By Nancy H. McLaughlin
Saturday, December 10, 2005
GREENSBORO ~ Behold the lamb's blood on the larger-than-life wooden crucifix in the University Gallery at N.C. A&T.
Nearly four vials of blood came from freshly shaven lambs at A&T's farm, which A&T art professor Jim Barnhill immediately took back to his studio to mix with egg yokes for consistency. A student had suggested getting the figure's blood from there.
Barnhill then placed a large brush soaked in the mixture atop the crown of thorns and in places on the figure he had fashioned from a dead pine tree found on his front lawn, letting the paint run as gravity would control it.
"The Italian (version of the crucified Jesus is often) this floating Jesus peacefully on the cross, with a few trickles of blood," Bamhill said. That's far different from his sculpture, commissioned for a Catholic church in New Jersey and near the end of its run at the gallery. "I wanted a real suffering servant."
Although a crucifix may first bring thoughts of Easter, Barn-hill also believes it's appropriate for Christmas.
"Of the gifts, the symbols of his identify and purpose, that were brought by the Three Wise Men that day, the gold symbolized a gift for a king, the frankincense symbolized a God, the myrrh, a burial spice," Bamhill said.
Barnhill's best known work is perhaps the bronze statute of the 'Greensboro Four. Martin Luther King Jr. credited the four students with reigniting the civil rights movement across the South. He also fashioned "Minerva" at UNCG.
He spent a long time contemplating what materials to use for the body.
The answer came to him about a year ago when he had to cut down the dead pine tree measuring a foot and a half in diameter.
"I cut it down, and I make a horrific mess," Barnhill said. "It's back-breaking work. I have my chain saw poised to cut (it further), and I see these two adjacent limbs angled like arms — and it was, 'There it is,'" Barnhill said. "You just can't buy pieces of wood like this."
Even the knot of the loin cloth, later colored and lightened, was in the right spot.
While Barnhill saw the Jesus project as a job, he also saw it as using the gift God gave him as a way of helping to tell others what he and other Christians see as the story of their salvation.
To get started, he re-read and meditated on Scripture for inspiration, including Psalm 22:1, which quotes Jesus as he hangs on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
"I'd like people to come to grips with what was the point of this: Why did this man have to die?" Barnhill said.
The words echoed in his head as he used chain saws, hatchets and chisels to craft the lean body with detailed limbs, down to the curve of a muscle. The eyes are hallowed and pushing to the left, where according to the biblical story a thief hangs on a cross — to whom Jesus utters the well-known phrase, "This day you will be with me in paradise."
The blood, now looking dried in places and "fresh" in others, thanks to a light stain of oil and polyurethane, makes it Gothic, yet lifelike.
It took Barnhill a year to finish the sculpture.
He worked on it while also building a deck at his home. He took the tree trunk on his beach vacation, even to the foyer of the art department, where students could watch his progress.
Finally, Barnhill's mission is accomplished.
"I really wanted him hanging from nails. I wanted him to like he was tortured because that's what it was. It was a most horrendous death."