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Define “precious”


You know, this thing is so vomitously godawful, I feel cheap laughing at it. Lucky for you, I’m pretty comfortable feeling cheap.

Sam Butcher is an illustrator, in the venerable Big-Eyed Children school of American art. Don’t feel bad for him. He might be aesthetically retarded, but he must also be terribly fucking rich by now. Perhaps those two conditions are not entirely unrelated. His ’70s grotesques are the basis of Precious Moments figurines — one of the Holy Trinity of the Church of Knick-Knack, along with Lladro and Hummel. In gratitude for his success, Sam built for us all the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri.

This is not mere weaselsnark. Sam hisself claims he was inspired by the Sistine Chapel. Possibly in the same way one would be inspired by an industrial pressure cooker accident: there is shit all over the walls, the ceiling…everywhere.

On the lefthand wall, the Old Testament As Acted Out by Precious Moments Figurines. On the righthand wall, the New Testament As Acted Out by Precious Moments Figurines. The far wall, the Last Judgement, both cuter and yet somehow more horrible than I pictured it, Acted Out by Precious Moments Figurines. On the ceiling, big-eyed angels sing thee home to rest.

Since I am not only cheap, but also lazy, let me nick the description from Roadside America:

People reverently look up at magical scenes covering nearly every surface. Scenes from Genesis — two baby angels with flash lights illustrate “And God said let there be Light.” And god created Earth — several dead baby angels, including one of two black angels, play basketball with the earth.

At the back wall of the Chapel is its defining mural, Hallelujah Square. It depicts a new dead child being welcomed to heaven by Timmy Angel. Other dead children angels hold signs saying “Welcome To Your Heavenly Home.” The sign with “Welcome” written on it is held wrong side up, as cute children will sometimes do. Others in Hallelujah Square romp and frolic. In the exact center of the mural is a ministering Christ. He is the only adult depicted in the chapel.

The effect of the work (including a Michelangelo-like painted ceiling) on the assembled crowd is haunting. No babies cry (“They never do,” says our guide.) Adults looking at the cartoons are stock still.

One mixed-media mural shows “The Second Coming,” in which painted clouds part and a painted Jesus appears to a collection of Precious Moments porcelain miniatures, some driving tiny cars.

In a pew-filled back room — still part of the tour — past stained glass Precious Moments windows, is a shivering tribute to Butcher’s son, Philip, who was killed by a drunk driver. On the wall is a large painting of Philip’s bedroom when he was a child, featuring Philip surrounded by his siblings. Above them on puffy clouds, baby angels hold signs saying “Welcome Home, Philip.” Philip was 30 when he died, but nowhere in the room is he shown as an adult.

I’ve never been there. I’m not sure my kitsch gland is strong enough to take it I found this websurfing last night. I woke up this morning smelling of cotton candy and bile.

Further reading: Read the whole rest of Roadside America — it’s always fun. Peteena‘s covered it — that whole site is fun, too. This guy has a very thorough photo album of his trip to the Chapel.


Comment from SteamBoat McGoo
Time: April 24, 2007, 1:09 pm

I had no clue this place existed. I’ve driven on I44 right past it countless times. Whew. I never knew how close I was to kitsch-death at those moments.

Angels with flashlights? I don’t want this to be….

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 24, 2007, 1:20 pm

McGoo! You’re near this thing!? Field trip! Awww…c’mon!

Comment from mesablue
Time: April 24, 2007, 1:53 pm

Dead baby angels always make my day.


Comment from mesablue
Time: April 24, 2007, 1:55 pm

And, why is there so much weird shit in Missouri?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 24, 2007, 1:58 pm

Absolute dead-bang center of the country, is my guess.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: April 24, 2007, 2:45 pm

The lowest level of hell is reserved for the people who come up with this crap. I can just see Jesus Christ with a whip kicking over tables and attacking the vendors.

Comment from SteamBoat McGoo
Time: April 24, 2007, 3:56 pm

I’m over on other side of the state, by the river. But I have to admit it would be an interesting saturday day-trip.

Hmmm….”Weasel Guest Minion?” I kinda like the sound of that. Maybe I could try my hand at fleecing tourists, too.

Let me check my medical insurance to see if it covers treatment for Taste-Cooties. I could die, y’know.

Mesablue, I think there is so much weird stuff here because its the Show-Me state. So people think that means “Show me that you’re an asswipe idiot, with no taste or breeding, and that you are also a hopeless doofus.”

Chris’s imagery is right on target. I can see red-hot holy vomit by the metric ton materializing out of thin air over this Precious Moments place. Probably while I’m in there.

Weasel, where do you find this stuff? And….why?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 24, 2007, 4:09 pm

To be fair to the guy (Butcher, not Jesus), I have a terrible feeling he’s sincere. Admittance is free and, if they sell stuff there, the web site doesn’t flog it.

I’m not sure if that doesn’t make it even more painful to look at.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 24, 2007, 4:26 pm

McGoo, I used to be a library junkie. I worked in a huge library as a teenager, and into my twenties and thirties I haunted libraries for fun. I had cards for a dozen libraries. I even paid for non-circulating privileges in the library system of whatever the local university was. I have an insatiable yearning for small, strange pieces of information.

The Web is like endless weaselporn delivered directly to my eyeballs 24/7. Keep hitting links, and out it pours.

Comment from SteamBoat McGoo
Time: April 24, 2007, 4:36 pm

After I posted that last, I remembered that while driving down I44 I often noted a billboard with “Precious Moments” and some stupid images on it.

(In the last 5 years I’ve made the Dallas-St.Louis run about 15 times. Its gotten really, really old. I always got a ticket in OK til I switched routes. Every friggin’ time, it seemed. I hate OK.)

Its THOSE images, by cracky! Big-eyed kids, I mean. I always thought it was a photography studio for kids or sumpin. Its close to Joplin, waaay over on the “odder side” of the state.

I don’t think your site could take TWO reviews of this subject.

Comment from SteamBoat McGoo
Time: April 24, 2007, 4:43 pm

I’m a bookworm myself. Love books. I’d eat ’em if I could, and digest the info directly. I want to read ALL of ’em. (Except the romances and westerns).

The net is a strange and wunnerful place, yes it is! And there is weird stuff there, to be sure.

But that’s what Weasels site is for – to provide us folks with neat stuff to read without having to chase it down and kill it ourselves! I do so hate skinning fresh factoids. Worse than fish.

Comment from Muslihoon
Time: April 24, 2007, 10:43 pm

Bibliophile here too!

Precious Moments also spooks me out. I thought all those cute kids and angels I saw on book covers were kids or angels. Then I found out they are dead babies. Totally freaked me out. I do not want to think about dead or dying babies, thankyouverymuch.

The creator is sincere; but still.

I must say I admire your protectiveness of religion, CT. I must agree. I work in retail: a cross should not cost thousands of dollars. It is supposed to be a statement of faith, a testimony, not “bling”. The commercialization of religion is something I am quite displeased with.

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: April 24, 2007, 11:35 pm

I work in retail: a cross should not cost thousands of dollars.

Ah Muslihoon – but what if is worth thousands of dollars? I worked in a gallery years ago that had one of these for sale at around $25,000.

This is truly an amazing piece of work to look at in person. The internal reflections are such that when it’s turned you can see an image of Christ rise off of the cross.

It’s such a loss that Hart died so young.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 25, 2007, 3:52 am

Spam filter ate your link, Enas.

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: April 25, 2007, 2:02 pm

Dang it! Let’s try this one: Cross of the Millennium

Comment from Muslihoon
Time: April 25, 2007, 3:21 pm

Thanks, Enas! Religious art, of course, is something different all together. Some is priceless, such as the Sistine Chapel.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 25, 2007, 3:34 pm

Is that the technique where they etch into glass and then light it from below? Because that can be eithe tacky or very cool, depending on how well executed it is.

Have you seen the thing where they take a dark piece of polished stone and (laser, I guess) etch it? The more they rough the stone, the lighter the apparent color. The first time I saw it was on an outdoor war memorial. It’s a striking effect. Looks just like the original photo. Lately, they’ve begun selling little ones using your photos. It’s a neat effect and not too expensive. Dreadful tacky in the wrong hands, of course. Here’s a local supplier who’s been flogging them over the radio.

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: April 25, 2007, 4:01 pm

Actually, it’s lucite and yah it sits on a light stand. The Christ figure is another fully formed, lightly frosted lucite sculpture completely imbedded in the cross itself. I looked at the one we had in the gallery a lot. There were no visible seams anywhere on or in the sculpture itself. The construction baffled me for the longest time until I saw another one at a different gallery where there was a small flaw that gave you a clue as to how he did it.

You ought to use your google-fu and look up some of Hart’s stuff.

I took a look at your link – interesting. I hadn’t seen that before. I look forward to seeing Elvis interpreted in the medium, with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 25, 2007, 4:11 pm

Yeah, the pictures are bad and the samples are tacky. It doesn’t convey how startling the effect is. It’s one of those things you itch to run your hands over.

Lucite was the Space Age Miracle Material of Tomorrow when I was a kid. I remember my dad had a Lucite cube paperweight with fifty pennies suspended in it. I’m still not sure how they get things suspended just the way they want them, but I loved that thing. I looked up buying the liquid form; it was devilish expensive. But ever since, I’ve had a burning desire to have my dead body encased in Lucite in lieu of burying. As I was pretty sure nobody would do that for me, I had to work out Rube Goldbergian schemes for topping myself while lying in a mold and releasing the liquid with my final breath. I had faith once they found me and realized what a cool paperweight I was, nobody would try to chip my remains out.

I was a cheerful child.

Comment from Missourian
Time: April 25, 2007, 10:20 pm

Late to the party again……But, HEY, there are great places in MO – you haters. Hannibal – Mark Twain, St. Charles – launching of Lewis and Clark…etc…
If you like the Precious Moments statues, the chapel is cute. (Seeing it once was enough for me) If you go an hour or two east (or was it west?) of it, you can visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, of Little House on the Prairie fame, home.
Thank you.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 26, 2007, 5:06 am

Look, I’m from Tennessee. If I can grow up with the legacy of Dollywood and Twitty City and suck it up, you can damn well wear Precious Memories Chapel like a man!

Comment from SteamBoat McGoo
Time: April 26, 2007, 7:08 am

Yep – there are some great places in MO, Missourian. You mentioned St. Charles (where I presently reside) – the start-point of L&C, and the site of the first interstate highway (I70?) and some of Danial Boone’s various homes and saltlicks. Yes…I said saltlicks. Why these are of historical significance – I do not know. Maybe DB had a salt craving.

The St. Louis Gateway Arch is strange. I remember that when they were building it Ill. threatened to build a giant crochet(sp?)-player with mallet and ball right next to it.

MO is still strange. But that’s ok. Lots of places are strange.

Comment from Muslihoon
Time: April 26, 2007, 8:11 am

“Croquet”, dear sir. Would you like a spot of tea and some crumpets with that?

Why is it always a “spot” of tea?

Comment from SteamBoat McGoo
Time: April 26, 2007, 12:48 pm

Mus’ – I say ol’ boy – thanks awfully for the spelling correction. I need all the help I can get. I knew it was wrong but was convinced I wouldn’t get it right no matter what.

I think its called a “spot” because that’s what folks always get on their shirt. And..it rolls off the tongue better than “dribble”.

Comment from Missourian
Time: April 26, 2007, 1:29 pm

Weasel, most people in MO have no clue Sam Butcher has his own little kitsch resort here. If you’re into the statues, you’ll visit the chapel (and the huge ‘gift’ shop on the property – surprise, surprise). Women are gooey like that and drag their husbands along. Who wind up waiting on benches. We discovered it on a road trip to the only Bass Pro shop in the state at the time. Since then, they have built a Precious Moments Hotel and resort type thing for the type of people who visit Branson. (websurf that)

Comment from Missourian
Time: April 26, 2007, 1:35 pm

Hey Steamboat, we’re neighbors. I’m in St. Charles county.

Illinois should have built the mallet.

Comment from AnonyMouse
Time: June 26, 2007, 8:59 pm

It is amazing how many people are finally finding the chapel. I guess nobody Googled it until Googling became a phenomenon. This thing has been there for two decades, and the man himself (Butcher no God) IS rich from the royalties he’s collected off of paraphanelia. He now lives in the Philippines with “young boys”, if you get my drift.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 27, 2007, 3:40 am

Oh ho! The plot sickens!

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