Stephen Rountree

After years of digital illustration for mass media—newspapers and magazines, Stephen Rountree is returning to creating tangible art that people want to collect, display in their homes, and give as gifts.

I’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ since I was a youth. I’m the husband of Betsy and father of two beautiful daughters. At our home in the woods of rural eastern Virginia, we’re surrounded by red and white oaks and the occasional holly. Deer and turkeys share the woods with squirrels and owls as our nearest neighbors. I began my professional career as a cartoonist for a small weekly newspaper, working in blue pencil with pen, brush, and ink. For many years I worked full time as a visual journalist, illustrator, and designer. Virtually all of my work after the early 90s was on the computer and I spent most of my career designing and illustrating information graphics and digital illustrations for newspapers and national magazines. But I was drawn back to creating art that was tangible—something I could pick up and hold, smell, and feel. Work that would hang on a wall, not hide on a hard drive.

In the fall of 2013, I began to get a vision for a series of sculptures. The more I sketched, the more I sensed a desire to move from the drawing board to the workbench. I began to create pieces of art from old wood I had on hand. As I worked, I grew fascinated by the wonderful grains in old, weathered wood and sought out old barn wood, fencing, and shed planks found around my rural Virginia home and beyond. I had not created much traditional art in a long time. My first piece was inspired by the book of Proverbs, chapter 31 and my wife, Betsy, who lives out so much of that passage. I finished it Christmas eve, 2013. The piece is rough and crude looking, but it was a start. I believe all people are created in the image of God, the Maker of the universe. I see His hand in the beauty all around us and my art has become a vehicle through which I can express some truth of His word.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an ongoing series of artworks I call  Salvaged Messengers. For these pieces, I forego using new wood and instead only use wood that was destined for the the trash heap or the fire. That’s the “salvaged” part. Each sculpture is imprinted with a message from Scripture or an encouraging or challenging thought inspired by (or at least in agreement with) God’s Word. That’s the “messenger” part. Salvaged Messengers are also the drawings and sketches that are part of the creation process.

And at their heart, Salvaged Messengers are you and me, and anyone else who has a heart to receive and share the love that God has for His creatures. The heart of God’s message is always love. John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse of the entire Bible. “For God so loved …” is the way it begins. What did God love? “… the world …” it continues. How much did He love the world? So much that “… He gave His only Son …” And why would God do that? So “…that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” That message of hope and love is no doubt the reason why John 3:16 is the most frequently quoted verse in all of Scripture.

The most familiar hymn has a similar message. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” John Newton knew the truth about himself and all people. We are lost and headed for destruction — totally separated from God. But God loves us and desperately wants a relationship with us. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, He finds us and reclaims us for Himself. He salvages us and imprints on our hearts His message of love. No matter what you’re going through today, God loves you and desires to have you move closer to Him. He can and will salvage the parts of our lives we find to be the most hopeless. We are His works of art—in progress—but being sculpted and painted by the Master Himself. Salvaged Messengers—courtesy of a saving, loving God.

My hope is that through my art, people will experience a Philippians 4:8 moment, and find themselves thinking on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—and that they’ll find beauty and inspiration and meditate on God, who salvages us through Jesus Christ.