Died: Sam Butcher, Artist Who Created Precious Moments

His porcelain figurines sold millions while he built a church inspired by the Sistine Chapel.

Sam Butcher sometimes struggled to explain why Precious Moments figurines, his signature artistic creation, became such a cultural phenomenon. Half a million people joined special collectors’ clubs to get them. The manufacturer released 25 to 40 new ones every year. And Butcher, an art school dropout, earned tens of millions of dollars in annual royalties.

“I’m still … trying to figure out what it’s all about,” he once said. “I’m just an artist. I just license my art.”

But if you asked the women and men who bought the porcelain statuettes—rosy-cheeked children with teardrop-shaped eyes that filled mantels, shelves, tables, and curio cabinets—they could tell you.

“They’re cute,” an Illinois woman explained to the Chicago Tribune. “And they have an inspirational title that has a lot of everyday meaning.”

A man in East Tennessee who collected more than 200 with his wife said he found the figurines irresistible. He always had to pick them up to read the titles on the bottom. One was called “God Loveth a Cheerful Giver,” and it was a little girl with a wagon full of puppies to give away. Another said “I Will Make You Fishers of Men,” and it was a boy with a pole and line, hook snagged in the waist of his smaller friend’s pants.

“I really like the little sayings,” the retired postal worker told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

A woman at a collectors’ club at a Lutheran church in Moline, Iowa, said the figurines were just “silly things” that nevertheless “grow on you,” but her friend, who started collecting Precious Moments pieces after she got her first as an anniversary …

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