DEXTER -- "To bring glory to God and to help people" is all the benefit Steve Easterwood wants from the talent and love for art God gave him. Now his paintings help support missions.
The pastor at First Baptist Church in Dexter has played with art forms since childhood. "I think since I could pick up a pencil," he said. Like a lot of kids, he added, he drew cartoons, monsters and all the things boys were interested in.
But the interest grew stronger with his parents' encouragement, especially that of him mom who "bragged a lot" and provided the art supplies he needed.
His skill with the pencil grew. "I progressed to animal pictures in graphite," he said. But he attributes his turn to serious art in oils to his mentor, Dave Bennett. "Dave is a great painter and he took me under his wing," Easterwood said.
In 2000, Bennett, a "plein air" or outdoor painter, asked Easterwood if he had ever tried the form. Then Bennett took the budding artist out to paint a scene. "I did the worst painting in the history of the world," Easterwood quipped.
But Bennett, a former Missouri Baptist Convention evangelism director and chair of the Southwest Baptist University's evangelism department, recognized the pastor's talent and encouraged him. Two weeks later, he took Easterwood to a workshop out West.
"I probably would never have done it [seriously pursue art in oils] if he hadn't worked with me, if he hadn't recognized I could do it," the Dexter pastor emphasized. Now he limits himself to oil painting because he wants "to be really good at one thing."
Easterwood paints "what inspires me," he said. "That usually has to do with the Lord."
And it's a primary reason he loves to paint landscapes, particularly of scenes in Colorado and Wyoming. Landscapes, he said, "are playgrounds for people." When confronted with a breathtaking view, he appeals to God for help.
"He is the God of the great artist," Easterwood said. "When he sends a great sunset, I tell him that I don't have the colors to [paint] that."
He also enjoys painting biblical scenes, and each year he paints one to appear on the Christmas card he shares with family and friends.
The artist is deeply "interested in people, interested in their stories...and paintings tell stories." His interest in people and the fact that others had invested in him have led him to offer art lessons.
The stories he shares, particularly those that reflect the Lord, are his focus. "I want to lead people to the Lord. Any painting that will do that or that will tell God's story...that painting becomes a vehicle for communicating the gospel," he said.
The close-knit artist family has provided many opportunities to share the gospel verbally, as well. He attends several shows and events each year, and over the years, he has developed strong friendships. "I have a real love for the artists," he said. "I've been able to have ongoing discussions about God with many of them."
Bennett also reaches out to fellow artists, Easterwood explained. The mentor, who is dealing with a debilitating disease, recently preached about preparing for death. The pair plans to duplicate a CD of the sermon and send it to all their artist friends, Easterwood explained.
The pastor has discovered additional ways in which his art can benefit people, even beyond its aesthetic qualities. While on a mission trip to Romania last year, he met a little girl who captured his heart. Her father explained how difficult providing for the family had become.
Looking for a way to assist, Easterwood is completing a painting that will be auctioned, with the proceeds to benefit that family. The experience led him to consider other ways in which his painting could be used for missions and ministry.
Recently, First Baptist Church in California commissioned an Easterwood painting to honor a retiring pastor in Puerto Rico. The California congregation had a long-term partnership with Eduardo Soto Padin and his church in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. As part of a mission celebration April 15, First Baptist presented the painting to Soto Padin at a retirement party in his honor.
"The church responded so positively that we are running 200 limited-edition prints with the proceeds going to fund mission work," Easterwood said. "A pretty cool idea."
Easterwood's work is available at The Metro Art Gallery in Dexter, MacCreed's Art Gallery in Lebanon and Denali Dreams Gallery in Monett, or online at steveeasterwood.com.