Ken Rayburn has painted flames, skulls and just about everything else you can imagine on T-shirts, motorcycles, race cars and custom trucks over the years. But the Hephzibah artist, who specializes in high-end custom paint and body work, isn’t considering his opportunity to trick-out his first camel.
“No flames,” Rayburn said, Tuesday while looking over the camels and other life-size fiberglass figures that make up Trinity Hospital’s Nativity display. “We are going to keep them looking very traditional,” he said.
Rayburn and his shop, Custom Concepts, have volunteered to take on the restoration of the nearly 40-year-old figures at no cost to the hospital.
“It’s a way to give back to Trinity and a way to give back to Augusta,” he said.
Rayburn said he wants to do it in part because of the care that the hospital gave to his mother, Sue Rayburn, who spent the last few weeks of her life in hospice at Trinity in 2008. He also wants future generations to be able to enjoy seeing the figures appear on the hospital front lawn every year before Christmas.
“I’ve seen these my whole life,” Rayburn said. “It is a real Augusta tradition.”
The tradition dates back about 37 years. According to hospital records, the figures were purchased in 1974, said hospital spokeswoman Rachel Tovar.
Bill Atkinson, who was president of then-St. Joseph’s Hospital from 1971 to 1988, said he recalls the purchase of the original figures and the day they set them up.
“We had just acquired that frontage along Wrightsboro Road,” Atkinson said. “Our original address was on Winter Street.”
Since then, Augustans have become accustomed to the Christmas display and the trek of the wise men and their camels across the lawn to the manger scene.
Atkinson said having the wise men make that journey every year was the idea of a Catholic priest, the Rev. Daniel Munn.
“We were setting them up and Father Munn said, ‘They have to move.’ ”
Frankie B. May, the hospital’s director of Pastoral Care, said the tradition has endeared the display in the hearts of many in the community.
She was discussing the figures and their need for repair with a few colleagues recently when Rayburn’s name came to mind.
“I said, ‘I think I know somebody who might be able to help us,’ ” May said.
She had known Rayburn for many years, but really got to know him well when his mother was at Trinity.
“I worked full time in hospice and saw what a tender heart he has,” May said, “He loved his mother very much.”
May said Rayburn agreed to take on the project right away – and refused any offer of pay.
Rayburn said he’ll be working on the figures individually on weekends and evenings, and his staff at Custom Concepts has volunteered to pitch in. One of his local suppliers, Finish Master, has offered to donate materials, he said.
Rayburn estimates that the job would cost between $8,000 and $10,000 if he were doing it for his normal fee.
“They don’t look bad from about 50 feet, but two or three inches away and you see a massive amount of damage,” Rayburn said.
He said the project will take several months, but the refurbished figures will be back out in front of Trinity come next November.
“They should be good for at least another 20 years,” he said.