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HEBER CITY — A Utah man says a monument garden depicting Jesus Christ and his connection with America through the Book of Mormon and the founding of America is on its way to becoming a reality in the Heber Valley.
Dr. Steven Neal is a facial plastic surgeon and sculptor. He says he's been working on the project for decades, has completed miniature versions of multiple sculptures for the garden and is starting the process to make them life-size.
He also finally has a location for the park; over 10 acres of land that he says is in the process of being donated to his nonprofit company called Monument of the Americas.
In 1976, Neal said he heard Elder Boyd K. Packer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak about art and the Restoration of the gospel. Neal said he decided to dedicate his artistic efforts toward the message of the Restoration of the church and the Book of Mormon, a volume of scripture in the church. At that time, he did not consider himself to be artistic, but he started doing oil paintings and later started a nonprofit organization associated with these prints.
Later, Neal said he was in a temple when he had an epiphany and began to plan the sculpture garden. He made a commitment to undertake a project which has since developed into Monument of the Americas and this park.
"The basis of (the sculpture garden) was a personal covenant that I made and ... even if it never, never unfolds, if it's never built, I still am keeping it," Neal said.
He said this dream has given him a lot of life and energy, and he has told himself that even if it doesn't become a reality in his lifetime, he will continue working on the dream.
Neal says he works on sculpting and making the park a reality whenever he has extra time outside of his responsibilities raising a family, working as a surgeon and fulfilling church callings.
"I'm usually working if you see me awake," he said.
Neal said the project was a lonely effort until about 12 years ago when he began working with Michael Hall on sculptures. Later, Jerime Hooley joined the project as a third sculptor.
He envisions the monument park having two gardens: one focused on the Book of Mormon, and another that Tim Ballard, CEO of Operation Underground Railroad and writer of patriotic books, has helped with that focuses more on the United States and the Constitution.
Neal said he and others working with him believe that once it's completed, the sculpture garden will be a destination for many along the Wasatch Front, as well as people from out of state, youth groups and families.
As a nonprofit, the park will not charge an admission fee, he said, but will be free for anyone to visit, although they plan to ask for donations and will have a gift shop.
Neal said that over the years, his group has considered several locations and venues for the garden, but he feels like Heber City chose them. He said the community has grabbed onto the idea and has expressed interest in his project and a family is donating 10-15 acres of land that overlooks Heber Valley. Neal said he has a letter of intent from them to donate the land and the parties are waiting for the city to take some action before the land officially changes ownership.
"It's quite a majestic viewpoint where we'll be, so we're really excited about that," Neal said.
He envisions the crowning sculpture of the park to be a statue of Christ that is 18 feet tall, which Neal claims will be the largest sculpture in Utah. He said the spot where the statue will sit will be visible from many places throughout Heber Valley.
One of the sculptures he is creating, designed to be twice life-size, features George Washington and Captain Moroni with a "title of Liberty," combining a story from the Book of Mormon and a Revolutionary War story when Washington gave a speech asking his men to reenlist in the war effort for their families and their freedom. The statue also depicts soldiers from different eras in the history of the United States, including one of Neal's patients, he said.
"Digital bits of information are like sand and they change, every day, on our handheld devices. ... I'm trying to give somebody something really solid, large, heavy. These are concepts that our forefathers and people we respect very much, honored. And a lot of them are being treaded down and cast away, especially by youth who are not being taught these things," Neal said.
New technology allowed Neal to make this piece of art without working on scaffolding. Instead, he sculpted a smaller version with lots of details and then had that scanned into a 3D printer, which will print a larger, polymer version that the bronze can be poured into. Neal said he finished sculpting this piece last year.
The other two sculptors are working on multiple different pieces, including the Book of Mormon panels. Neal said there are around 70 sculptures, most of which already have a small-scale version completed.
Neal said there will likely be a grand opening when some of the statues are put into the park, and then later some unveiling events when they are able to add more completed sculptures.
In addition to sculptures and gardens, there are plans for the park to have a visitor center with an area where people could hold wedding receptions or conferences, a gift shop that will sell art based on the sculptures in the park, a small theater that will have movies and plays and an amphitheater for concerts.
This is a multimillion-dollar project, but Neal said they have already received generous donations helping them get on their way, in addition to all the time and money that Neal has invested in the project himself. Recently the organization received an endowment fund that Neal said is over $6 million.
"That guarantees it's going to happen. It also opens the door for other big donors, so I'm pumped," Neal said.
The anticipated date for the opening of Christ in America Legacy Park is July 2026.