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Painter envisions a jingoistic Jesus

What would Jesus do? Artist Joe Seward thinks he'd wear red, white and blue - and a bald eagle on his chest.

By AMBER MOBLEY
Published February 17, 2006


TOWN 'N COUNTRY - Joe Seward admits that he's "an unusual fellow." But he'd have to be to come up with his creation - a depiction of Jesus garbed in red, white and blue with a bald eagle emblazoned on his chest.

Seward calls it Patriotic Jesus.

The 83-year-old World War II veteran thought it up after watching the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on TV.

Faith and patriotism, he thought, is what this country needs.

"Painting Patriotic Jesus was all I could do," he said.

Having almost finished an oil painting of Jesus giving a blessing, Seward erased Jesus' arms with gasoline and painted him wrapped in red, white and blue.

Patriotic Jesus was born.

While the image began on canvas more than four years ago, Seward hopes to see it all over the nation - maybe even the world - before he dies.

"Patriotic Jesus could be used on pendants, stickers, billboards, you name it," said Seward, who has copyrighted his creation. With the right marketing, he says, sales could help "the poor and the needy."

But his mass marketing plan hasn't gone very far.

"I think I haven't had anyone try to help me promote it because it's combining church and state," he said.

Seward refuses to give up and continues promoting his creation by himself. The amateur artist has given away more than 2,000 Patriotic Jesus buttons since first creating the country-loving Christ.

He sent a few to President George W. Bush, former President Jimmy Carter and talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.

Bush and Winfrey didn't reply.

He got a thank-you note from Carter.

Seward has T-shirts too, but he says the colors aren't quite right enough for him to market them.

The concept is already hard enough to sell without having shoddy prototypes, said Seward. "So the T-shirts have to be right." The background should be light blue - not purple like it is on some of the shirts; the shroud, a rich red and dark blue; the eagle's head white and his beak a deep shade of yellow because "that's how I painted it," said Seward.

Patriotic Jesus is one of Seward's many paintings. Bouquets of roses, a portrait of President John F. Kennedy, seascapes and sunsets cover the walls of his one-bedroom modular home at Rocky Creek Village.

"I'm not Rembrandt, and I'm not Vincent van Gogh," said Seward, who started painting in 1971. "I like to say I'm "Vincent van Joe.' "

Unlucky in finding a promoter, Seward's health is starting to fail too. He uses a yardstick to steady his hand as he paints. Arthritis, diabetes and failing eyesight often hamper him.

"I'm not an artist," said Seward. "I just paint."

Still, Seward hopes selling some of his other paintings will finance making more Patriotic Jesus paraphernalia until he finds a promoter.

He has given away almost all his Patriotic Jesus buttons and can't afford to make more or print more shirts.

"I can't let go of this," said Seward. "You know, everybody has dreams, and this is my dream."

Plus, he's seen tougher times.

Born on Christmas Day in 1922, Seward lived through the Great Depression. With his father unable to find work in Boston, the five-child family moved to Newfoundland, where they called a small fishing village home.

"We had nothing," said Seward.

Seward would later find out that his father never filed for citizenship while the family lived in the States. They couldn't come back.

"I was mad at my father all my life for that," he said. "We lost the American dream."

World War II became Seward's way out of abject poverty.

He was a seaman in Canada's merchant navy.

Discharged from the military in 1945, Seward became a U.S. citizen a year later, settled in Cape Cod and later moved to various cities in Michigan to raise his family and work at a factory and later a heating company.

Raised Episcopalian, Seward credits God's grace for his surviving so much. Promoting Patriotic Jesus is like his testimony.

"I came from nothing, I was uneducated and I've done all right," he said. "But it's not about me. It's about Jesus."

Amber Mobley can be reached at 813 269-5311 or amobley@sptimes.com