Handmade sculpture of Jesus and 3 disciples draws attention in Lawrence County

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Aug. 1—Four years ago, Stanley Newman said he saw a photo of a sculpture of Jesus and three disciples in a boat that could be the featured piece in his cemetery.

"I saw it in a trade magazine in 2017, and knew then I wanted something like it," said the 69-year-old owner/president of Midway Memorial Gardens in Lawrence County. "We modified what I saw and made it much larger. The final product is actually better than I expected it would be."

Installed in late July in the cemetery's Garden of Faith, the two-piece granite sculpture has area residents talking. On Facebook, the cemetery's sculpture has received several hundred likes and comments.

"Since it's gone up, people are stopping by and taking photos of it," Newman said.

The sculpture features Jesus standing in a 10-foot-long boat with one arm extended while the three disciples sit beside him. The boat rests atop an underwater pedestal in a 75-foot-wide by 100-foot-long pond.

One area resident, Joyce Engle of Chalybeate, said she is awed by the item's uniqueness.

"It's truly amazing and heartwarming," said Engle, 70. "It makes a peace about the place."

Engle said she has four brothers, a sister, and two nephews buried at the cemetery along Lawrence County 434.

"It's personal to me," she said. "I believe the disciples in the boat are Peter, James, John. They were fishing when Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee."

Making the sculpture a reality was easier said than done, Newman said.

"This is the biggest project I'm most proud of. From one block of gray granite, they sculptured a boat and three disciples," said Newman, 69. "I can't imagine somebody sculpturing this out of one piece of rock."

The 7-foot-tall Jesus was made from a separate piece of granite.

Newman spent a year having clay models fine-tuned into what he wanted before ordering the boat a year ago. Installation of the 27,000-pound project was completed July 21 and the pond was refilled two days later. The overall price tag was about $60,000, Newman said.

Melanie White, a representative for Matthews Granite of Elberton, Georgia, which handled the order, said it was handmade and shipped from Xiamen, China. It spent 40 days on a container ship from China through the Indian Ocean and then traveled through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea. From there, it traveled on the Atlantic Ocean to Savannah, Georgia, and sat at the port authority in Savannah for an extended period because of labor shortages involving containers and trucks.

It was then trucked from Savannah to Elberton, she said.

"It took four months to get here and it barely missed the Suez Canal blockage in March," Newman said about the six-day closure of the canal that caused a monthlong backlog.

White called what Newman ordered "very rare."

"People do featured pieces in cemeteries but nothing this large," she said. "We do hundreds of features, but projects like this don't come by too often. It's very rare to get something sculptured this size. This is the first kind of project to this scale that we've worked on and we do work all across the country."

Newman said the cemetery, once named East Lawrence Memorial Gardens, opened in 1995 and includes a 12-foot-high black granite Bible.

"The Bible was our major centerpiece," he said. "Now, I believe Jesus and the disciples will be."

mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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