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Religious Statues Vandalized : Not a Grain of Doubt--Sand Sculptor to Rebuild

October 11, 1986|PATT MORRISON | Times Staff Writer

Along Highway 89A in northern Arizona, the tourist buses stop regularly to see Ted Conibear's sand statues of Jesus and his apostles.

The Coconino County sheriff deputies navigate by it--"Someone would ask, 'Where's this house?' We'd say, 'It's a couple of blocks from the sand sculpture,"' said Lt. L.C. Ferebee.

But last weekend, someone else found the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane sand sculptures that the 80-year-old Conibear created nearly 20 years ago: vandals.

On two separate nights, at the Oak Creek Canyon site near Sedona, Ariz., "person or persons," in Ferebee's official parlance, shattered the heads of the statues that Conibear, of Yucaipa, Calif., had crafted so long ago, and sheltered from the wind and rain.

And although Conibear is "kind of disgusted" with "a bunch of dummies" who decapitated his larger-than-life religious figures, he plans to leave his home near Bible Land, the sand-sculpture religious park along Interstate 10 in Calimesa, to drive to Arizona today to repair the damage.

The religious sculptures are nothing new to him--he has done them for 60 years, creating statues for fairs and gatherings nationwide. Bible Land has been a going concern for 28 years, he said, and the sand figures in Sedona were his 10th Last Supper. The first, modeled after a religious postcard he paid a quarter for, was made in 1939 near the old Bullock's store in downtown Los Angeles.

And his first Last Supper made Conibear a religious man. Passers-by asked which disciple was which, and when he couldn't answer, "I went over to get a Bible to find out."

As he read, "I realized I was missing something by not being a Christian," he said, and since then, he has devoted himself to his religious sculpture, of which Bible Land and the Sedona exhibit are the last still standing. Voluntary donations pay for the land rentals, security lights and a neighbor caretaker who keeps an eye on the place during the day, he said.

But vandalism is nothing new for Conibear either: In October, 1977, a teen-age boy knocked the heads off six of his statues in Bible Land. After a year and a half of work, Conibear had repaired the statues in time for Easter, 1979--"in tiptop shape"--when, on Palm Sunday, someone destroyed all but two of the 12 heads.

He repaired those and now, he promised, he will set to work again in Arizona.

"I've never seen anything get the townspeople so shook up," said Peggy Swap, who acts as caretaker for the Sedona exhibit. "Everybody's appalled. People just stand there and they shake their heads, they can't even comment on it. You can't imagine anybody sick enough to do a thing like that."

No arrests have been made, and deputies are hoping a reward can be posted for information.

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