June 21, 2007

My visit to the Precious Moments er., place

As promised.

As I noted in my travel post, we stopped briefly at the Precious Moments Park and Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. I have heard of this place for years, and many of my friends and family have collected these little figurines over the years.

So this time through, we had a little extra time and decided to stop. I confess that I stopped with a bit of an attitude and was quite prepared to mock. Not openly, of course, but pictured myself grinning at the wrong moment. Instead, I just found myself feeling a little weirded out. Here are some pictures.

Fountain outside the visitors center.

As you leave the visitors center, you wind down a path toward the chapel. The area around the chapel reminds me of an estate with statue lined paths and manicured landscaping. There is a smaller fountain near the gate for the chapel.

Once you turn there, you see the chapel. Or "chapel" as it isn't really a working chapel. Or not that I know of. As my friend Mary pointed out, the website says that the chapel was modeled after the Sistine Chapel.

I used quotes around the chapel not to be snide, but because it is a really weird place. The interior of the chapel is lined with plate glass (all precious moments, naturally). But the front--where the altar would be, is a mural of Precious Moments stuff. I didn't take a picture (I really was trying to be respectful) but here is one from their website.

Just strikes me as odd. The center of the chapel is a worship of this guy and his little figures. There is a little scene of Jesus talking to people, but it is very small and really has to be pointed out.

Around the chapel are smaller rooms and hallways lined with more of the stuff. SOF found one where the tax collecter figure was labeled the IRS. I found a couple of little "Indians." Heard of them, but never seen them.

and this one

Just stereotyped ideas of Native peoples. Certainly not new or unique to this chapel, but still... What is the point?

As you might also suspect, there were numerous American icons portrayed. One that just struck me as odd was this one in a side case in a side room in the chapel.

As Mary noted, the figures are infantalizing. One thing to have small little tear shaped children shaped figurines, but when those tear chaped infants are mining for coal, or dressed in camo, it starts to get creepy. In fact, that particular one struck me as a horrific figure, rather than tribute to our military. Who turns an infant into a soldier?

After viewing a few hundred of the little things, we both felt a sense of sadness, as if these figurines were an expression of deep loss. I am sure that those who collect them will disagree, but that was the ultimate sense that both of us carried away from the park.

While the little figurines are, well, what they are, and really depends on your taste in nicknacks, the bigger ones scattered through the park started to really weird me out. As we left the chapel, we walked around the back. I saw a little overlook called "Resurrection Cave," and walked over to check it out. Hard to see in this picture, but there was this really pretty grove and a cave in the distance. But the weird part was the figure sitting there next to the cave opening. I really have no idea what it was supposed to present or communicate. But it had the feel of Mickey Mouse or another Disney character in a very serious scene, and I had no idea what to do with it.

I certainly did not leave the park impressed with Precious Moments or the artist Samuel Butcher. Nor did I really feel like mocking those who visited. But I did feel a sense of sadness about the entire production. The purely commercial and consumerist tendency did not help. Complete with the little "turn a penny into a trinket" machines that we often see in tourist sites, the place was set up to sell. Not sure there is anything wrong with that. We all collect different things. I collect music and often buy t-shirts when I visit some place. Or I buy a beer mug or coffee cup.

But when it is coupled with the quasi-religious feeling of the park/chapel/museum/food court/gift shop, I find myself confused. What is the goal here? Does it present the message of Christianity through little teary eyed infants? Or by buying and collecting said figures? Or visiting a "chapel" just packed with them? What is the theology of this place? I believe that most who visit there think there is some theological meaning invested in these little statues and figurines, but I will be damned if I can figure out what that theology is. It seems to me that conservative evangelicals have incorporated consumerism pretty deeply into their concept of morality and so this kind of place is experienced as a way to express devotion or belief. If this place is some kind of destination for the religious faithful, doesn't that suggest a shallow theology?

Anyway. Thoughts?


steve s said...

I have never cared for them at all. My wife has a few of them, but they are in the basement. Sounds like a pretty bizarre place and I am comfortable with the idea that I will probably never visit.

I know a few people that collect them, but I wouldn't call them religious...more like religious lite. Most of the seriously religious people I know don't tend to collect religious 'art,' so I am not sure who PM is targeted to. I collect firearms, so I am certainly not one to criticize anyone's collection

JoeG said...

Everyone I know who collects Precious Moments happens to be a Catholic. Not sure if that is just because of my upbringing, but much of my family, including my mother, collected them, as did several of our church friends. Anyone else I knew who wasn't Catholic didn't own any. Coincidence?
Never quite saw the draw myself. But I'm not Catholic anymore either, so that could explain it. :)

Anonymous said...

I think part of the draw is that they're supposed to be "angelic," and Catholics are the ones who identify with the angels the most. I grew up a Catholic in Joplin, so I made my required pilgrimage to see that creepy PM theme park church when I was little. Needless to say, I came out crying and I had nightmares for weeks. Funny thing that I came across this right now, because a friend and I went on vacation last week to Eureka Springs, and we video taped a mockumentary the whole time. As we're driving past Carthage, he sees the Precious Moments sign and out of the blue says (on camera), "many of you didn't know that precious moments dolls actually come from aborted fetuses." he goes on to tell this whole story about it. grotesque, i know, but as soon as he said it, the already creepy dolls became downright horrifying to me, lol. the video is on youtube if you want to see it. http://www.youtube.com/chatte99 we have 3 videos on there and it's the featured one