Days before we closed for Christmas break, I visited a church to refurbish the carved symbols on the altar. These were of the alpha and omega, with a Pelican in the centre, feeding its young.
The Carving of the Pelican was looking rather dull. It was lost in a sea of beautiful deep green marble. The story it was meant to tell had become unreadable.
The P.P. wanted to revive that story, so that he could better explain the Eucharist to the children.
The story goes something like this:
In medieval times, it was thought that the Pelican preened feathers from her breast until it bled. With her own blood, she fed her young chicks to ensure their survival.
The Pelican became a symbol of the Eucharist; Christ feeding the faithful with His own body and blood.
I might add to the story by saying "Strengthened and matured, the young birds find that they have the strength to leave the earthly nest and soar heavenward."
The source of this legend has been lost in time, yet it gave rise to the intriguing Catholic symbol we see in our churches today.
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.
The following set of stations of the cross belong to a London Church.
Father wanted them to look as beautiful as possible, but hold back on some areas where damage was minimum to retain their sense of age.
I think this was the right approach, as the stations were new in 1858, and part of their beauty was in their age.
The figures which make up the tableaus, are beautifully carved, and originate from Belgium or Germany. As with many old church pieces their provenance has been lost with the passage of time.
We restored the figures where paint had flaked, and replaced missing spears and clubs.
The spires and gilded acanthus leaves were broken, along with some of the crosses topping the frames. We found that the wooden frames had been more colourful, the tan brown which now predominated was not original, but a change made just after the war.
It appeared that when the stations has been restored in 1948, new back grounds had been added, perhaps the originals had deteriorated to such an extent that this was deemed necessary.
The image below shows the crudity of this " new" addition compared to the attention given to the frames and figures.
When we visit various churches, parishioners often tell us how unhappy they are about the scenic element to their stations of the cross having been painted out altogether.
We felt it important to address this problem, not only to restore some of the original integrity of the artworks, but also to enhance the story - telling aspect of the set. (That is the Catechetical element.)
The following images show the eleventh and twelfth stations with backgrounds re-painted in th spirit of the originals.
Above: Damaged processional statue after restoration .
A recent request to restore a statue of Our lady for a May procession, proved a bit more of a challenge than usual. The face had lost its shape beneath layers of paint. The broken hands sported broken thumbs which had been replaced with "plaster sausages."
The lining on the mantle was textured with old repairs resembling a gold-painted rock fall.
The condition of this statue was rather poor, considering it for a decent burial seemed the kindest thing to do. However, the statue held memories for a number of parishioners, and so we did all we could to save it.
In this particular case, old paint had to be removed to reveal the true nature and extent of any damage. This would ensure that repairs would be sound and thorough. The inner walls were strengthened and her face remodeled along with her thumbs.
After many hours work, the statue looks good again, the surface of the gold mantle is smooth and her face pretty again -she will serve as a processional statue few more years yet!
Left: plastering over old paint makes for a poor repair, with low adhesion. It has made the thumb too large for the hand.
A section of the statue wall, compared with a two pound coin.
Reverse of the statue shows the split in thin plaster wall, and damage to the hands
A cracked neck suggested that the face may have been damaged when the head had fallen off at an earlier date. Nose, mouth and eyelids had to be rebuilt.
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Bar Convent Madonna
Manchester Oratory (1)
Gilbert Scott Reredos (1)
Symbol of Pelican
Our Lady of Walsingham symbolism
Sculpting Mary's hand
Sculpting the Madonna
Sculpture of Risen Christ
Sculpting St. Catherine
Plaster corpus restored
Family nativity set
Nativity shepherd & flute
School "Fatima" statue
Five new Icons
English Martyrs Mural
Processional for May
St. Anthony's book & Bread
Catholic statue repair & church artworks by Lewis and Lewis:
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