The headline read, "Father Sees His Whole World Consumed by a House Fire."
It was January 1983. A self-taught sculptor, Maceo Jeffries, stood in the yard of his Riverdale home, his shoulder dislocated from jumping out a window. He heard the baby crying inside, tried to wrestle a ladder up to the blazing building but couldn't make it.
"When she stopped crying, I knew they were gone," he said.
His wife Carolyn, 39, died in the fire. So did his son Maceo Jr., 17, and his daughter Maureen, 2. His studio and all his work went up in smoke.
The 41-year-old Jeffries went to live with a brother. "I can't bring them back," he said. "That kind of joy I'm going to put in art so I can share it with other people."
Gradually he began picking up the pieces of his life. His childhood sweetheart, whom he hadn't seen in 25 years, read about the fire and contacted him. Last year they married.
Maceo and Barbara Jeffries' child, for whom they had already picked a name, Autumn Angel, died at birth. Jeffries had been working on a painting for the baby's room -- the first painting he had tried in 20 years -- showing an angel alighting on the hand of God.
Meanwhile, a major relief commissioned by the Har Tzeon Congregation in Silver Spring was dedicated a few weeks ago. Just after the fire, the synagogue had planned to send him a donation, then decided to ask for a sculpture to go in the children's courtyard.
"The idea alone took me three months. They kept rejecting my sketches so I finally made a model relief of the Walls of Jericho, and they liked that. The idea came to me one night. I read the Torah -- I read the Bible a lot anyway -- and they showed me pictures of shofars and biblical dress, and I went from there."
The bronze relief is 8 by 9 feet, an ingenious circular design of tumbling stones and sounding horns and seven bearded heads. It weighs a ton.
Recently Jeffries won a competition to make miniatures of the Frederick Hart sculpture at the Vietnam Memorial, and these five-inch bronzes on black granite bases are about to go into production for Museum Collections Inc. They will retail for $285, with a fifth of the proceeds going to the Memorial Commission for maintenance of the monument.
The model that Jeffries sent to the competition was done from a single photograph that showed only the front of the original. When he won and was sent other photos showing the back, he discovered that he had got it almost exactly right. He didn't see the original for himself until it was dedicated last fall.
Working from pictures and his own imagination, Jeffries turns out a remarkable variety of work from his home studio: an Indian burial scene; tiny figurines showing baseball and football action; a space shuttle paperweight for Martin-Marietta; lions, apes, horses, buffalo (inspired by the Buffalo Bridge over Rock Creek) and a fox head done for the Fox Lake housing development in Oakton.
Jeffries has just been hired as associate designer by Real Estate Development Technology Associates of Upper Marlboro, but he will continue to sculpt. He finds work in the strangest places. Dropping into Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, he proposed a small bronze souvenir medallion with Roscoe's logo on one side and an Olympic theme on the other. He sold it on the spot. The latest scheme is miniature versions of some Remington cowboy statues. Everything he touches turns to bronze, it seems.
But there is more to it than that. A quiet man who takes life as it comes, Maceo Jeffries accepts his gift with a certain reverence. It does seem like something bestowed upon him, for he never took a lesson. When some nuns came to see the five-foot white concrete Christ he had done for them, they fell to their knees in prayer.
"They said they felt the energy in the house," he said.