“I wanted to be an artist. And yet I felt like I should be something more than that.”

Clay Feet

It was 1965, and Steve Hunt was on a greyhound bus travelling from Kalispell, Montana, to the Bay Area. “That was the year they were working on I-5,” Steve remembers, “and from Redding, even Weed, it was all construction. Red dirt was flying.”

He was eighteen, that age when even the smallest decision seems to have momentous importance, when every line filled out on a college application feels like cement, poured foot by foot into a path there would be no turning back from. His cement path was leading him to Western Baptist Bible College in El Cerrito, California. After a difficult senior year of high school, Steve had known he needed to study the Bible and grow in his faith, even if he wasn’t particularly drawn to academics. “I was a C student in high school,” Steve says, “and proud of it.”

By the time the greyhound bus pulled up to the curb in El Cerrito, the mountain air of Montana was long gone; in its place, a heavy haze sat on clay tiled roofs and hung from palm branches. Upon arriving on campus, Steve received his room assignment and headed toward the gatehouse. He walked out of the 103-degree heat and into his new room, dreaming of the beach. Instead, he encountered his two roommates sprawled across their bunk beds, deep in discussions of theology and logic. “I almost got on the bus and went home.”

Steve majored in Bible and minored in missions, since that seemed to be what “real” Christians did. But his hands wouldn’t stop making art. “I studied graphic design on the sides of my term papers, drawing and cartooning,” Steve laughs. “I say that facetiously, but I wasn’t a very good student.” He remembers struggling in Dr. Miller’s theology class: “It was pretty sophisticated for my way of thinking.” But Dr. Miller, noticing the doodles on the sides of Steve’s papers, recognized his gift and gave Steve the opportunity to draw a prophecy chart for Daniel and Revelation in place of a term paper. “I remember the clay feet,” Steve says. “I was drawing clay feet.” But despite his knack for drawing and creating, his own clay feet kept telling him to march on toward missions—youth pastoring, at the very least.

The Fleece

It was 1969. At the same time Steve was receiving his degree, the college at El Cerrito was contemplating a move to Oregon. They had outgrown their 6-acre campus, and the expansive property on a wooded hillside in Salem, Oregon, sparkled with potential for growth. Steve had been working in the college printing press, and his boss Stan had said, “You know, you could make the move with us and stay on at the college.”

“It was kind of a fleece,” Steve says: If the college moved to Salem, he would join them. If it didn’t, he would continue on the path he’d set out for himself to become a missionary.

After graduation, Steve and his new wife Kathy traveled to Montana, where Steve interviewed for a youth pastor position. “But the day I met with the deacon board, they offered me $25 a month. I just knew we couldn’t live on that.” They drove back to his parents’ house in Kalispell, dejected and uncertain. They had just closed the front door behind them when the phone rang. “It was my boss Stan Flohr from El Cerrito saying we got the property.”

Chance Meetings

And so, Steve made the move to Oregon to work for the small Bible college. There, he became an artist—at least, in the eyes of others. Whether or not he saw himself as an artist is less certain. Did he see himself as an artist when he was designing flyers? When he was editing the college magazine? When he was landscaping, tearing out walls, painting rooms? Did he see himself as an artist when he was promoted to Art Director and, eventually, Vice President for Marketing?  Perhaps not. But the campus was his canvas nonetheless, and he shaped and reshaped it until the lines and colors were just right.

“I left the college twice,” Steve says. “Once for a year and once for fifteen years.” Each time he left Western to pursue art—first in LA, and then to co-found his own graphic design company—something would always draw him back.

Western Baptist called Steve back for good in 1993 when he attended a fall banquet and ran into Dr. Miller, his former theology professor, now president of the college. “Would you ever come back?” Dr. Miller asked. Steve paused, thoughtful. “I’d consider it,” he finally said. “I was thinking, sure, maybe ten years down the road.” But the following Monday, the phone rang. It was Dr. Miller, offering him a job.

The decisions that, at 18, seem so full of meaning and finality often seem less so at 46. The path, one realizes, isn’t made of cement at all. It’s made of dirt—if indeed there’s a path at all. It’s made of seasons and whim, of changing minds and chance meetings. This was the path that led Steve back to his alma mater.

Duct Tape

Steve was ready to be back, back at the campus he’d helped create. He walked into his soon-to-be office, tucked into the southeast corner on the second floor of the historic Schimmel Hall, ready to get to work. His boss pointed to the corner and said, “That work for your desk?” There was a desk, alright, but not much else. “There was no computer. There weren’t any tools, any pencils.” Steve eyed the chair suspiciously. It was held together with duct tape, and he would soon discover that one of the wheels periodically fell off. “Nothing was ready.” At first he was taken aback. But, on second thought, wasn’t this why he was here? To see things that needed fixing and do something about it? “God’s gifted me,” he says, in seriousness and humility. “If you don’t like something, fix it. Don’t wait around for it to be told, or for somebody else to do it.”

Perhaps this mindset is one of the things that makes Steve an artist, both at the college and in his shop, in his woodworking, painting, and custom-made clocks. He doesn’t see things for what they are; he sees what they have the potential to be, whether that requires fixing a chair held together with duct tape, curating the college’s archives, directing the Psalm Visual Arts Gallery, or repurposing the face and hands of a tired old grandfather clock. He even saw the potential for Western Baptist to expand its reach and influence by changing its name, and helped facilitate the transition to “Corban,” a Hebrew word meaning “gift dedicated to God.”

After years of struggling with the idea of being an artist, Steve came to realize that, whether he’d intended to or not, he’d been creating art his entire life. Much of it was woven into the college where he’d dedicated more than half his life. Walk onto campus, and you’ll see Steve’s own gift dedicated to God, his gift for seeing what needs fixing, designing, and beautifying. There is no doubt that he became an artist, and there is no doubt that he became much more than that.