Mural Honors Emma Dryer’s Legacy

11 June, 2019
A 20-foot-wide mural that portrays Emma Dryer and her influence on the founding of Moody.

Moody Bible Institute student Isaac McLaughlin has painted a 20-foot-wide mural that portrays Emma Dryer and her influence on the founding of Moody. He explains the mural with these words: “Emma Dryer, a woman of faith, whose persistence shook D. L. Moody and whose prayers shook the world.”

The new mural was commissioned as part of a plan to preserve the legacy of the Chicago Bible teacher who prayerfully encouraged D. L. Moody to establish a Bible training school on Chicago’s north side. Other campus tributes to Emma Dryer announced earlier this month include adding information and artifacts to the on-campus museum in Chicago, as well as renaming Alumni Auditorium to Dryer Auditorium.

“I’ve been so encouraged with the response from students, staff, faculty and alumni to honor Emma Dryer’s legacy on our campus,” says Dr. Greg Thornton, senior vice president of media, who has been leading the effort to honor Miss Dryer. “Isaac was one of those who early on stepped forward with his idea of using artist gifting to remember Emma Dryer by creating a powerful visual reminder of her focus on God, her persistence in prayer, and the resulting worldwide impact, never seen by this strong woman. She is an inspiration to all of us.” 

Stretching down a hallway toward the newly named Dryer Auditorium, the mural shows Emma Dryer in prayer, then the people her prayers have impacted: D. L. Moody and Moody Bible Institute. The mural ends with a depiction of Chicago and the world, showing the results of her prayerful perseverance and faith.

“It all comes down to her prayers,” said McLaughlin, a senior at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago majoring in Evangelism and Discipleship. “She had a really strong passion for the Bible . . . and she wanted to make a school of evangelists. She was the one who was contacting the supporters and trying to get D. L. Moody to do this thing. So in a way it was more her vision.”

D. L. Moody first met Emma Dryer, teacher and dean at Illinois State Normal University, in 1870. In 1883, Dryer began meeting with several Chicago residents, praying that Moody would begin a new school. The Chicago Evangelization Society, later renamed Moody Bible Institute, was founded in 1886 and now has more than 50,000 living alumni.

When McLaughlin heard that Dryer Hall would close at the end of the spring semester, he expressed interest in painting a mural to commemorate Emma Dryer. He prayed about how to depict her legacy, then presented a sketch that was accepted by Moody leadership.

McLaughlin used graphite pencil to draw the historical black-and-white figures and acrylic paint to color the present world, symbolizing Emma Dryer’s long-term global impact. McLaughlin hopes the mural will give everyone on campus “a visual representation of her values and faithfulness. They can look to her as a role model and be encouraged by her and get their hearts stirred up to be confident that, through Christ, they can do amazing things.”

Despite no formal training in art, McLaughlin has always been interested in drawing blueprints of ideas, architecture, and inventions. (He's even related to the famed illustrator Norman Rockwell). McLaughlin didn’t have much experience with painting until two years ago when a pastor commissioned him to paint a large mural of a cross and Christ’s resurrection on the side of a warehouse in his hometown of Springfield, Ohio.

“Art is a thing that God has given me as a tool for kingdom work,” said McLaughlin, who is headed to Thailand in June for a summer internship, working with church plants to teach the Bible to Burmese refugees. He hopes to use his artistic ability as a missionary someday. “When I do missions in Asia, I imagine having murals depicting the gospel and Bible stories.”

For now McLaughlin is thrilled to use his talents to honor Emma Dryer and thankful for his education at Moody. “It’s been very good, very formational. I’m definitely grateful.”

For more information about how Moody Bible Institute is honoring the life and legacy of Emma Dryer, read the recent news story.