Cuyler Thompson completed his masterpiece 30 years ago last month. The 92-year-old Apache Junction man stood silently Wednesday in an empty church, gazing at an enormous wood-burned portrait of Jesus Christ and his disciples, which covered one wall of the chapel.
He said it’s his greatest achievement.
Thompson, who’s lived in Apache Junction since 1950, said he worked for an entire year with a wood-burning pen and watercolor paint to recreate Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” In 1977, he donated the piece to Community Christian Church in Apache Junction.
Most of the time, curtains cover Thompson’s work at the church. It creates a dramatic effect, as the heavy white drapes slowly part during services each Sunday, said Pastor Jack Martin.
“It’s kind of like a mountain,” said Martin, a 19-year veteran at Community Christian. “If you see it all the time, you don’t know it’s there.
“It’s really a masterpiece, to say the least.”
Thompson remembers burning and painting the night away to copy what is arguably da Vinci’s most well-known work of art. He said he often worked from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. in order to avoid throngs of onlookers at the church.
“I worked on it at night, because bus loads of people wanted to see it,” he said.
That was back when he was a young man — only 62 years old. Next month, he’ll turn 93. In all those years, he’s never received any art training, Thompson said.
He first started wood burning as a 7-year-old who hung out at his older brother’s radio repair shop. Then, he used a soldering iron to scratch images into one of his brother’s work benches.
But his hobby has become increasingly difficult over the past few decades. Little by little, he began to give up wood burning — until he met Theresa Hayhurst.
The 46-year-old Hayhurst became Thompson’s caretaker and insisted he pick up his craft once again.
“I try to get him out here every day,” she said.
Hayhurst buys supplies at the local hardware store, such as wood-burning pens and pieces of lumber. She also makes photocopies of cartoons and clips them onto Thompson’s easel.
Thompson shuffles each day behind a walker to a tiny studio inside the garage of his Apache Junction home and slowly burns the images Hayhurst gives him.
His work is more labored now, but some things never change when you handle a wood-burning pen, he said.
“Every day, I stick my finger on it,” he said. “Ouch! Ouch!”
WHEN YOU GO
What: Cuyler Thompson’s woodburned rendition of “The Last Supper”
Where: Community Christian Church 1150 W. Superstition Blvd. Apache Junction
Information: (602) 982-4081