William Carlton Rice, a house painter, claimed God healed him of an ulcerated stomach on the night of April 24, 1960. A gentle, soft-spoken man, Rice’s salvation launched decades of unusual evangelical advertising near his home in Prattville, Alabama: The self-ordained minister built a Cross Garden on three acres along Autauga County Road 85 that would eventually be visited by people from all over the world, and described in many books and blogs.
By the late 1990s, Rice had installed hundreds of white, wooden crosses, all dabbed with red paint, around his brick home and along the county road. Crosses ranged in size from recycled telephone poles to pencil-thin constructions he gathered into dense, freestanding sculptures or suspended in trees with string. He matched his cross displays with as many – if not more – hand-painted admonitions and apocalyptic warnings such as “Hell is Hot” and “Sinners Burn in Hell.” To casual passersby, Rice’s fervent “fire and brimstone” messages could be scary; they also made most stop and take notice. Any object was fair game for a message. Abandoned washing machines, upright refrigerators, rusted tin, old boards, cinder blocks—even wrecked cars were covered with pronouncements about salvation and hell.1
1 John Foster for SPACES, a nonprofit dedicated to the study, documentation, and preservation of art environments and self-taught artistic activity.