An artist seeks to glorify God
By Bob Baysinger
July 20, 2004
|WEBB CITY – Jack Dawson, deacon at First Baptist Church, Webb City, stands near the 40-foot tall sculpture of praying hands that he created for King Jack Park. Photo by Billy Conroy|
WebbCity deacon’s ‘hidden messages’ points to Christ
WEBB CITY – Jack Dawson isn’t your typical artist.
More than 30 years ago, he sculpted a 100-ton “Praying Hands” work of art that continues to attract worldwide attention in King Jack Park at Webb City.
Now, the Missouri Baptist deacon has discovered that he has a knack for hiding God’s Word in a painting in such a way that allows him to share the Gospel message with unsuspecting admirers of his work.
The “hidden message” theme was launched about four years ago in a
series called “Seek and Find.” Each painting in the series includes spiritual messages woven into the fabric of the painting.
“I was working one day doing the first in this Seek-and-Find series,” said Dawson, a member at First Baptist, Webb City. “As I was beginning to paint a very turbulent waterfall scene, I painted a little bird in a nest representing true peace in the middle of tribulation.”
The painting, “Peace in the Midst of the Storm,” is part of the “Seek and Find” series. The painting includes a hidden picture of Christ in the rock formation, the cross and the empty tomb. It also features a serpent-type head that Dawson had not intended to paint.
“Something in the painting showed up. I didn’t see it. It was a serpent-type head, very ugly. I didn’t put it there intentionally. My mother, of all people, asked me why I had put that ugly thing in there. It stimulated some thought. We were amazed when we realized that the cross was directly over the serpent’s head.”
The “hidden message” idea came from Dawson’s mother and has become a recurrent feature in many of his paintings. The most popular to date is the painting titled “If My People,” based on 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“If My People” shows a tattered American flag being repaired. The painting depicts only the hands of a person mending the flag.
It contains nine hidden images portraying neglect, warfare, sacrifice, tragedy, evil, hope, life, prayer and Jesus. According to Dawson, the hidden messages are:
• Neglect: The tattered and worn flag symbolizes the apathy and neglect for the principles on which the United States was founded.
• Warfare: The bullet holes in the flag represent the spiritual and physical warfare that has and is taking place for our freedom.
• Sacrifice: The bullet hole, tinged with blood, symbolizes the sacrifice of the flag bearer. He willingly becomes vulnerable, laying down his own arms, in order that he may raise the flag and rally the troops.
• Tragedy: The tragedy of 9/11 is remembered as the twin towers of the New York Trade Center are hidden in one of the flag’s white stripes.
• Evil: The presence of evil represented by the two demonic faces is a reminder of the ever-present spiritual battle being fought daily.
• Hope: The hope of healing is depicted by the mending of the flag. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).
• Life: Life is precious at any age. This unborn child hidden in one of the red stripes reminds us to hold high the value of human life.
• Prayer: It is through the humble prayers of God’s people, repenting and seeking Him that the promise of His hearing and forgiving and healing our land will come.
• Jesus: Jesus is the One who is mending the flag. Dawson asks viewers to notice the nail print in the hand. He is truly the Hope for our nation. Healing is available through trusting in His sacrificial death, burial and resurrection. The crimson thread of Christ Jesus the Savior is woven all through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.
“We’ve had some real good interaction with people on this painting,” Dawson said. “The Lord opened the door for us to display our work at ‘The Passion Play’ at Eureka Springs, Ark. We have the originals of some our paintings hanging and ask passers-by if they can see an image or find something in the painting that is less obvious.
“When they find the image, it draws them into a conversation and we always have a Scripture ready to give them. We’ve had a lot of really good experiences working in galleries. It’s amazing how the paintings open up conversations. It’s kind of an interactive art when they begin studying and trying to find what is there.”
Dawson knows of at least one person a painting has impacted.
“A woman was showing one of the ‘If My People’ framed prints to others at her office. A woman just happened to be in the office paying a bill and heard her explain the message,” Dawson said.
“The woman who overhead the conversation returned one week later to tell her story. Apparently, after hearing the description and the verse (2 Chronicles 7:14), she could not get the thought out of her mind that if we don’t turn from our wicked ways, we are killing ourselves.
“She took the thought personally and after years of rejecting her mother-in-law’s plea for her to go to church, she decided to go. That Sunday, she went to church and gave her life to Christ.”
Dawson has always been interested in painting and drawing.
“It was something I did as a kid,” he said. “I always liked to sketch and draw cartoons.”
As a college student, he enrolled in an art education course, which led him to teaching in a public school in Derby, Kan. He returned to Webb City, working as a teacher until 1981.
He now helps his family with their furniture business in Webb City. Dawson recently cutback on his hours at the family business so he can devote more time to his art.
Dawson’s wife, Nancy, operates Bittersweet Gallery in Webb City.
“My son is involved in digital photography. When a painting is finished, he reproduces the painting on paper and canvas and we market the prints,” Dawson explained.
Dawson’s paintings are now marketed in 200 stores nationwide.
And now Dawson is starting to gain attention worldwide.
“We received an email from a church in Singapore. They are going to reproduce the “Peace in the Midst of a Storm” painting in their magazine. We’ve had some go to Brazil to some missionaries we worked with,” Dawson said, adding that he recently received a note from Ireland from tourists who had visited the “Praying Hands” sculpture.
“It’s amazing how many people travel through this area,” he said. “The Webb City National Day of Prayer observance is held each year at the sculpture, and includes students from local schools.”
Dawson said his motivation for the “Praying Hands” came from his desire to offer a symbol that would inspire people to consider the importance of spiritual principles in their fast-paced schedule of daily living.
“A person’s greatest need is spiritual,” Dawson said. “You cannot truly change for the better until there is a change of heart. The hands symbolize the need for a personal commitment and relationship to God.”
Dawson also has painting ministry in churches.
“We do the flag painting and several others. We use a black light for effect. My wife sings and my daughter plays the fiddle,” Dawson said. “We’ve had some wonderful experiences doing this.”
There appears to be no end to the painting ministry.
“My next painting is in process titled ‘Last Chance Revival,’” Dawson said. “It is based on a true life story of a pastor friend originally from Texas. It is more of a western theme with a tent revival as the focus. There is a rider on horseback looking at the services going on from a distance.
“The pathway that leads down to the tent is in the form of a question mark and will lead to the question of what one will do with Christ. It could be the last chance.”
Dawson said his ideas for paintings come from the Bible, sermons, songs, Holy Spirit impressions, times of quiet meditation, God’s creation and observations about life and people.
A book may be in the works for Dawson.
“The idea will include 70 paintings titled ‘Someday.’ It will use several paintings in this series and will follow the life of a person from before birth to the end of this earthly journey,” Dawson explained. “It will end with a final painting titled ‘Someday.’
“I wanted to do this 30 years ago, but I now understand that I needed years and experiences to convey truly the message in this book. Lord willing, it will be published.
“The purpose of my artwork is to honor Christ and point people to Him as the answer to their greatest need. I believe we are to honor Him in all that we do in work or in deed. The Lord has opened doors for me. I trust that He has received the honor.”