If you walk through Eve’s Garden, from Calhoun Street towards the church, you’ll pass Cobb Nursery, a brand-new space that was part of the “For All the Saints” renovation and restoration project. What had been a gathering place for adults is now a beautiful, more centralized haven for our youngest parishioners. However, the nursery’s move to this spot off the courtyard meant relocating Cobb Library, a space that had housed books and hosted small groups for ministry gatherings for nearly five decades.
The library was initially dedicated in 1975, in memory of Elizabeth “Bessie” Cobb, a longtime parishioner who devoted the majority of her 96 years to education in the Tallahassee community and to supporting children and youth programs at St. John’s. When campus renovations began in 2018, and items from Cobb Library were moved upstairs, the new nursery assumed the Cobb name, an appropriate honor as Bessie was known for her dedication to Tallahassee’s young people. This made it even more important to create a joyful space for our little ones.
The Building Committee brought in local artist and St. John’s parishioner Honey Hilliard to liven up the space with indigenous wildlife murals, a project that was funded by a donation from parishioners Charley and Leslie Redding. The continued growth of the St. John’s Children’s Ministry, coupled with their status as new grandparents, inspired the Reddings to help with the murals in the nursery – a space where Charley spent many hours overseeing renovations as our Building Committee co-chair.
Honey Hilliard’s deep connection to nature was the inspiration for the nursery murals. After receiving an art degree from Florida State University, Honey was hired as the wildlife artist for the State of Florida, where she designed conservation materials and painted wildlife. Honey’s bird paintings adorn the state bird identification poster that has been in circulation for more than 20 years in Florida classrooms, state parks and hotels. So it comes as no surprise that she felt “an instant spark” when Fr. Dave suggested wildlife paintings. That inspiration was compounded by Honey’s love for St. John’s and the nursery her daughter, Stella, has enjoyed over the years!
Honey shared that a subtle palette was chosen for the murals, “to reflect the misty, humid, local wildlife habitats, and to provide a calm, muted background for the bright, colorful toys that will be in the nursery.” As you walk in, the welcome wall features a Blue Heron couple guarding their nest, a fitting image for the spot where parents drop their children off for care.
Honey described the rest of her inspiration, and shared a fond family memory about White-tailed Deer. “It has always been a huge delight and thrill to see the deer families my parents fed near our home, and the horns displayed at our family hunting cabin,” says Honey. “They seem to me to be innately powerful and mysterious.”
Since the Scrub Jay is the only bird species that lives exclusively in Florida, Honey wanted to be sure to include them, as well as a family of Burrowing Owls. She calls them “funny little birds,” and says, “their bright yellow eyes are featured under the mantle where I envision children being drawn to ‘hide out’ in good company, perhaps on some cushions with books!”
To engage our toddlers, Honey painted a few animals right at their eye level. She hopes the younger children will find the Alligator mama carrying babies on her back, and the Florida Panther and kitten, both fun and fascinating. Finally, Honey painted a Manatee family, Dolphins, and a Sea Turtle in the Infant Room where she says “the underwater scenes are meant to have a gentle womb-like feeling.”
St. John’s is grateful for the endless creativity and talent that contributed to this beautiful design, and we are thankful for the many hours of work Honey Hilliard spent on this space. Special thanks also to Dennis Howard for capturing photos of Honey’s artwork so all can enjoy the details from home until we get to see the space it person. This bit of whimsy at St. John’s center is sure to delight the children of our parish for years to come!
More about Elizabeth Cobb:
Elizabeth Cobb, or “Miss Bessie,” as she came to be known at St. John’s, was a life-long resident of Tallahassee. She was one of Leon County’s most valuable teachers and she served as the first principal of Caroline Brevard Elementary School. Her work was so vital that the county named it’s new junior high school for her (now Elizabeth Cobb Middle School). Bessie’s teaching skills enriched St. John’s for many years as well. She taught confirmation classes, established two youth groups, and served as a summer camp counselor. Bessie was also president of the Women’s Auxiliary and resident House Mother at Ruge Hall at the FSCW. When it came time for Miss Bessie to move to a nursing home, she received communion in her room, a practice that soon extended to all who wished to attend. These days, communion is taken to many of our elder members on a regular basis! Elizabeth Cobb was a beloved parish institution, so it’s fitting that her name marks the spot where our youngest begin their journeys at St. John’s.