Sam Stewart builds temples. Their spires do not rise majestically above busy freeways or green hilltops, but above the floor of the Stewart family room in Henderson, Nevada. Their walls are not hewn from fine granite but cut from plain brown cardboard boxes. Yet these knee-high models somehow capture the majesty of real temples.
Sam (11) hopes to design real temples someday. Architects (people who design buildings) must have an artistic flair, and Sam does. His mom first discovered his talent when he was just three years old. She walked into his room and was astonished to see pictures of dinosaurs all over the walls. On the one hand, she didn’t feel that bedroom walls were quite the right place for drawing dinosaurs. On the other hand, they were drawn so well! She suggested that Sam use paper next time, but the already-hatched reptiles were left to roam the walls.
Cardboard replaced paper as the young artist’s favorite surface when he was nine years old. The family was reading about putting on the whole armor of God (see Eph. 6:13–17). There were cardboard boxes lying around because the Stewarts were sending packages to Sam’s brothers who were on missions. The boxes and the armor collided in Sam’s mind, and he began constructing a cardboard “shield of faith.” After he finished it, he shaped a “sword of the Spirit” out of wood.
About this time, Sam began to feel a strong attachment to the nearby Las Vegas Nevada Temple. At first he appreciated it simply because it was beautiful. But as he learned more about the purpose of temples, he came to love it for the blessings it brings to people’s lives. This interest soon grew to include all the temples of the Church. Sam began filling a binder with pictures of the world’s temples and a file with diagrams and information about their design, history, and construction. By the time he had filled the binder, he knew that he wanted to build temples of stone someday. In the meantime, he would build temples of cardboard.
With boxes, a pair of scissors, a hot-glue gun, and a ruler, he created a faithful scale model of the Las Vegas Temple. It was astonishingly good. No one taught him how to build cardboard temples. He invented the craft as he went along.
Next came his version of the historic Nauvoo Illinois Temple, which was then being rebuilt. The family read all they could find about the project as Sam raised his cardboard walls. He drew the sunstones and other carvings onto the surface with a pen. The Manti Temple and the Preston England Temple followed. Then Sam started working on his masterpiece—the Salt Lake Temple, crafted in far greater detail than the others. This project has taken a year so far and is not yet finished. Once it’s completed, he plans to build models of the Montevideo Uruguay Temple and the Portland Oregon Temple.
Sam doesn’t just build temples; he studies them, too. He learned so much about the stone carvings on the Nauvoo Temple that his dad invited him to explain their meaning to the temple preparation class he teaches. Sam has also given family home evening lessons on temple architecture to several families in the ward.
He is not shy about sharing his love of temples with his friends from other religions. They like to watch him build, and as he works he quizzes them about temple facts. By now they know all the answers.
Working on temples doesn’t fill all of Sam’s time. He is an excellent student who studies hard because he knows that to be an architect he must be good at math and get good grades. He enjoys sports, including skiing, baseball, and soccer. He especially loves the outdoors and the beauties of nature. He is always eager to visit his family’s cabin in the mountains of Utah.
Families and temples just seem to go together, and Sam loves his family even more than he loves temples. His brothers, Willie and John, who are twins serving missions in Uruguay and England respectively, are role models for him. He is especially close to his sister, Lea, a student at BYU. Five years ago Lea suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident, and she now uses a wheelchair. Sam often paints with her and plays wheelchair basketball with her when she is home on vacation. “Sam’s very sensitive to the feelings of others,” Lea says. “Since I’ve been in the wheelchair, he’s always there to help.”
“Sam wants to understand things spiritually,” his dad comments. “He prays. He reads the scriptures. He asks a lot of difficult questions—the kind that parents don’t always know how to answer. He’s made me a better person just being around him.”
His mom adds, “He has a clear vision of what’s right and wrong, and he’s strong in doing what’s right. He wants to make people happy. If I’m down, he knows it, and he’ll cheer me up.”
This builder of temples is also helping to build a happy family.