Nativity silhouette a reminder of the Christmas story

December 25, 2018

Hanging 16 feet tall and 12 feet wide above the congregation of Family Life Christian Church in Kalispell, a silhouetted mural of Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus stands as a fresh reminder of the power and beauty behind the Christmas story, according to the mural’s creator.

Retired pastor and recreational carpenter Allan Dunbar, 79, approached the church months ago with a vision for the nearly two-story art piece.

Inspired from a young age by his father, also a pastor and carpenter, Dunbar has an artistic portfolio that includes a variety of pieces, from elaborate bowls to bird feeders, shelving to intricate sculptures.

The hobby, he said, has always served as a method of escape from the busyness of life that came with his 50-plus-year career as a pastor.

Dunbar’s ministry has included a 22-year television ministry, various mission trips and more than 30 Holy Land tours.

Though he continues to serve however he can with local ministries and plans to lead another tour next fall, Dunbar, a native of Canada, and his wife retired to the Flathead Valley a few years ago and have been attending Family Life ever since.

Hoping to craft a thought-provoking piece large enough to hang on the massive bare wall in the sanctuary, Dunbar found inspiration in a picture online that he used as a template.

According to Dunbar, the church offered to pay for the materials needed for the project, but he invested his own time and tools to its construction.

He took the picture he found online, enlarged it, created a grid and transferred the photograph piece by piece onto individual sections of board, drawing in a few modifications.

He then took each of the six boards to his jigsaw and cut out the abstract shapes that, he hoped, would somehow fit together to form his unusual nativity scene.

Made from six 4-by-8-foot boards of plywood backed by a 3-inch thick frame, the silhouette was undoubtedly the biggest project he’s ever undertaken, he said.

“The problem with silhouette is it’s all backwards to your eye,” Dunbar explained. “It’s so big, that if you’re too close to it, you can’t really see it.”

The product of a month’s worth of work in his workshop, the mural took hundreds of screws to put together and six men to lift once assembled.

Once painted black by a professional painter who attends the church, the mural was ready to be hung in the sanctuary on Dec. 1.

Dunbar said he stood from the sanctuary balcony, slightly distraught as he looked on at his completed work, unable to make out parts of the picture from where he stood.

That night as he anticipated the big reveal to the congregation during the Sunday service, he said he awoke three times, concerned it would not live up to his expectations.

The next morning, however, he said he couldn’t have been more pleased with both the piece and the response from his church family.

“It was really overwhelming because it was better than I expected,” Dunbar said. “It was a little emotional for me to see that, and I realized that the reason I couldn’t see it was I was too close.”

He recalled the morning being filled with hugs and tears as the congregation looked up at the silhouetted, yet recognizable figures of Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths.

“I think what you end up with is seeing how the people responded here, and I love that it brought a whole new focus for them,” Dunbar said.

Watching the reactions on the faces around him, Dunbar felt the piece accomplished its goal, to bring new perspective and life to the Christmas story.

“The same old, same old, we lose focus,” he said. “We live here in a beautiful valley with mountains all around, and before long, we take it for granted; we forget to look.”

“This is different enough and big enough, it gives everybody, including me, the perception that we do have a mighty God,” he added.

Family Life’s senior pastor, Frank Mack, said he felt the piece depicts such a powerful image that he and his church staff have decided to find a place to display it in the church after the Christmas season passes.

Mack said he and his staff are still finalizing plans for where to put the mural after Christmas. They will likely put the silhouette on the large wall above the sanctuary balcony, directly across from the stage and the large wooden cross hanging above it.

“What it did for us is it reminded us what Christmas is all about,” Mack said. “It’s a reminder of God’s love for us.”

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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