Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994

REFLECTIONS
6
Sam Butcher's
PR ECIOUS
E NS HAP E L
and Koons and Michelangelo too
3 Berkeley Schelton
On a trip to Italy in the early '80s, artist Sam Butcher saw the
Sistine Chapel for the first time. "Having seen Michelangelo's
interpretation of God's wrath and judgment," says Butcher's publicist,
\ "M r. Butcher asked himself what he might be able to say through his
art about God's grace and love." Apparently the Catholic depiction was
just too bloody, pagan and passionate for Butcher. So he decided to
take on Michelangelo mano a mano in a new-world version of the
Sistine-Precious Moments Chapel, 1984-present in Carthage,
Missouri. His chapel portrays a soft, born-again spirituality, a kinder
p and gentler religiosity, that has little to do with Michelangelo's
chapel, and manages to sing in harmony with the work of Jeff Koons.
The PMC currently houses some 40 murals-more are in the works-painted
in a pastel palette by Butcher and an assistant. On the east wall cartoon
characters enact scenes from the Old Testament, on the west, scenes from the
New Testament. The adult Jesus is the only figure painted realistically, that
is to say, the way he looks on holy cards. The rest are cartoon children with
oversized heads whose wide, teardrop eyes peer out below manes of soft
baby hair above their cute-as-a-button, pug noses.
Butcher painted the ceiling mural first atop scaffolding and lying on his
back a la Michelangelo. Here the artist created an illusionary sky edged
with marshmallow clouds that become successively more faint toward the
mural's center. In the shining, far-away, blue sky, seventy-five little angels
float around with garlands of flowers. A purposeful little pair flies along
carrying a gold cross southward to the front of the chapel.
There, we find Butcher's answer to Michelangelo's The Last Judgment, a
soaring, 494 square-foot depiction of a fantasy-land heaven-a literal
kingdom of heaven. Little, nightgown-clad peoplettes, emerald forest
shrubbery and drippy flowers dot the castle courtyard. A girl entering heaven
is greeted by a trio of angels with signs that read, "Welcome to your heavenly
home." The gate she passes through says, "No More Tears"-just like the baby
shampoo. In the middle ground, we see families being reunited. In one case a
couple reaches for their diaper-clad infant and puppy. Other peoplettes joyfully

Carroll, Don. Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228034/. Accessed December 17, 2014.