Something beautiful and magnificent is slowly emerging from an ugly stump of a once-beautiful oak tree on the front lawn of Paul Bond’s Independence home.
Using a chainsaw and chisels of various sizes, Paul tediously saws, carves and chips away on a full-size figure of Jesus Christ he is resurrecting from a dead 7-foot stump on the northwest corner of 38th Street and Scott Avenue.
Upon completion, his varnished masterpiece will illustrate Matthew 11:28: "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
With His outstretched hands close to His side, Christ is welcoming the heavy laden. Though Paul would have preferred extending Christ’s arms outward, "the stump doesn’t allow it."
The soft-spoken artisan says he is using a tiny pocket picture of Sallman’s "Head of Christ" for some of the basics.
"I didn’t mean for it to look like Sallman’s ‘Head of Christ.’ Actually, that (face) is too pretty, I think," he says with a chuckle.
What Paul did was carve the face of an ordinary bearded man.
"I made the face and that is what came out," Paul says of Christ’s facial features. "I am not good enough to really get a lot of details to make (the face) look exactly like I would want it to (look)."
Though a robe covers most of the Savior’s body, His hands will protrude from the sleeves, and at least one sandaled foot will be visible.
Even though he’s been transforming wood into art for approximately 40 years, Paul is not perfect. He makes mistakes. And when there’s a major one – like sawing the hand of Christ – Paul has to change the concept. That slip of the hand, he notes, changed the positioning of the Lord’s hands.
Working "sporadically" on the statue since last summer, Paul expects to have it completed "sometime this summer." However, he’s quick to add: "Making the hands are going to take some time (to do), so that may take me longer than I expect, because each hand will be like doing a face."
Paul, though, is up to the challenge.
"I have done hands before," he says, getting up from where he was seated and returning quickly with a statuette he made years ago of two grasping hands: Paul’s hand grasping the tiny hand of his 4-year-old son Justin, and Justin’s tiny hand grasping his father’s finger.
Says Paul: "I modeled it on my hand. It doesn’t look like my hand. But it does look like a hand."
Originally, Paul planned to include a base on the statue so he could carve the Scripture (Matthew 11: 28-30) into it. But there’s no room for a base now, he says, not after making Christ’s head larger than it should have been. Because of that miscue, he says, the statue itself now must go all the way into the ground for it to be in proportion. And for that to happen, Paul might have to cheat a little bit here and there.
Looking back on that summer day last year when his dead oak tree was felled, Paul issued the following order to the cutters before they activated their saws : "You leave me this 7-foot stump."
But he never said why.
"Of course, they scratched their heads and thought I was crazy, which may be right," he says.
The tree cutters weren’t the only ones scratching their heads and wondering why he didn’t cut down the entire stump. So were the neighbors.
Once the figure of Christ emerged from the stump, neighbors began to respond in a positive way.
An 80-year-old woman wrote this "precious" note: "When the tree was first cut down, I was perturbed that a large stump was left. But now I am pleased that something good is coming out of it."
Then there was the teenage girl who left the following letter – dated May 5 – in Paul’s mailbox: "Dear artist, your artwork is amazing. I love it. Your artwork makes my mood change." After signing her name, she adds in a postscript that she was the girl who came over with her sister to see the Jesus he was making in his yard.
If some of you are wondering if this is the same Paul Bond who pastored Northern Boulevard United Methodist Church for 11 years (1989-2000), wonder no more. He is.
Although retired, he’s keeping the tiny Atherton United Methodist Church afloat by preaching and teaching Sunday school there on Sundays.
He also is the same Paul Bond that took a 6-foot-long log and carved an Indian out of it while pastoring in Adrian, Mo., during the early years of his ministry. He later presented the statue to Adrian High School, whose mascot is the Blackhawks. It’s still there today.
So what does he want people to take away from his statue of Christ?
"I would hope that it produces for those who see it an appreciation for Jesus; for who he was and what he was about. Jesus is very important to me, and what he stood for and what he did for us. I would like that carving to evoke a respect for Christ and what he was about."
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.