Duane Cline doesn’t even remember it. At a time when Cline’s life was even more hectic than it is now, he spent no more than two weeks during the fall of 1952 painting a life-size portrait of Jesus.
The Rev. Dale Schnelle, pastor of Central Christian Church in Arkansas City from 1945-1955, asked Cline to do the painting. “The church was getting ready for its 75th anniversary in 1952 and they wanted a painting of Jesus,” said Cline, who attended Arkansas City Junior College during the 1947-48 academic year. “I had forgotten I had done this.” Cline doesn’t even remember who drove from Arkansas City to Phillips University in Enid, Okla., to pick up the painting. But Cline does remember Schnelle. “He was an outstanding minister,” Cline said. “I am so thankful that I had that experience.”
Now, a half-century later, Cline’s long lost painting was rededicated for Central Christian’s 125th anniversary. The ceremonies occurred at two services Palm Sunday, March 24. Cline was born and reared in Arkansas City, graduating from Arkansas City High School in 1947. He always was interested in art, history, and literature, and promptly enrolled in a creative writing class at ACJC under Pauline Sleeth, and in art with Vera Koontz.
During his year at ACJC, Cline said he became involved with the Christian Church and was “deeply interested in learning more spiritual things.” So he transferred to Phillips, and actually was on track to enter the ministry. “Art, drama, designing, and literature were where my talents were,” said Cline, who was back in Ark City for the rededication of his painting. “I needed to channel all of those talents, and a pulpit ministry wouldn’t have utilized these things.”
Cline graduated from Phillips in spring 1952, but was asked to stay on as a faculty member for the fall semester. “My drama professor told me in the spring of 1952 that I would be teaching three drama courses, two freshmen and an introductory to drama,” Cline recalls. Cline was petrified. Here was this natural-born introvert who shied away from almost anything preparing to stand up in front of students—many his peers—and teach. “On stage I had many leading roles,” Cline said of his acting days. “But I was hiding behind a name and somebody else’s words. That didn’t bother me.”
Cline was asked to develop a new course, “Drama for Christian Education.” He was so nervous about the fall that he worked hard during the summer to prepare. Still, he wasn’t sure he could do it. “They were asking the mouse to do this,” he said. “This was a senior-level course, and my future wife was in the class.” That first semester of teaching totally changed Cline’s life. At first, he couldn’t even get Carolyn’s attention, much less get her to go out with him. But after weeks of class, his future wife saw something behind that timid exterior. “It was a miracle that all of a sudden, this scaredy cat became a university professor,” Cline said.
He stayed on the Phillips staff two more years, waiting for Carolyn to graduate. She did, and the couple married on graduation day in June 1954. Cline said he disappointed his old art teacher, Koontz, so much that “she would hardly speak to me” for years after Cline channeled his energy to teaching. “I never went back to an art class after ACJC,” Cline said. Koontz realized Cline’s enormous talent.
His painting of Jesus was done in the basement of the women’s gymnasium at Phillips, all while teaching classes, working in drama, and courting Carolyn. It is an oil painting on maroon velvet. He also used special black light paint, enabling people to see the image in ordinary light and in black light. Cline said he got the inspiration for the painting from a picture of Jesus he saw at the Central Christian Church in Ark City. “It was a popular shot of Jesus at the time,” Cline said, “but it was only his head. I added the body.” Cline was reimbursed for the paint he used, but that was the only compensation he received for the work.
Terry Eaton, long-time member of the Central Christian Church, said she remembers the painting hanging in the prayer room. But she believes it’s been in a storage closet since about 1958. “When it was being stored, it was on its side, and the front was toward the wall,” Eaton said. “I really think that’s why it has stayed in good shape all of these years.” Cline didn’t attend the 75th anniversary celebration in October 1952. It was held in the auditorium/gymnasium, now known as W.S. Scott Auditorium. His sister, who was 11 at the time, was there.
After the Clines were married, they moved to Chicago, where Duane completed a master’s degree from Northwestern University in suburban Evanston, Ill., in just one year. Then it was back to Phillips in June 1955. For the next six years, Cline was a member of Phillips’ faculty. In fall 1957, he became head of the theatre department. Then, in 1962, the Clines moved to Connecticut, and Dale was planning to work on a doctorate at Yale University. But certain issues came up that prevented him from ever enrolling.
Years later, the couple moved to Arkansas, where Cline became head of a fledgling art center in Springdale. Cline wanted to become a writer, so he and his wife built a cabin on Beaver Lake. “We moved out there and it was a good place for me to write,” he said. Now, two books later and sort of retired, Cline’s expertise is in even more demand.
He has held nearly every office of the Mayflower Society, a group of citizens honoring the memory of the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. The offices Cline has held include assistant governor general, the No. 2 office in the nation. He wrote a 100-year history of the Mayflower Society, completing the work in 1998. His first book was “Navigation in the Age of Discovery,” published in 1990. “I have a deep sense of responsibility to do what is asked of me,” Cline said.