Crafting souvenirs that point to the Creator


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, March 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Every year, millions of visitors enjoy our national parks and historic destinations. Even though most people snap hundreds of photographs, many still stop by the gift shop for something more tangible. Postcards, refrigerator magnets, posters—artwork to remember the trip by.

EICHER: And some of the most distinctive of that artwork available in those shops is by a Christian artist in Nashville, Tennessee.

WORLD reporter Paul Butler recently met him and has his story.

JOEL ANDERSON [OFF MIC TO ONE OF HIS ARTISTS]: I like where this is going. We might want to get a little more range of color here…

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: In a second floor studio in downtown Nashville, Joel Anderson checks in with his team of illustrators and designers. They’re sitting at large computer screens with digital drawing tablets on their desks. 

[JOEL ANDERSON WORKING WITH ARTISTS]

This morning, artist Aaron Johnson is working on a souvenir poster of California’s Muir Woods National Monument

The poster features a winding path through old-growth redwoods. Warm oranges, yellows, and browns fill the foreground, while cool shades of green fade into the background with beams of light weaving in and out through the trees. Joel offers some critique and lots of encouragement. 

[JOEL ANDERSON WORKING WITH ARTISTS]

Anderson graduated from Ringling School of Art & Design in 1986. He’s been in the commercial art business ever since. He began by doing projects for others: publishers, music labels, and manufacturing companies. But in 2007 he started the Anderson Design Group and began producing posters. One of his biggest clients is the National Park Service. 

Anderson says he’s always been inspired by the Golden Age of poster art.

JOEL ANDERSON: And this is an era when poster art was made to simplify and amplify a message or a concept. And when people see our stuff, often times they mistake it for a vintage poster that was done in the early 20’s, 30’s, or 40’s. Because we style our typography, our color palette, our rendering techniques after that.

Anderson’s interest in art began as a child.

JOEL ANDERSON: I can remember some bad illustrations in Sunday School—flannelgraphs and all that—and I was like: “I don’t think Jesus looked like that.” Or, just noticing how things were rendered or designed or laid out. I’ve always been interested in the visuals we see around us all the time.

For Anderson, creativity goes beyond personal giftedness. He says we all reflect the image of God when we imitate Him—when we take the things He’s made, and rearrange them into something beautiful. 

JOEL ANDERSON: I think we’re made in the image of our Creator and that’s what He does, and I think we glorify God when we do the same thing. 

Many Christian artists focus on religious or sentimental themes. Anderson says  painters like Thomas Kincade effectively evoke a longing for something lost—but he sees his own work as fulfilling a different purpose.  

JOEL ANDERSON: It’s like the bird feeder in my backyard. I keep it full of birdseed and all kinds of creatures eat and leave, and keep coming back. And I think that’s sort of my calling as an artist and creative person is to not only create visual art, but to create opportunity. Whether that’s economic opportunity, or opportunity to start conversations, or opportunity to just commemorate and enjoy life. That’s what our art does. 

That’s not to say Anderson doesn’t produce religious art. One large piece he did for his church presents the story of God in four panels: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. But Anderson believes faith should be more than just the subject of his art—he says it should inspire everything he does. 

JOEL ANDERSON: That’s our mission actually, is to just take everything that God has created and use it for His glory, for the good of others…so I feel like my duty is to live out my life and handle those things carefully and use them well. I don’t really see a distinction between the secular and the sacred. I think every moment of our lives should be God-honoring. How we use those things can be selfish or generous…

These days, Anderson does more coaching than creating. He sees his role as encourager and mentor. 

JOEL ANDERSON: I’ve learned how to collaborate, direct, how to use a team of artists and do things as a collect effort and it’s probably made the art better than what I used to do by myself back in the day.

A year ago, Anderson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The prognosis for the 54-year-old artist came as a shock. The onset is slow, meaning he can continue to make the art he loves, but he knows his days are limited. 

JOEL ANDERSON: It’s easy to just assume you have control of your life and that your plans are yours. But that little wake-up call that I can’t control the future, I can’t call the shots, I can’t command my own destiny. I’ve got to go with this design that’s already mapped out for me. God’s providence. He knows what’s coming. And He’s already given me everything I need right now, and will give me what I need in the future. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler in Nashville, Tennessee.


EICHER: Just a quick follow-up on Paul’s story, we checked in with Joel Anderson after the tornadoes that hit Nashville, and thankfully, everyone at the Anderson Design Group is safe and sound—though they have not forgotten about  their neighbors across the river who suffered.


(Photo/Paul Butler)

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