Christian Artist Connects With The Faith Driven Community
By, Brian Lahm
By day, Christopher Slater works as a successful marketing and business strategy consultant with 316 Strategy Group. At night and on the weekends, he heads to the garage workshop of his west Omaha home and carefully handcrafts various sizes and shapes of crosses, a symbolic reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the intersection of God’s love and His justice. Christopher’s creations are extraordinary because they are personal keepsakes for friends, family and customers who seek his handmade works of art.
Above the workbench where he shapes the metal with a hammer and grinder, one of his favorite verses is written on the wall;
“As iron sharpens iron; so one person sharpens another.”
– Proverbs 27:17
It’s an appropriate Scripture for a Christian who works with copper, wood and other various materials to create the unique crosses. “At 316, we surround ourselves with iron every day in the business world, and encourage others to do the same. At home, my family and friends are my iron.”
Christopher often adds a well-thought-out Scripture or prayer and attaches it to the crosses that he creates. “I almost always have made the crosses with the specific person in mind. They are individual projects, labors of love. I’ve given them as Christmas gifts and for special occasions. With almost every cross, the Bible verse or prayer that I have included is appropriate for the particular person and illustrates the relationship we have,” he said. For customers who buy his pieces, he encourages them to do the same.
“Faith permeates every aspect of my life, whether it’s the purposeful work of 316 Strategy Group, or in my personal life. I can’t express how much it lifts me when our kids build on the foundation of faith at home and seek the Word on their own,” he said.
Daughter Autumn, 18, is a sophomore psychology major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and participates in a weekly college Bible study. Son Bennett, 15, is a sophomore in high school and is an active member of his school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “We are so fortunate to have a community of spiritual leaders in our schools to continue to build on the foundation we have laid at home,” Christopher said.
“My wife, Tacy, and I have come to understand as parents that our children are actually guiding us once they reach a certain age, and to see them independently building on the values that we have at home is a reward that can’t be matched.”
Christopher added, “I am so pleased that the kids have found beauty and meaning in these crosses. For Bennett, working on these crosses gives me an opportunity to teach some skills and serves as a wonderful bonding experience. He is a great shop apprentice and has spent many hours in the hot sun breaking down reclaimed materials. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.”
Christopher’s inspiration for spiritual creation might have had its beginning nearly 30 years ago during a retreat for seniors at Council Bluffs St. Albert High School when he received a necklace with a cross made of nails. “It still hangs in our home because it made an impression on me. There is a beautiful simplicity in the necklace, and it is impossible to look at any cross without being reminded of its meaning, of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for all of us. It is a symbol of faith, sacrifice and redemption” he said.
Christopher had no formal training from which to draw for his spiritual creations, but he has uncovered a passion that has caught the eye of a number of people. “I took a shop class as a sophomore at St. Albert High School, and I probably ended up with a C on most projects,” Christopher humbly said with a laugh. “I am not a master woodworker by any means; I am rudimentary at best. I am just getting used to the thought that people consider what I do to be art.” The designs are simple yet creative. “Each piece is unique, and I particularly enjoy integrating the metals with the wood.”
While his work-space has an arsenal of tools, Christopher primarily uses a hammer, a grinder and a table saw to make his beautiful pieces. “A friend who is a plumber saves a bucket of scrap copper periodically and brings it to me in exchange for lunch.” A favorite lunch spot just happens to be Stories Coffeehouse at 180th and Pacific Streets, where evidence of faith is tucked throughout the restaurant. “He normally would take the metal to the scrap yard,” Christopher explained. “I love the patina of the old copper. Once it is hammered out and buffed in a certain manner, the patina blends beautifully with the newly polished high spots.”
“I use reclaimed wood and other old materials. I am a collector and saver of things. I tend to favor discarded barn wood and pallet wood. With pallet wood, you never know what you are going to get. There might be pine, oak, hickory … just about anything. It can be quite beautiful to work with. I rarely throw anything away. I keep the scrap pieces as well while I am making a cross, and that otherwise discarded piece goes into a crate because I never know if it might be used later. In my mind’s eye, I fit some of the loose, disjointed pieces together into one unified piece. Like a puzzle, there are certain pieces that just belong together. Everything is done with an intention.”
The first few crosses were completely done by hand. Christopher did not use a table saw or nail gun, and they were made with salvaged barn wood and slotted screws from a home built nearly 110 years ago. All of the crosses have been uniquely different pieces that somehow come out of an inspiration Christopher cannot fully explain. Some have metal in them, and some do not. Some are made up of different kinds of woods. He crafted a cross with a horseshoe on it for his father-in-law, who has a special love for horses.
“I feel as though I have been guided to create, and have always done so in some fashion. The crosses are a form of faithful expression. They have meaning to me and there is a part of me in each and every one,” Christopher said. “I could use ‘passion,’ but I think that might be a word that’s overused. It is a true joy to express myself, and it is a blessing to me that others appreciate the crosses as much as I do.”
Christopher has handcrafted more than 20 crosses. Many of those who know him have asked if the handy work might not turn out to be more than an avocation that takes place in a relatively small workspace near 180th and Harney Streets. “I call it ‘my space.’ It’s not an art studio – that’s for sure – although I’d love to have something like that someday,” Christopher said. Tacy has been so gracious in allowing my space, because it often spills over to more area than I intend it to. It’s surely not easy living with all of the sawdust, metal shavings and noise, but despite those things, she continually inspires and encourages me. I am surely blessed.
“I will continue to create if it feels like a joy and as long as I feel the spirit running through me to do it. It is spiritual, absolutely, for me. I feel privileged to do it, and oddly enough, I get emotional when others see the beauty and it touches them in ways I may never know. It means a lot to me to know something I have created finds a home and has a meaning to someone else.”
Asked if the cross-making will bloom into a business, Christopher said: “The bottom line is that I am encouraged by the fact that people find meaning in the crosses. They are all such personal things. I’d be happy to see them in boutiques or specialty design and decor spaces, but until then I will continue to sell them on my own.
“It is my hope that the crosses will bring joy to those who receive them for years to come and perhaps be a small part of their own expression of faith. Even with the crosses that have not been made for any specific person, I say a prayer over them that the recipient finds peace and comfort whenever they see it. Maybe through the power of God, they will be an instrument that somehow has an impact, as small as it may be, on someone’s life.”