A Biblically themed watercolor and the work of artist Paul Turnbaugh

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

I love art; always have. No, I’m not an artist in terms of design and visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpting) by any stretch, though as a kid I was told I had some sort of “innate talent” in those interrelated disciplines. I do however have a discriminating eye. Some say I’m too “critical” when it comes to art. But I know what is good, and not everything deemed art, is.

Paul Turnbaugh’s work is, and objectively so, which brings me to my latest acquisition, “LUKE ENTERING JERUSALEM.”

Turnbaugh’s painting, a watercolor in fact, is to me the perfect Christmas piece as the Gospel of Luke begins with the Christmas story in chapters one and two wherein we read of the shepherds and the angels and the birth of Christ (the often paralleled story of the magi and the star of Bethlehem is only found in the Gospel of Matthew).

Luke was a physician by profession, a Greek, a close companion of the Apostle Paul, and the only known Gentile author in the New Testament, though some scholars say Luke was a Hellenic Jew. We know Luke also wrote the book of Acts, and we’re not sure who penned the book of Hebrews (possibly Paul, maybe Barnabas). At any rate, Luke was as Turnbaugh says, “the reporter of his day.”

Indeed, Luke chronicles the life of Jesus as related to him by Paul and others in old school journalistic fashion from the birth of Christ – yes, the exact version recited by Linus in a Charlie Brown Christmas – through Jesus’ ministry, teaching, miracles, parables, His arrest, torture, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.
 

Turnbaugh, who holds a degree in fine arts from the California College of the Arts, painted “Luke entering Jerusalem” for the internationally recognized Christian ministry, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, specifically one of their publications. “I believe it was the cover for THE LUKE REPORTS, a series of CD recordings with actors and sound effects – much like old time radio shows – for Focus on the Family,” he says. “That was about 20 years ago. It’s still one of my favorites because I love using shadows and light to tell a story.”

An Illinois native, Turnbaugh has drawn, painted, and otherwise illustrated for America’s top advertising agencies, publishers, and multinational corporations, everyone from General Motors, to Ford to John Deere, Chiquita, Harley Davidson, Clorox, Dean Foods, and hundreds of others. 

When he’s not professionally illustrating, Turnbaugh paints the things he loves like rural
America and wildlife. His birds and waterfowl, by the way, are phenomenal.

When Turnbaugh’s son Elliott, a U.S. Army infantry soldier, deployed to Afghanistan early in the war, Turnbaugh began creating art with a patriotic military theme, which makes the Luke piece all the more special to me in a personal sense. Bringing it even closer to home, I find myself this Advent season having to commit to memory some Scripture-based bits of narrative from Luke 2 for a Christmas show in which I’m performing here in Columbia (that’s another story). Yes, everything is connected. Even more so, Turnbaugh wrote 1/1 on the bottom of my print of “Luke entering Jerusalem” meaning it is only available for one printing. It’s “one of a kind,” Turnbaugh says.

“I’m back into watercolors,” Turnbaugh posted online back in 2018. “I had forgotten how
much fun they can be! I always say, ‘You don’t master watercolors, you reach an agreement.’”

Of Luke entering Jerusalem, Turnbaugh added: “Flying reindeer, Santa, elves, trees with gifts under them, that’s all cool. The real celebration of Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. We wouldn’t be celebrating His birthday if His life hadn’t changed the world. As a result, we have the Gospel of Luke.”

As he often reflects in his art, Turnbaugh enjoys hunting, fishing, and all things outdoors. He resides in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, with his wife Thérèse and their dogs June and Oscar Feldman.

– Columbia writer W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a New York Times bestselling editor.