August 14, 2002 News & Features » Cover Story

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The Carpenter

Lewis, 37, a gentle-voiced father of three, built his toothpick man from the feet up. It contains 63,250 toothpicks, he says — all held together with that humble staple of Boy Scout projects: tacky glue.

The completed figure, called "The Carpenter: Second Coming" is far different from Lewis' initial vision, he says. The lips and nose have been revised several times. He painstakingly added cascading hair and a full beard made of toothpick fragments carefully glued together in curls. The right arm, once hanging down, is now raised in a gesture of greeting, or blessing. "I really never thought he would get that human-looking," Lewis says with quiet amazement.

Now that the man is complete, Lewis is working on a figure of a mermaid, which will look more like a wild sea creature than the blonde siren of myth, he says. He supports his family working as a home-warranty technician, but says, "I would like to do nothing but art."

Lewis once entered his creation in a juried art competition sponsored by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. But, as Lewis recounts with bewildered frustration, "The Carpenter" was mocked by one judge for being anatomically incorrect. "The Messiah's not made to reproduce," he says. Ripley's Believe It or Not offered to buy the figure for $2,000, but "I couldn't part with him," Lewis says.

Not everyone recognizes the figure as a toothpick image of Jesus. Some say "Oh, look at the spaghetti man!" or "Is that a straw man?" or even "That's Sasquatch!"

But Lewis doesn't mind, he says. "I let people have fun with it," he says. "Just imagine what they would like."

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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