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If you search the Web for “Christian artists,” most of what comes up relates to Christian musicians.

But some “Christian artists” work in media besides music. Some make short films. Some take photographs. Still others paint and draw. Many are a bit reclusive by nature of what they do.

“They work alone,” says artist Stephen Sawyer. “They paint alone.”

That’s why Sawyer, an internationally recognized artist and owner of ART for GOD in Versailles, Ky., created the National Christian Art Competition in 2004. It drew scores of entries and sparked successive contests.

Renamed the International Christian Art Competition, 2009 marks the fourth year of the contest, which now offers $3,500 in cash awards in eight categories: painting/drawing; jewelry; song; short film; sculpture; photography; digitally enhanced photography; and mixed media.

“Artists need somebody that stands up for them, represents them and tries to get them the attention they deserve,” said Sawyer, whose dozens of images of Jesus—in a boxing ring, with a tattoo, holding a lamb, seated at a table with children—have become known the world over.

“Not all are as vocal or visible as I am,” he said. “Some of them are very shy, which is a beautiful quality, but you still need somebody who says, ‘You need to look at this person’s art.’ And that’s me.”

Sawyer didn’t have such help when he committed to a life of “art for God” in 1975. In fact, his business didn’t materialize until 20 years later.

“It seemed like the nicest thing I could do was to do it for other people,” he said of the ICAC. The previous contests have resulted in work for some entrants, and all have gotten attention via the competitions’ Web sites, designed by Sawyer’s son, Andon.

“Neighbors need to know that right next door is a talented artist,” said Sawyer. “Churches need to know they have talented members.”

This year’s competition is sponsored by Artbeat of America, an artist licensing agency owned by Carla and Rick Tocquigny. The Tocquignys have been working with artists for more than 20 years.

“They know most everybody that does most anything,” said Sawyer, who met Rick Tocquiny at a Christian Booksellers Association meeting. The Tocquinys later brokered a deal for several ART for GOD images to appear in a line of greeting cards.

The Tocquinys will serve as judges, along with Sawyer and his wife, Cindy, and Martin Powell, a 2007 ICAC winner in the music category.

The Tocquinys, through the competition, will find artists they would like to represent and offer them a contract.

Sawyer has seen hundreds upon hundreds of art pieces come in (and hundreds are still available for viewing), but ask him to recall one, and images run through his mind.

Like a fourth-place winner from last year: “Three Nails,” by Noralf Husby from Finland. Sawyer said Husby’s “composition was elegant in its simplicity.”

In his watercolor of the three nails from Jesus’ cross, Husby “wondered if the person who made the nails knew what they were going to be used for,” said Sawyer.

“I’d never wondered about that,” he continued. “Anytime someone gives me the opportunity to look at something anew, I appreciate that.”

“When we make decisions about art,” said Sawyer, “we judge on technique and content.” Technique has to do with ability to work in the chosen medium, whereas content has more to do with the artist’s statement, which entrants are encouraged to submit. Why did they create this particular artwork? What’s the purpose?

The stories behind the art can be heart-rending as well as inspiring.

Sawyer recalled Silvina Day from Acton, Calif., who placed in the art competition two years in a row. In 2004, her painting “Garments of Praise” won second place. She wrote in her statement that the painting—showing a kneeling woman draped in fabric, her arms lifted to heaven—came about after years of mourning the death of her seven-year-old son who was killed in a car accident.

“She turned all the sorrow and bitterness into an expression of gratitude to God,” said Sawyer. Artists’ statements, including reactions from judges and comments from viewers, are posted on the competition sites, making them a treasure of creative work and spiritual nudging.

“Some people really dig deep,” said Sawyer of the artists, “and that’s one of the things we really encourage.”

Cliff Vaughn is managing editor of

The deadline for submissions is Feb. 28. Artists must be 16 or older. Art may be submitted via postal mail or online. Get more details at

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