Christopher Barnhardt is a well-known lifelong resident on Gold Hill Road in Concord. He and his wife, Cindy, reside on the land his great-grandfather, George Washington Barnhardt, purchased after he found gold during the California gold rush in 1849. The Barnhardt family has been there ever since.
Barnhardt himself is a bit of a Renaissance man who calls himself a simple country boy with many talents: brick laying, oil painting, blacksmithing and sculpting. He has made his living for 20 years as a taxidermist. In 2000, he was commissioned to do a wildebeest for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
"Growing up as a young kid, I always hunted," Barnhardt said. In 1989, he went to Montgomery Community College and took a course in taxidermy. "I don't do much for the public; my clients are more wild- and big-game hunters," he said. He specializes in African and exotic animals and has been hunting in New Zealand and Africa.
Barnhardt has taken on another interest, along with learning to be a blacksmith and building a shop: clay.
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Sculpting is a passion he has enjoyed for the last eight years. "I got started when I used to sculpt for a company that handled taxidermy supplies. We would take the skeletons and put them together and sculpt animals, then make the molds to make the mannequins to put the skins over," Barnhardt said.
"I did that for about four years and then came back to taxidermy. I also learned to oil paint at that time, and I did sell paintings, but I got bored, so I went to doing sculpting and the 3D artwork."
The sculptures all start in clay form, Barnhardt says. "I do my own mold making and pouring, it's known as cold-cast bronze. It's poured out of casting resin, but it's done in a bronze patina, and the pieces themselves have no metal. I can do metal, but I am inspired by Michelangelo and have studied him all my life. He was a true artist from start to finish. Metal requires the work be sent off to a foundry to let someone else finish it. I wanted to do it all myself."
Barnhardt started doing small figurines about eight years ago and has done a few commission jobs, including a piece for the retirement plaques for Kannapolis Police Department retirees in 2005-06.
Currently, he is working on a series featuring the disciples of Jesus. "This is my way of sharing the Gospel through sculpture," he said. "I become inspired by the Bible and read it quite a bit, and I will read something and actually have a dream about it. I know the Lord puts that in my head because there are ideas there that I can't stop thinking about. It's my testimony."
His piece on Moses was proof of that, he said. "I was reading Exodus and trying to do the sculpture on my own. For three days I was frustrated and I couldn't get it right. I kept fighting it and finally tore the entire thing apart. After that, the Lord and I had a long talk," Barnhardt laughed. "The next day I went into my shop, and in about three or four hours, the entire thing was finished. It was like I had no control over my hands. They were doing the work and I couldn't stop them."
He wants his sculptures to help people visualize the Gospel. "If I can take a sculpture and set it in front of a person and explain to them what is going on and they go back to the Bible and read the story and see it, I have done my job," he said.
One of the most important things he wants to get across is to let young people know that all talents are gifts and should not be wasted.
"The Lord has given me all these talents, but I didn't learn it overnight. If you learn something and do not share your talents," he said, "you can have that taken away before you open your eyes the next morning."
When asked what he will do next, he said, "The Lord will let me know what to do, I am not going to rush anything."