BERLIN — After some 400 hours spent carving a panel of wood with blades as thin as razors, German woodcutter Juergen Christ has declared his self-described "magnum opus" complete: A faithful rendition of Barack Obama's July 2008 speech in the German capital.
In fine detail – facial expressions, American flags waving, spectators holding digital cameras, even a football scarf bearing the name "Angola" – Christ's 33-inch by 43-inch (84-cm by 109-cm) work shows Obama – then a U.S. presidential candidate – with his arm outstretched, facing a sea of some 200,000 people gathered to hear him speak in front of the Victory Column in Berlin's Tiergarten park.
Obama's speech about the world, the U.S. and its place in it, was part of a brief European leg that brought him to France and Britain. It invited comparisons from critics and proponents to the historic speeches in the same city by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Some believe the warm reception that Obama – then a first-term U.S. senator – received from the sea of cheering admirers in Berlin helped his presidential campaign eventually succeed.
Christ's woodcarving will be unveiled Thursday at the artist's studio in the western city of Cologne. Subsequent lithographs – capped at 50 by Christ – will be available for purchase shortly thereafter.
Working from a picture taken by Associated Press photographer Jae Hong, the 65-year-old artist began the piece in early 2009, carving daily through June. Christ said he saw Obama as an obvious and charismatic choice for a subject.
"He's young, good looking, can orate amazingly and has power, lots of power," he told the AP in a series of interviews by telephone and e-mail from his studio.
Woodcarvings are unable to show changes in light or variations of color, characteristics Christ said he thinks will let those who view the work focus on the significance of the speech.
"The observer concentrates solely on Obama and the spectators in their enthusiasm," he said.
Calling Obama an "honest soul," Christ said he drew inspiration from Obama's family background – an American mother and a Kenyan father.
"I'm very happy that someone who has a parent from Africa has now become the most powerful man in the world," he said.