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FINISHING TOUCHES: Unique Tile President Melissa Turpin shows off the intricate tile work her Nixa company is providing for the Museum of the Bible.
FINISHING TOUCHES: Unique Tile President Melissa Turpin shows off the intricate tile work her Nixa company is providing for the Museum of the Bible.

Bible Belt residents help build DC museum

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Developers, scholars and other experts from around the world are collaborating in Washington, D.C., to build a massive Bible-themed museum, and some of the key players – from manuscript translation to interior design – live in the Springfield area.

The Museum of the Bible is a 430,000-square-foot, $500 million destination set to open this fall in the nation’s capital.

Founded by Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., the project aims to tell the history of the Bible, share its stories and demonstrate its impact on the world.

The museum was thrust into the national spotlight July 5 when Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi religious artifacts that were illegally removed from the country, according to Associated Press reports.

Hobby Lobby bought 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 million from a United Arab Emirates dealer in 2010 and 2011, but the items were mislabeled as ceramic tiles from Turkey and Israel. Importing Iraqi cultural property into the United States was banned in 2004 and under Iraqi law, all antiquities are considered property of the state.

However, in a prepared statement, museum officials said the settlement would not affect its collection.

“None of the artifacts identified in the settlement are part of the museum’s collection, nor have they ever been,” it reads. “The museum adheres to the current Association of Art Museum Directors standards on the acquisition of archaeological material and ancient art.”

Green has one of the world’s largest private collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts, according to public relations firm DeMoss, and chose Springfield resident David Trobisch as director of collections.

Trobisch, who has worked as a university professor and expert consultant, specializes in Greek manuscripts and met Green at a meeting of the American Bible Society.

“If something new is discovered,” he said, “I might be one of those people who would come and be asked what it is.”

The New Testament was written in Greek, he said, and since it was translated and copied by hand for centuries, there are slight differences between earlier drafts and later ones. One of his jobs, as a member of the United Bible Societies, is to retranslate the Greek version of the New Testament every 15 years, along with a scholar from the Vatican, the Greek Orthodox Church, United Kingdom and Germany. Their edition then influences updates and improvements of many popular translations of the Bible published all over the world, he said, according to the latest archaeological finds.

“There’s a whole discipline within New Testament scholarship, that looks at the new manuscripts that are discovered,” he said. “Because we try to recreate the oldest possible text that we can find.”

Trobisch handles the procurement and assessment of ancient texts at the museum’s head office in Oklahoma City.

The organization has traveling exhibits, including Passages, which spent at least nine months in Springfield, Trobisch said, and has reached half a million people in the United States, Vatican City, Jerusalem, Israel and Cuba.

“We have 5,000 copies of New Testament texts in museums worldwide,” he said. “We have quite a nice collection.”

He also has an office in Springfield, travels to Washington, D.C., and has a team of experts in Germany.

“My wife says I live on an airplane,” he said.

The Museum of the Bible also works with 45 other collections and museums to share resources and exhibits.

“The Vatican museum has a contract to get a fixed space in the museum,” Trobisch said, “and put up an exhibit there and change it every six months.”
Destination-minded management
Green also chose Springfieldian Cary Summers as director of the museum’s team of academics, designers and technology experts, as well as the organization’s traveling exhibits and high school curricula. Summers is no stranger to tourist attractions. He was president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. and Silver Dollar City, after working as a vice president at Bass Pro Shops. The new property has been in development for five years and will house libraries, research labs, interactive exhibits, a theater, a lecture hall, banquet space, classrooms and a restaurant.
Homegrown hospitality
Summers tapped John Fulton, of John Fulton Hotel Solutions, to coordinate the design and construction of eight hospitality suites attached to the museum for visiting scholars and lecturers.

“We’ve known each other professionally for many years,” said Fulton, who has 30 of years hospitality experience, including 20 years at John Q. Hammons Hotels and Resorts.

Fulton, who oversees the residential portion of the project from concept to completion, chose Touche Designs Inc. to complete the interior design work after seeing their work in other museums, libraries, churches and the Titanic destinations in both Branson and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Touche was located at the corner of South National Avenue and East Cherokee Street, but later moved to Ozark.

Touche interior designer Kari Smith worked with

and lead designer Jeanne Waters-Hill as well as designers Ginger Robinson and Carissa Morrow on the living quarters, which also will include a breakout area, a study and a dining room.

“It’s pretty amazing,” she said of the project. “I still have to pinch myself.”

Touche, which frequently does design for churches, has worked with the Museum of the Bible’s architects for two and a half years, preparing the hospitality suites, Smith said. Much of the furniture was purchased, but many other design elements were custom made,  including floor tiles using real Israeli shekel coins.

“The rest of the museum is very modern and contemporary,” said Smith, who toured the development in April with Fulton and Waters-Hill. “We wanted to still blend in the modern and contemporary vibe with more of a transitional look – we could bring in a few antiquities and artifacts.”

Both Fulton and Waters-Hill chose Nixa-based Unique Tile Ltd. as their vendor, after working with the Christian County company on past projects.

“We’re doing some pretty intricate, custom-designed mosaics in the bathrooms and in the kitchenette areas and in the dining room,” said Melissa Turpin, president of Unique Tile. “We’re bringing over some stuff from Italy. It’s going to be pretty exciting looking.”

The Museum of the Bible is scheduled to open Nov. 17.

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