Following the master: Snoqualmie man embroiders complete Sistine Chapel

John Linder’s fingertips are cracked and calloused from long hours spent handling thread and needle.

But this month, the Snoqualmie resident sews the final piece of his 31-year labor of love. Linder has embroidered all 51 scenes of Renaissance artist Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Completion will bring him satisfaction and peace of mind.

“When I put my mind to something, I accomplish it,” Linder said. “I think I’m the only one in the world who’s done this.”

The retired lumber department manager, Coca-Cola delivery driver and former garbage man started the project in 1979. Since his first scene, he has moved from Illinois to the Snoqualmie Valley by way of California and Florida, raising four children and enduring two spinal surgeries.

The chapel scenes continued to grow over the decades. Linder sketched them in pencil on canvas, inked them with letters to denote colors, then finished them with colored cotton thread. When finished, he rolls then, ties them with a leather cord, and stacks them in a chest. But Linder proudly shows off his creations, and framed works are prominent in his home.

Stretched out, he said the collection would stretch floor to ceiling for some 40 feet.

Getting started

Linder’s fabric odyssey began in 1979 when he was inspired by the sight of “The Creation” in the movie “The Agony and the Ectasy.”

“Everyone in the world knew it,” he said. “I thought I’d embroider it.”

One thing led to another, and he began the other major chapel scenes next.

“The Sistine Chapel is well known,” Linder remembers thinking. “The only place they have it is in Italy. Why don’t we have one in America?”

Linder took up embroidery as a young man. His first big work was Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”

As an unruly child and self-proclaimed “bad egg,” he was taken in hand by two aunts in a convent and given a firm Catholic education. He became interested in math and theology and was in training for priesthood before his life took a different direction. But his religious feelings remained.

“My heart and soul is ‘help your fellow man,’ Linder said. “I really believe that today, everything I do as far as my art is for a reason.”

Outside of his Renaissance works, Linder has embroidered clothes and art for friends and family, from full suits to dancing Grateful Dead bears and Sponge Bob jackets.

Reproducing the Renaissance artist’s creation has brought Linder a deeper appreciation for his work.

“Michaelangelo’s the man,” he said. Poring over faces, Linder began to recognize Michaelangelo’s models, and imagined their lives.

“He would sketch people drinking and eating, and they would become part of the chapel,” Linder said.

This month, Linder is down to his final panels.

“When he first started doing it, I laughed,” said Nancy, John’s wife. Now, she is proud of his talent, and should be: the night they met, Nancy’s eye was caught by the rose that John had embroidered on his pants.

“I thought he was a weird guy,” she said. “I love him anyway.”

Linder taught Nancy’s children how to embroider.

“He sits down and draws it, and it’s amazing what he can do, because I have no talent like that,” she said.

Vatican dream

Linder’s dream is to one day take his creation to the Vatican City in Italy.

“That would be my satisfaction, having the Pope and the people in Rome see this,” he said.

Linder is looking for a partner to help him frame or publicly display his creations.

“This could travel around the country,” he said. “Someone, somewhere, has an idea who appreciates this as much as I do.”

Finally, when Linder is finished with Michaelangelo, Leonardo might be next.

“I want to do the masters,” he said.

To learn more about John Linder’s creations, call him at (425) 444-9297.

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