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Easter tribute also carved a bond between father and son
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Jesus, right, as he is depicted in the Styrofoam display of The Last Supper. - photo by Tom Reed

DAWSONVILLE — On an unassuming curvy road running alongside Toto Creek in Dawson County sits a life-size replica of The Last Supper.

The Styrofoam figures quietly sit with plates of grapes set before them. Their robes are painted in reds and blues, handmade carvings representing folds of fabric or facial expressions.

And then there’s the eyes — piercing stares at each other and at anyone watching their silent meal.

Nearby, you can catch Moses with the burning bush, who comes out to visit with Jacob’s Ladder during Christmas.

The life-size figures sit next to the home of Mildred Smith and were sculpted from large blocks of Styrofoam nearly 20 years ago by her husband and son, Kenneth and Stanley Smith. In some cases, some of the disciples were carved from just one large piece of Styrofoam. Twice a year — Easter and Christmas — the family resurrects the figures to help celebrate the reason for the season. During the rest of the year, The Last Supper is covered by sheets to keep it protected from the weather.

The source of the carvings? The large Styrofoam pieces you put under docks, said Mildred.

"They took saws, electric knives ... we got the Bible and turned to the picture and he kept it opened and looked at it."

The idea came from Kenneth in the early 1990s; he passed away in 1999. But it was a father-son project, said his son Stanley.

"We just bought the big chunks of Styrofoam and I just proceeded to carve out the figures from the blocks of Styrofoam," Stanley said. "Did it with a chainsaw and a good, sharp butcher knife."

Stanley, who now lives in Covington, works as a taxidermist. His realistic eyes, usually reserved for his profession, add a spark of life to the Styrofoam figures. Even so, he still credits his dad with the concept.

"It was Daddy’s (idea); he had never seen any and he just had enough confidence in me," Stanley said. "He had the idea and wanted to see if we could do it. I did The Last Supper first and then we went straight into Moses."

Mildred said the process took nearly the entire summer but said she was happy with the artwork. She used to know which disciple was which, but the names that were placed in a frame have faded over the years since the figures sit outside.

"We looked them up in the Bible and put them in a frame, but over the years they faded out," she said. "All I know is that this one is Judas with the money bag, and then the one in the middle is Jesus."

When Kenneth was still alive he would go to the store and buy loaves of bread to place on the table, which includes plates and glasses for all 12 disciples and Jesus.

At night, Mildred lights up the carvings — which makes the eyes stand out.

"When I’ve got the lights on ‘em they shine," she said.

Stanley has been a taxidermist since 1975 and said he hasn’t seen any other Last Supper displays in a front yard —well, at least, none other than the replica he made of his original piece.

"I did do one other copy — there’s two of them in the world, only two exactly like that," he said. "A man commissioned me to make him one for a charge, and I made him an exact copy of this and it’s some where over in Oakwood ... I’ve never seen it, though."

Stanley said it takes an artist to do sculpture work, and he was happy with the result.

"Those figurines are just one of the things that I’ve done through the years," he said.

And The Last Supper and Moses are just a sample of what the Smiths decorate with during Christmas — although the items aren’t quite as elaborate as they used to be.

"Through the years we used to really put on a big thing at Mama’s," Stanley said. "We had two acres (of) probably almost anything you can think of, and you could park up and down the roads and we would see so many people in the yard taking pictures with their kids.

"We used to have the biggest time."

Mildred recalled family members dressing up as Santa, and even playing pranks on each other.

"We would light up every year and we’d play Santa Claus and give out candy. ... We’ve had some real good times," she said. "We’d be out and (Stanley) would take the end (disciple) out and sit in there, and then people would come and he would wave at them."

The traffic to the display required extra signs, too, she said.

"When we first started, the road company had to put signs up because there was so much doggone traffic," Mildred said. "We’d get down there and give out candy and we played music. We burned up about three or four stereos."

These days, since Kenneth isn’t around, the holiday displays aren’t quite as big. But Mildred said she doesn’t spend the holidays alone.

On Easter Sunday, just like Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, she will welcome her four children, 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren to her home after attending worship service next door at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.

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