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Sam Butcher: A Life Filled With Precious Moments ~ Around The Frame

On May 20, Samuel “Sam” Butcher, the creator of Precious Moments died. Butcher loved to draw from a young age, and he often drew scenes inspired by his Christian faith. Some of his fondest memories are of his grandmother telling him Bible stories. He always had a deep interest in spiritual things and even from his early childhood, he painted scenes from the Bible. During his school years, he studied hard and won awards, but all of that was not enough to fill the emptiness and lack of fulfillment he felt inside.

A child’s quilt made from a Precious Moments fabric panel.

In 1959 Butcher married his high school friend Katie Cushman. In 1962 they welcomed their first son Jon and Philip, Tammy, Debbie, and Timothy followed. In 1969 they adopted their son Don and in 1974 their daughter Heather.

Sam’s life changed one night in a country church, where he heard the good news of salvation. He responded to the invitation and asked Jesus to come into his heart. Since that night, he decided to only use his talent for the Lord.

He began drawing professionally for the children’s ministry Child Evangelism Fellowship. Among other tasks, Butcher told bible stories on the CEF television show, “The Treehouse Club,” illustrating as he spun tales. It was at CEF that he met his future business partner, Bill Biel. In 1974, the two co-founded Jonathan & David, named after the biblical figures. Their early offerings included flannel boards for Sunday schools, buttons, and greeting cards featuring children drawn in Butcher’s signature style. That style would become wildly popular. The children Butcher drew had large, teardrop-shaped eyes that gave them an emotional and sentimental appeal. Precious Moments artwork was introduced to the public in 1975 on inspirational greeting cards and posters, and in 1978 the first Precious Moments figurines were unveiled. The figurines quickly found an audience that was eager to buy and display the Christian-themed art. Thousands of designs have now been produced, many designed by Butcher, often inspired by his children.

The success of what he created did not satisfy Butcher. He was a philanthropist at heart. He founded the Samuel J. Butcher Foundation and Precious Moments, Inc. In 1989, he completed the construction of the Precious Moments Chapel on the south side of Carthage, Missouri. Millions of visitors have come to admire his work and share his faith. He also built a wedding chapel and reception area on the property. He wanted to build a bell tower to complement the chapel but put the plans on hold. He privately funded the purchase of land on an island in Aklan and built a resort called Sampaguita Gardens. Through this resort, Butcher provided employment and training opportunities for people from Aklan and students from other provinces in Western Visayas.

As Precious Moments became more successful, Butcher began to spend more time at his resort in the Philippines. At the height of his popularity, Butcher fell ill, and his children brought him back to the States, where he was diagnosed with bipolar and after treatment he returned to the Philippines. While back in the Philippines, his 27-year-old son Phillip was killed by a drunk driver in 1991. Butcher was filled with grief and dealt with it by returning to art. He worked on paintings in what is now called Phillip’s Room at the Chapel where visitors learn about Phillip’s life and share their own personal stories in the guest books. In this room, people know death of loved ones is the equalizer of all, in which the joy of life and the pain of loss escapes no one.

Tragedy struck the family a second time in 2012 when son Tim, a talented musician, artist, scholar, and inspiration for many Precious Moments pieces died in his sleep at the age of 45. Butcher felt the new pain sharply, but as before he had a divine revelation, he would also honor the life of Tim by building his long-awaited bell tower. Breaking ground in 2014, the bell tower slowly grew to completion and is called “Timmy’s Tower” in his memory. It took Butcher almost a year to accept and understand that Timmy in his death could reach more people with encouragement and love; much in the same way he did during his life on earth, but on a much larger scale. Timmy’s Room is full of his childhood artwork, mementos, and family photographs. In the belltower there is a poem written by his father:

The sad loss of a loved one Can be so hard at times I understand because I lost Two precious sons of mine
I lost my way and wandered In a valley of despair Because my heavy burden Was too much for me to bear
But then I heard a still small voice So warm and tender It was the voice of Him, who said I’m here, just trust in me.
Then all at once, I felt a touch It was the hand of God So gentle, warm and soothing Like a balm in Gilead
We need not be afraid my friend When sorrow comes because The Lord will bless us and keep us By the power of His love.

~ Samuel J Butcher, 10-12-15

Rest in His Peace Samuel Butcher: Your earthly journey done; your crown of glory won!

Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts. If you have a quilt or other textile you’d like to share, contact her at 260-515-9446 or bornagainquilts@frontier.com.

Lois Levihn

She is the author of the "Around the Frame" quilting column. She is a graduate of Wayne HS. Quilts have always been important to her, she loves the stories surrounding them, the techniques used in making them, & restoring them. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer