ABOUT PETER JOEL HARRISON
“The remarkable Peter Joel Harrison…” —Early American Life, August 1995
How It All Began
In 1979, Peter Joel Harrison moved from New York City with his wife to Raleigh, North Carolina, to start a family.
“We bought a lovely two-story, white colonial with black shutters.” Harrison realized his new home needed a fence;
a colonial house, a colonial fence. As a designer, it was important to him that the yard fit the style of the house, which meant finding books that would illustrate American colonial landscapes.
“Simple,” Harrison thought. Off to the local bookshops: NO BOOK. The local libraries: again, NO BOOK. Undaunted and in much need, he went to the state university library where they taught Landscape Architecture. Harrison found two books written about the history and theory of American landscaping, but he didn’t need words, he needed illustrations. Where were the books? “I had to build a fence. My wife was now pregnant. I drove to Colonial Williamsburg and visited the Foundation’s library; again finding nothing printed that illustrated the pictorial details I needed.” It was now quite clear to him that no one had ever documented these important American details. He went out to the restoration and photographed everything he saw.
For twelve years, with zeal bordering on compulsion, Peter Joel Harrison scouted out historic sites, viewing over 549 from Maine to Georgia.
“Pretty soon I had boxes of pictures. They were stacked to the ceiling, hundreds of them. One evening in early August 1992, I went out with the dog to walk and pray.” It came to Harrison that perhaps he could create the missing pattern books he had so longed for and needed.
“In the warm months, I traveled. In the winter, I drew.” Harrison self published FENCES in 1993, BRICK PAVEMENT in 1994, and GAZEBOS in 1995. “In the beginning, I intended to create a series of pattern books devoted to the 18th century to help those like myself engaged in the noble art of building. But while working on GAZEBOS, I discovered I could not fit the word gazebo on the spine horizontally as was the case with old texts I admired. So I added a sixth chapter on Gothic styles. It was well received. As a result, I began to expand the series.”
Peter Joel Harrison, designer of interiors and landscapes, is dedicated to documenting architectural details of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. His work has been published in numerous magazines, including Old House Journal, This Old House, Bob Vila’s American Home, American Home Style & Gardening, House Beautiful, Cape Cod Life, Early American Life, Garden Design, and Landscape Architecture. His work was a valued source for Warner Brothers’ release The Bridges of Madison County, and is part of many fine libraries, including Buckingham Palace and Duke, Harvard and Yale universities.
I stand at the door, and knock:
if any man hear my voice,
open the door,
I will come in to him,
and will sup with him, and he with me.
My parents brought my two brothers and me to church regularly. We were members of the Dutch Reform denomination located in Glenmont, New York. At 13, I participated in catechism classes; upon graduation everyone took it for granted that I understood and was confirmed, but the anticipated transformation had not happened. There was emptiness inside... in spite of the memorized creeds, prayers and instruction of church doctrine.
Often at night, before going to sleep, I would have thoughts of my own mortality. In the darkness words would come to my mind “Peter, you are alive and move. This is not a movie and there is an end.” Yes there was an end, and I had no assurance that I would spend it in heaven as the church taught. Hoping was not enough!
At fifteen I became very depressed and medicine was prescribed to stabilize my life. The turbulent school year had finally ended. It was now July, sunny and warm. I was in the front yard when a neighbor, Mrs. Allen, came by on her bicycle. “Peter, would you like a job painting our house this summer?” she asked. “Sure,” I said. I was lonely, confused and figured this would give me something to do. Later that afternoon I walked up to see her. I sat in the backyard. She cheerfully came out of the house with a tray of cookies and Kool-Aid. We sat in the shade and I asked about the job, but she moved the conversation to a more personal note and began speaking to me about Jesus. I didn’t protest. She spoke as if she understood deeper things—things I still questioned. Two hours later I sat on the living room sofa next to Mrs. Allen. “Do you want to ask Christ into your heart, Peter?” She said with a smile. “Yes,” was all I said.
I had no more questions. She prayed first, out loud, so I heard all she spoke. The prayer was to Someone she seemed to know well. How different it was from the typical church prayers I heard. She then gently helped me to pray. I started off like this: “Jesus, if You are God, I want You to forgive me of what I have done wrong.” I paused... “Jesus, if you are God, I want you to come into my heart to be my Savior.” That was supposed to be the conclusion of my penitence, but I added one request that Mrs. Allen didn’t mention—one I desperately wanted: “Jesus, make me know it!”
It was that simple statement that changed my life forever. Three days had now gone by since I had first prayed. I felt noticeably different, more peaceful, the troubling was gone, and a sense of compassion and consideration was settling in. I took special care to cap the toothpaste as my mother had asked. Normally I left it off just to antagonize her. I eagerly read the gospel of St. John as Mrs. Allen advised. There was a certain hope and fresh joy to my life now. Things were improving day by day.
I set out to visit my best friend. His house was a mile walk through the woods. When I arrived, he and his father were playing catch. Jeff was on the high school baseball team. I stood quietly and watched, waiting for him to finish. After a few moments my attention wandered, and I looked toward the end of the driveway. Across the tree-lined street, to the left, I noticed something astonishing, round in form, like mist, about thirty inches off the ground, moving parallel with the road. I kept staring. I could see it and not see it at the same time. Now it was directly in front of me—twenty feet separated us. It moved toward me, closer and closer until it touched me, but my body could not stop it. All I could remember was the request I had made at Mrs. Allen’s house, “Jesus, make me know it.” I suddenly felt radiant and excited. In the kitchen at Jeff’s house I couldn’t wait to speak about what had just taken place and my prayer at Mrs. Allen’s home.
The initial euphoric feeling I had experienced at that time lasted about a week, but I faithfully continued to read the Bible each day as Mrs. Allen had told me. I never wanted to return to the lost and defeated state I had previously suffered and held onto my faith tightly.
Now decades later, I look back on my life to see the benefits of including Christ in it. He has made me secure, happy, healthy, confident, and content. The storms have come, but I emerged unharmed. My marriage of over thirty years is blessed and continues to get better and better. Regarding my career, I asked Christ to guide me in my choices and have received success and satisfaction.
As for the question I asked longed ago, “Will I really be in heaven at the end of my life?” The answer is “YES!”
My last words to you would be those of encouragement for you also to ask Jesus to be your personal Savior and to “make you know it!”
In Christ Jesus yours,
Peter Joel Harrison
© 2015 Peter Joel Harrison. All Rights Reserved.