For Philip Roth, the cross stands as the No. 1 symbol of spirituality and faith.
Roth is a devout Catholic. He and his wife Jessie have been members of St. Francis parish in Brainerd for most of their married life, which reached the 58-year mark on Valentine's Day. Ten years ago, Roth felt inspired to embark on a one-man crusade to bring more crosses into area homes.
Since 1960, Roth has worked as a salesman in the lakes area for Empire Memorial, of Melrose, which has taken him into countless homes selling granite memorials.
"You go to many homes (in this line of work). And I didn't see many crosses in homes, which should show you're a Christian. So I started making them, trying to get them into more homes," Roth said.
Roth carefully considered the different mediums he might use to create the crosses. He then bought a scroll saw and some wood, and set to work.
"They're made of solid oak, 3/4 inch," Roth said. "Nobody makes them with the depth you see in these. Each cross has a special character because of the grain of the wood. ... When you go to oak like this, it's harder to cut, but it makes it better. It's sturdier."
Roth said the greater the detail is in a cross' design, the smaller the blade he must use to cut the intricate spaces in the wood, which gives the designs their form.
"I generally do around 150 (crosses) a year," Roth said. Most days he spends four to five hours at the process. It takes him about 2 1/2 days to make the smaller sized crosses in his collection, and three days for the larger ones.
"You have to cut it out, clean it out, sand it, and put Deft (varnish) on it to bring out the color," Roth said. "It's no hurry job. It takes time, concentration and patience, patience. Mistakes are hard to fix -- that will usually blow it, and you have to start a new one. So you try not to make any mistakes."
These days, Roth's crosses are going into homes great distances from the lakes area. He's sent them all over the United States, Roth said, as well as to Canada and Germany. A Christian bookstore in Destin, Fla., sells Roth's crosses on contract. He recently discussed a similar arrangement with a bookstore in Mobile, Ala., where the Roths' only daughter, Nancy Lindell, lives.
Roth said most of his crosses are purchased as gifts for holidays, birthdays, confirmations, weddings, anniversaries and other special occasions.
"Some churches buy them and raffle them off for 50 cents a chance, for a guild group maybe, and make some funds that way," he said.
Roth makes crosses with special designs for 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries, as well as a special wedding design. His Madonna and Noel designs are popular at Christmastime. Other themes in his carefully chosen assortment of patterns include two crosses with inscriptions -- one reading "peace" and one "Jesus." And another displays the spiritual symbol of a dove. Roth also does an Irish cross and a victorian styled cross.
"That's my selection," Roth said. "That's more than I need. That's more than I can handle" in terms of keeping up with the demand for the creations.
Anyone interested in furnishing their own home, or someone else's, with a handmade cross, and thereby assisting him in his crusade to spread this prominent symbol of faith, hope and love can contact Philip at 829-5947.
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