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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Artist Angela Johnson talks about her latest work sculpting Jesus and biblical figures at her home in Pleasant Grove Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Her work will be permanently displayed in the Thanksgiving Point "Light of the World Garden."

LEHI — A sculpture garden with images of Jesus Christ will expand to include 35 statues over the next year at Thanksgiving Point.

The “Light of the World” sculpture garden by Angela Johnson openedopened in 2011 with 15 bronze sculptures. When completed it will have 15 scenes — 14 from the Bible, and one LDS Church-inspired scene depicting Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

"Just recently a very significant donation came in from a wonderful person who had been watching over this endeavor and finally made the determination (that) 'I am going to give this significant donation with the stipulation that it be completed in a very condensed time frame,'" Johnson said.

The grand opening is planned for May 2016.

For thousands of years, artists throughout the world have created images of Jesus Christ.

"One of the most important elements is that I have loved him very personally and intimately since I was a little girl,” Johnson said, “so contemplating walking with him, visualize talking with him has been constantly on my mind and in my heart."

Johnson was a trained singer and a mother of four, when one day in her late 30s, she realized her vocal talents were not taking her where she wanted to be. She immediately turned to the art of sculpting and envisioned a garden with images of Jesus Christ. She never planned or trained to be a sculptor, but she is.

Thanksgiving Point's founder Karen Ashton embraced the idea.

Christ walking on water was the first and larger-than-life piece. “It Is I, Be Not Afraid" is a $300,000 piece that took more than four years to create, using $22,000 worth of clay. It took more than 200 panels to mold and reform the piece in bronze.

Although hair length and style of beard are part of Christ's image, Johnson did not want either to be the focus.

"I wanted a face that above all communicated divine attributes of the son of God: strength, compassion, mercy, grace (and) love,” she said. “That there has been something accomplished in sculpture, in 3-D art that makes (visitors) stop, take a breath and say, “Why do I feel that he is listening to me?'"

Many of the thousands of visitors who attended the "Light of the World" garden at Thanksgiving Point say they immediately experience a sense of peace, even awe, when they see the sculptures.

“He paid the price for me, yes,” said one visitor while wiping tears from his face.

While at the gardens last month, Johnson embraced Melissa Stone, whose baby daughter was killed in a car accident three years ago. She first came to the garden when she was healing from her injuries.

“Knowing that that's where my daughter is and that she is surrounded by him and his love,” Stone said, “is so comforting to know that one day I will be able to be there, too."

Although the art takes visitors back to scenes from Jesus Christ's life, that is only the beginning of what Johnson says she hopes people will discover here.

"While some people may focus on the historical aspect, what I focus on is how can we relate to the way our savior interacted with people at that time because that is exactly how he interacts with us today,” she said, “and I want people to feel that."

The Thanksgiving Point Gardens are at 3900 N. Garden Drive. For more information, visit thanksgivingpoint.org.

Contributing: Angie Denison

Email: [email protected]