A new statue of Billy Graham for the U.S. Capitol is one step closer to creation after a North Carolina committee unanimously approved a clay model on Wednesday.
“I like that it’s simple and my father has an open Bible in his hand—that’s what his life was all about,” Franklin Graham said. “I like that they have his eyes recessed. It looks like he’s staring at you, sharing the Bible with his eyes open. The sculptor has done a remarkable job.”
While the Architect of the Capitol prohibits sharing photos of the model before the statue is finished, a detailed description from Mr. Graham’s executive assistant paints a compelling picture of what will soon be a larger-than-life likeness of the evangelist.
“It’s the most magnificent representation of Mr. Graham,” said Dr. David Bruce, one of the seven North Carolina Statuary Hall Committee members who got to see the two-foot-tall clay model up close. “He’s leaning forward, almost standing on his toes but not quite, leading with his left foot, and he’s in a preaching mode but it’s an inviting mode. He is compelling people to the truth.”
The model was created by Chas Fagan, who revealed his work at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) headquarters in Charlotte. Fagan is an accomplished Charlotte-based artist who created the statue of Ronald Reagan currently on display inside the Capitol.
The clay model of Billy Graham depicts him in the prime of his preaching days, holding a well-worn open Bible in his left hand. His right hand is reaching out, palm up, towards the Bible.
“It makes a statement the moment you see it,” Dr. Bruce said. “You know he’s a preacher of the Gospel.”
Two features of the model that stood out to Dr. Bruce were the hands and the eyes.
“[Fagan] captured the warmth of Mr. Graham’s eyes,” Dr. Bruce said.
And he would know, after serving the evangelist for more than 20 years at Mr. Graham’s Montreat, North Carolina, office as well as his home. Dr. Bruce’s wife, Kerri, served as Mrs. Ruth Bell Graham’s assistant. The two couples shared a close friendship that lasted until the Grahams went home to be with Jesus (Mrs. Graham in 2007 and Mr. Graham in 2018).
As debates over American statues rage across the country, Dr. Bruce and the rest of the Statuary Hall Committee believe North Carolina lawmakers made a wise choice when they named Billy Graham the Tarheel State’s “Favorite Son” in 2015—a decision that carved the path to the U.S. Capitol.
“In the history of this state, there’s probably been no one who has been more well known around the world than Mr. Graham,” Dr. Bruce said. Well known, he added, not only for preaching but for his humility, his compassion and a personal code of ethics that was above reproach.
The man who became “Pastor to Presidents” and “Evangelist to the World” had humble beginnings on a Charlotte dairy farm, where he was born in 1918. By the end of his earthly life at age 99, Mr. Graham had preached the Good News of Jesus Christ to some 215 million people around the world.
“America’s Pastor” was also known for counseling royals and presidents and for bringing words of comfort and hope to the American people during dark days, from the Oklahoma City bombing to September 11th.
A bipartisan congressional committee in Washington that oversees the Capitol statues will now decide whether to approve the current model. The role of that committee is typically to make sure statues meet the requirements set forth by the Architect of the Capitol, not to determine which individuals should be honored by their home states. If all goes well, the new statue could be installed next year.
What would Billy Graham think about all of this?
“He would not understand it fully, just because of his humble nature,” Dr. Bruce said. “But I think he would understand the way this has been captured, that it is an invitation to Christ. The compelling part of this is the invitation, as though he’s saying, ‘Come and see.'”