A Palm Sunday Story for Young People: Copying the Famous

         by Bill Peddie

When we think of famous people we sometimes forget about the way they got started in life. This morning ( because it is Palm Sunday) I thought it might be interesting to choose someone who was talented and famous whose life was changed by a donkey.

This fellow was called Francis Chantrey and I believe some of his mates called him Frank. He lived quite a long time ago in the country in England and when he was growing up he found it was quite tough. His father worked on a farm – and I guess Frank started off thinking he was going to be a farmer, but when he was twelve, his father died and his mother couldn’t afford to stay on at the farm. Frank left school and got a job working for a grocer. One of his jobs was delivering milk with a donkey cart. It was a bit boring but at least he got out and saw the countryside

The thing that made Frank different was that he really noticed things and was quite good at painting because he noticed things that other people didn’t see..

One day when he was delivering milk with the donkey cart down in the village he saw some wooden carvings in a shop window. The shop was owned by a man who did wooden carvings for churches and fancy houses. Because Frank had actually tried carving by using his pocket knife to turn a piece of wood into a rather cheeky version of his school master’s head, he got quite excited about these carvings in the shop and decided he would ask if he could change jobs and start working for the carver as an apprentice.

He found he was good at this. He actually invented his own way of doing carvings of people. What he would do is make two paintings of a person’s head – one from the front and one from the side, then make a clay model – and from there a carving. The shop owner was most impressed and started to show the carvings and painting to his friends.

One of these mates was an important artist from London and he was so impressed with Frank’s pictures he told Frank he should go to London and get a place in the Royal Academy – which was the top art school in the whole of England.

Once Frank was at the Royal Academy there was no stopping him. His pictures of people were so good that important people would pay for him to do their portraits. From there he started to make wonderful statues – even one of the King (King George IV).

Well, from then on, he got as much work as he wanted and very many portraits and statues were made. Later when he was given a knighthood and became Sir Francis Chantrey, I heard someone asked him what was the secret to his success.

“Nothing really” he said. “I simply copied the great”. And what is more Francis Chantrey wasn’t just in it for himself. Perhaps remembering his own humble beginnings, he set up a trust to help young artists and sculptors get started.

When you stop to think about it this may be an important idea. When the Black Caps left to go to Melbourne to play Australia in the final game for the championship there were lots of people to clap and cheer them on their way at the airport. However, the serious club cricketers would be doing something more. They would have been studying all the games on TV and checking the way the Black Caps play – the way they hit the ball, the way they field or bowl – and the serious cricketers will be not just cheering but actually copying the great. I wonder if the serious ones will also notice the newspaper photo that shows Grant Elliot helping one of his opponents off the ground. The truly great have great values as well as great ability.

When someone important – like Jesus – came riding into town on a donkey – I guess there were some there saying to themselves: here comes Jesus – let’s shout and clap for him. I think the ones who are serious about following him would be saying something different – maybe: “Well there comes Jesus – what makes him the way he is? How can we copy him?”

The secret to Francis Chantrey was that he copied the great. Perhaps we might do the same with Jesus.

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