Sterling Pate. The Pates and Pembertons were very good friends and the Pate family is still in possession of a letter from Bro. Pemberton, which he signed "The Fishing Parson." Many lives were blessed by the Pemberton family.
--- copied from alcoc.blogspot.com.
Ad For Chart Material For Sale
Chart Material for Sale --- W. G. Pemberton, Route 16, Knoxville, Tenn.: "I have for sale my complete chart copy I have collected over fifteen years or more. As I cannot see to paint any more, I want to sell this fine collection of chart material. If interested, write me."
--- Gospel Advocate, July 10, 1958, 445.
Information About His Winfield Home
"The Spanish type Pemberton House [Winfield, Alabama] is on a hillside 100 yards from the highway. W. G. Pemberton, Northern artist, began to build it when he moved to Marion County in 1925. The terrace is decorated with flowers in pots made of petrified logs. The walls, floors, and ceilings of the house are a heterogeneous collection of marble granite, flint, brick, and tile picked from every State in the Union. Old coach lamps have been transformed into porch lights and wagon thimbles serve as bases for the wall lights on each side of the expose chimney."
—Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South, p. 327.
-Source: Tom L. Childers, Find-A-Grave
The Charts Of W.G. Pemberton
The talent of W.G. Pemberton was seen in his detailed artwork. This gospel preacher of yesteryear was a talented sign painter, and exception artist. Seeing his great expertise, Gus Nichols was the first to enlist "Pem's" artistic talents painting sermon sheets for use in preaching. The precursors to the modern day presentation technology like Powerpoint and Prezi, served to illustrate more fully the message of the cross of Christ.
Pem's methods of producing these charts proved to be the method the brought about his conversion to Christianity. Great care was taken to make sure mistakes were avoided. He used a quilting frame to roll the sheet, painting sections as he went along. Where Scriptures were added and points made, he had his wife to read from the Scriptures to make certain of correctness. The detail was exquisite. Centered text from free-handed writing was a challenge, but accuracy was essential.
Many of the sheet sermons he produced are still extant today. Tom L. Childers has photographed many of these sermons and has them available for sale. Purchases can be made from him here. Below are some demonstrations of Pemberton's work. These were from the personal collection of charts owned by Flavil H. Nichols. Tom took photos of these in 2003, and gave permission for these to be shown on this sight. All right reserved.
Tipton Station Church Of Christ
located in Neubert Springs, Knoxville, Tennessee
Where W.G. Pemberton Preached
Directions To The Grave of W.G. Pemberton
Mr. & Mrs. W.G. Pemberton were buried in the Tipton Station church of Christ Cemetery, also known as the Neubert Cemetery, south of Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee. Head south of Knoxville on the Chapman Hwy./US. Hwy. 441. After passing Governor John Sevier Hwy. go less than a mile and turn right on Tipton Station Road. Go less than a mile and you will see the Tipton Springs Church of Christ on your left. Go to the next turn to the right Henry Haynes Rd. Go up the drive and over the hill and the cemetery will be on the right. The Pemberton plot has some of the oldest stones in the cemetery. The unique wording perhaps reflects the inigmatic people buried there, simply, "Pem" and "Mrs. Pem."
View Larger Map
May 6, 62
Photos Taken 02.26.2013
Page produced 03.14.2013
Courtesy of Scott Harp
Special Thanks: Tom L. Childers has taken a special interest in researching the life and contributions of W.G. Pemberton. His efforts and contibutions are much the reason why this site has been made possible at this time. In February 2013 he and your web editor were able to finally visit the grave of this man of faith. Pem's story has been repeated down through the centuries as one whose "filthy rags" of sin were cleansed by the blood of Jesus. His personal message of coming to Christ is worth retelling time and again as it demonstrates how powerful, yet simple, the gospel truly is for all people of all time. He was a sinner. He read the Bible to find that Jesus loved him and gave Himself for him. In humility, Pem obeyed the simple message of Jesus by repenting of his sins, confessing Christ as Lord, and being immersed in water in simple faith that God, who is faithful, washed his sins away. It was a message he took upon himself to retell time and again. Oh, for a recording of the man's story from his own lips! Thanks again to Tom for assisting in making this site possible.