Earlier this year I completed a commission from Fr. H to make a 44 inch statue of St.Catherine for his parish. Revd. H sent me some images of his ideal "Catherine" and how the finished statue might look. The range of images were eclectic in style. Some very simple and others highly decorated. From these we extracted which elements of the figure design were essential, and which could be achieved in practical terms.
To create the figure I used water based clay which I find more responsive to the touch than the less traditional plastilene (plasticene -type) modelling materials.
The following images show some of the stages in producing the figure
Designing the figure.
Sketches are an important part of helping the client see how the sculpture may look when finished. This older statue of St.Catherine shows how the proportions of the wheel had to change in order to make sense in three dimensions. (Note: The sword for this statue is missing.) To the right is a sketch combining elements of the flat back, and my interpretation of St. Catherine.
Building the figure Support
To support the weight of clay used to build the figure, David constructed a rotating platform and scaffolding jig. This would hold the armature which has to be shaped to fit the pose of the figure. It has to be strong enough to support the clay, in this case around 50 + kilos.
Modelling St. Catherine's face
Its helpful to have a live model from which to make notes when planning to sculpt a figure. Yet an artist will not always copy this slavishly, consideration is given to creating a more pleasing shape than would appear in reality. In the same way a portrait artist, may strive to bring out his subjects "best" features.
The head is sculpted separately, and added to the torso.
Moulding and casting
Once the clay model was completed, we made a mould for the figure.
and separate moulds for the hands, crown and dove. These were cast seperately and attached later to the plaster cast.
Once the plaster was fully dry, polychroming could begin.
Consideration was given to the colours of the clothing, the detail of the cloak clasp, and the dove. Fr. H asked that the dove be coloured like that of an African species which would have populated the Jordan in biblical times. The complexion, eye and hair colour were matched to that of his beloved granddaughter. Finally, the statue was complete and ready to display for the feast of St.Catherine on 25th of November.
With a short deadline to meet, I worked quickly with the team, exchanging ideas and layouts for the figures, legends and symbols they elicited.
Creating contemporary icons of saints has its problems. There are many pre-conceptions about what an Icon is and what painting methods should be used. I feel the main ingredients are prayer and inspiration, yet I had been troubled by depicting St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) in casual clothing rather than her Carmelite habit. However, one morning before mass, I asked for some guidance, and an image formed in my mind Edith holding up the brown scapular. This is something the school children may never have encountered had she been portrayed in her full Carmelite habit.
After this I found myself able to jump the hurdles set before me like a Grand National equine; obstacles were overcome and the icons completed with a few days to spare!
I hope the children will learn not only about the life of St. Teresa Benedicta, as a victim of the holocaust, but also of that important event in their English Catholic heritage; when the Blessed Virgin favoured St. Simon Stock with the brown scapular of Carmel.
"St. Simon was an Englishman, a man of great holiness and devotion, who always in his prayers asked the Virgin to favour his Order with some singular privilege. The Virgin appeared to him holding the Scapular in her hand. In its original context, the meaning of this promise was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved. Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the brown scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article.
Research showed that most had been depicted with a hangman's noose at the neck, and a dagger in the chest. With twenty characters to depict, the dagger and rope may have got a bit "samey"! Some variety was needed to pay tribute to each individual Saint.
Putting Faces to Names
I though it best to follow convention where "portraits" of the Martyrs were concerned, working from historic images of them.
Unable to find any portraits of Blessed Thomas Maxfield, I had to decide on his appearance, and what symbols I could use to identify him;
These are the symbols I chose to associate with his particular martyrdom:
The flowers he holds are species which represent the blood of the martyrs and their association with the passion of Christ. His path to the Gallows was strewn with wild flowers by the villagers as tribute to their love for this holy man. The butterfly has two purposes; as he suffered biting insects when imprisoned; it also serves as a reminder of "Eternal Life".
Balancing act with colours
The composition of the mural was to echo the paintings of Giotto and Fra Angelico.
As both had distinct styles, I chose elements from both to achieve the desired marriage between the two!
These artists did not use perspective as a contemporary artist would, and they favoured large discs of halos, and layering of their figures.
Last year we restored a Marian Retable for a church in Accrington.
The original shrine statue was long gone, and the replacement didn't quite fit.
To accommodate her size, some carved swags had been removed.
Despite her pretty face, stylistically the figure was rather stiffly posed; the overall impression was one of tension,
Our Lady under this title is traditionally portrayed in a shade of Royal blue, with a red gown.
As I painted the wine (precious blood of Christ) within the chalice, it felt right to continue this colour onto Mary's gown; (mindful that Jesus is of Mary's blood line.)
I decorated the hem of Mary's gown with orpherys of gold, similar to the ornament found on ornate tabernacles, for both are places which house Our Lord Jesus.
In making the statue, I felt it was important to have the Christ child assimilating the same gesture as the priest. (Who during the celebration of the Mass, serves in persona Christi, that is, in the very person of Christ, who is truly present.)
The new statue of Our Lady had to fit exactly into the existing aperture, and this was one reason Fr. S had problems finding a replacement. The apse was chamfered on both sides, so measurements had to be exact.
" Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation, developing, in this gradual assumption of Christ's will, in prayer, in "being heart to heart" with him. Therefore this is the indispensable condition for every proclamation, which entails participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church." - Pope Benedict XVI 24 June 2009
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