Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

November 15, 2012

‘Kid M.D.’ designed to honor the city, medical profession

Statue is part of ongoing Rusk beautification project

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

RUSK — He's three feet tall, dressed like a medical doctor, and holds a toy ambulance in his hand.

He gets a lot of attention from grownups who tend to gather outside in groups to stare at him – even on blustery days like Wednesday.

Oh, and Powderpost Beetles have been known to eat small holes into his face and chest.

Meet "Kid M.D.," a mesquite wood statue that is the newest creation of retired minister and popular carving artist John Birkelbach, 74.  

This statue stands in the rock garden behind Chapman Pharmacy on the corner of Fifth and Main – directly across the street from the Rusk Chamber of Commerce, where another sculpture of Birkelbach's also stands.

Kid M.D.was created as part of an ongoing area beautification project titled “Children Are Our Future.”

Birkelbach has done a lot of work in Rusk. Before Kid M.D., he carved the version of the nativity scene that currently is on display outside the Chamber.

This scene, which Birkelbach finished in 2011, is bit different from the more traditional nativity. In this version, Joseph is holding Baby Jesus.  

The four foot tall statues in the scene depict Mary handing Jesus to Joseph for the first time, as if to say, “be careful.”

As part of  “Children Are Our Future” project, Birkelbach also created “Captain Squirt,” a  tribute to firefighters that is currently on display in Rusk between Property Bank and the fire department, said Connie Parsons, office manager for the Rusk Chamber of Commerce.

Much in the same vein as Kid M.D., “Captain Squirt” depicts a child in a firefighter’s outfit.

Now that Kid M.D. is complete, Birkelbach is in the process of carving for the latest “Children Are Our Future” statue.

This work will be a statue of a little girl teaching a little boy who is the girl’s brother, Parsons said.

To keep projects like this moving forward, the Chamber is asking for donations from the public.

In this case they request Rusk residents  add an addition $1 to $2 to their city of Rusk Water Company payments as a donation to the Keep Rusk Beautiful committee.

That way, the committee can continue to subsidize these area beautification projects, Parsons said.

Bob Goldsberry, executive director of the Rusk Chamber of Commerce, said Birkelbach has done a magnificent job.

"We as a community are blessed to have so many talented people in town, but especially so by his excellent work," Goldsberry said.

Birkelbach said his work in general is inspired by his life and times, from nature and from his dreams.

He said the Kid M.D. statue took him two and a half months to carve out of mesquite.

He had to travel to New Berlin in South Texas to get the correct type of wood.

"It was important to me to do this with mesquite," the artist said.

The mesquite statues are also covered in several coats of marine polyurethane to prevent weathering.  

After at least three years, new coats will need to be reapplied. Additionally, a lean-to will be placed over the garden to protect the statue, Birkelbach said.

To secure the Kid M.D.  statue and prevent it from tipping over, a hole was drilled through the concrete underneath the garden.

A 16-inch metal steel rod was inserted into the hole and the statue placed on top of it.

Likewise, the ambulance the wood boy is holding in his hands is secured to the statue by a smaller rod so it can't be removed by vandals.

Birkelbach was a minister for 40 years before retiring in 1997.

He first learned to carve wood around 1987 at a church in Jasper. What started as incidental instruction sparked a true passion. With no formal training in art, drawing or design, Birkelbach went on to conceive his own designs to put to wood.  

Over the years, Birkelbach has become extremely well-known for his carved crosses throughout the state and beyond. He hand carves original religious- and nature-themed art.

His work includes sculptures, wall hangings, walking canes, jewelry and even furniture.