NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TACEY SMITH - Mark Kenzers barn holds more than 200 molds of sacred sculptures from southeast Asia. He bought them from an American in Myanmar who was re-casting the sculptures in order to sell them and support orphans.A casual glance at the drafty white barn surrounded by old trucks and piles of wood gives no hint that it contains a treasure trove of "windows to the soul."

That's what Mark Kenzer calls his collection of more than 200 molds of sacred carvings recreated from Southeast Asian temples and stored in his barn on the west side of Forest Grove.

Many of the original sculptures line the walls of temples in the famous Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, as they have for more than a thousand years. Although Angkor's ancient wood houses and palaces have long since decayed, more than 100 stone temples and their intricate towers still stand, covering 500 acres.

To Kenzer, such sacred sculptures embody an incredible spiritual energy that people can appreciate and access through art. His plan is to help Washington County residents do just that, using his molds.

"Everything is art," he says. "People are attracted to it because it's in our genes."

A life of travel

Kenzer might be best known locally for the 28 acres where he used to live and work on Forest Grove's west side. Although he currently still owns it, that land is slated to eventually become part of the controversial Gales Creek Terrace development.

But while he's been thrust into the news by his real estate, Kenzer's real love is art.

The son of an electrical contractor and an oil painter, Kenzer says he "always knew since I was a child that I was going to go to exotic places and bring back unique things."

After working for his dad's electrical business, for restaurants, and starting a few small businesses of his own, Kenzer and his wife at the time used $300 to form Pacific Spirit, a company that imports collectibles and handicrafts from around the world and whose sales grew to nearly $10 million annually. The business eventually became more commonly known by the name of its most popular catalog-company spinoff, Mystic Trader.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TACEY SMITH - Mark Kenzer recently set out some of his castings to dry in the sun. He hopes other people will want to choose and cast some of the sacred sculptures -- which he will teach them how to do for $200 to $300.

In 1990, the Kenzers moved from Portland to Forest Grove and brought the business with them. As president of Pacific Spirit, Kenzer had the opportunity to explore many areas of the world while looking for items to buy and he traveled to Southeast Asia for the first time in 1986.

Now retired, Kenzer's ambition to travel and collect art remains strong and is helped by the worldwide connections he made during his 25 years in the import business.

"I can go back and find unique pieces from other cultures and bring those back or make castings there and bring the molds back," he said.

Overwhelmed by carvings

This is exactly what Kenzer did six months ago when he purchased more than 200 molds of sculptures that decorate sacred temples in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

Many of the original sculptures were far too big to duplicate. At Angkor Wat, for example, an intricate network of sculptures depicting stories from the Mahabharata — one of the Hindu culture's longest and oldest creation narratives — is as tall as Kenzer's barn and even greater in length.

But an American who works with orphans in Myanmar commissioned local photographers to capture photos of various original sculptures, Kenzer said. He then commissioned woodcarvers to re-carve them in a smaller size, from 1- to 5-feet wide and 25 to 500 pounds.

The man then made molds of those smaller sculptures and cast them for sale — training orphans to do the same so they could earn an income and pay for school, Kenzer said.

A traveling companion who had bought some castings showed them to Kenzer and mentioned the molds. Kenzer was immediately interested and eventually bought more than 200 molds, though he won't say how much he paid for them.

What he has in his barn is not the same as visiting the huge, originally sculpted story panels in their sacred sites, where "you walk there and you're just overwhelmed looking at all these carvings," he said.

But Kenzer hopes his molds of dragons, Buddhas, plants and other images now covering the shelves and floor of his barn will be enough to inspire people here in Washington County.

'Like being a kid again'

His dream has started coming true. Together with Marc Rydell — a friend whose wife worked at Pacific Spirit — Kenzer has begun to teach casting classes to a handful of people.

It's a unique opportunity, Rydell said, because usually people purchase castings without being involved in their creation. Now, for $200 to $300 they can do both," he said.

To Kenzer, casting these molds is "like being a kid again." It is also spiritually gratifying for him. Although he does not personally identify with the religions that are associated with these sacred sites, he appreciates the universal principles underlying them, related to love and understanding God.

He believes his classes offer exposure to the history and culture embedded in this art, which can help people connect to others who come from different cultures.

Pam Alexander, 53, has known Kenzer since he became a client of hers at Forest Grove Healing Arts, where she is a certified BodyTalk practitioner. Last November she became one of his and Rydell's first students. She chose a mold to cast and then spent about an hour selecting and mixing concrete to fill it with. She returned the next day to remove the hardened cast and lay it out to dry. Due to winter weather, the drying took about a month but was done in time for her to make the cast a Christmas gift.

Alexander, who plans to take another class in a couple of weeks, said Kenzer and Rydell made the process fun and easy. "I would definitely recommend people try this."

Kenzer and Rydell are still refining their casting process, hoping to experiment with different cements and paints — and hoping to draw people who will brave a chilly wind blowing through an old barn doorway in order to cast a window into their own spiritual worlds.

For more information on casting one of Kenzer's sacred sculptures, contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Miracle in Nepal

In the early 1990s, Mark Kenzer traveled to Nepal to buy artwork, including one of the world's largest thangkas — Tibetan paintings that encompass the life of Buddah. While there, his agent, Nem Bir Shakya, introduced him to a Nepalese man who wanted to build a health clinic, Kenzer remembers. Shakya translated for the man, who in tears told them that he had always wanted to help people but did not have the money to do so. He then asked Kenzer for help.

Intrigued, Kenzer offered to make posters of his newly purchased thangka and sell them once he returned to the states. However, this proved to be more difficult than expected. The thangka was several feet wide and about four times that in length, making its image difficult to print onto poster-size paper; and once he finally managed this it was only to realize that hardly anyone was interested in buying them.

Determined to earn the necessary money, he decided to sell the thangka itself. A few years passed and no one responded to the ads he put in catalogs. Then, five days before Kenzer was scheduled to visit Nepal for another buying trip, he got a call from someone who wanted to buy the thangka.

"Great," he replied. "Can we do it right away?"

With cash in hand, he returned to Nepal and told Shakya he had great news.

In return, Shakya brought him to the land upon which they intended to build the clinic and said they had already prepared for a groundbreaking ceremony to take place the next day.

Without any money or knowledge that Kenzer had sold the thangka, Shakya and others had resolved that if they broke ground and prayed, somehow a clinic would be born.

— Tacey Smith