Timothy Schmalz is an internationally known sculptor whose works in bronze grace churches, shrines and public places in various countries. His sculptures were blessed by two popes — one of them a saint, John Paul II.
Many of his works are life-size or larger than life — from the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland (that has saint statues that range from six to eight feet tall) and Ave Maria University (his body of Christ image is 64 inches by 56 inches) to the new outdoor Stations of the Cross at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. (similar dimensions). He also produces small-scale replicas, which have found a place in a number of homes, too.
While working on his current round of bronze sculptures, which include Blessed Mother Teresa and another version of the Stations of the Cross, Schmalz talked with the Register about the importance of Catholic art and his work from his studio in St. Jacobs, Canada.
Why do you concentrate on Christian art?
The subject matter that really sustains me spiritually is, basically, Christian artwork. I wake at 4am and take my sculpture seriously, almost as a monk would take prayer. Looking back at more than 25 years of sculpture, there’s really no way I’d continue if not for the subject matter of Christianity. It is essentially the most phenomenal starting point for creativity.
The Renaissance greats thought like that, too.
When you look a little closer at the lives of those artists, like Michelangelo and Bernini, these were very spiritual people. To say the reason why they did the most amazing masterpieces was because patrons wanted them to be done is patronizing to those masters.
Take Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. If you change the subject matter to a picnic in spring or a day at the beach, no matter how wonderfully executed with pigments or facial expressions, it’s going to fall short. Same with the Pietá.
First, in order to have a great sculpture, you need a great subject matter — something powerful to express. Second, Christianity is unlike any other theology or subject matter — it’s endless in its "creative soup," so to speak, that feeds and gives artists this amazing artistic journey for hundreds of years.
You were quite young when you created a major sculpture known internationally as The Quiet Moment. One rendition has adorned the entrance to the Franciscan Millennium Center in Bethlehem since 2000.
The Quiet Moment was done when I was 24 years old. It is a visual representation of the harmony of the Holy Family. The center is the Baby Jesus; and then you have the ring of Mary; and then Joseph, the protecting father who shelters and protects the whole scene. Every single line has that message and intention of perfect harmony bringing it all together. The piece has become a symbol in America and Ireland of the unity of the nuclear Christian family.
Even the Holy Father knew about that one.
I presented the model-size bronze to St. John Paul II on June 30, 2004, at the Vatican. He was so much involved in the family. He was living evidence of the sacredness of human life. It was an amazing honor to actually meet him and to also have the opportunity to show him what I’m doing with my life, trying to promote the Gospels.
Does this goal also affect you spiritually?
I really do perceive my sculptures as visual prayers, in a sense. And I do believe that when you’re doing sculpture at the highest level it becomes prayer.
In my studio, I will be listening to the Bible on tape. Each day, it becomes almost a part of the audio landscape in my studio as I’m working. It enhances that whole experience. Right now, I’m working through the Gospels. Amazing sounds of the New Testament are going on all the time [as I work].
Speaking of the Gospels, one of your latest works certainly has a different approach — Jesus the Homeless — presenting Jesus sleeping on a park bench, his face and body covered with a blanket. Only his feet with nail wounds identify him.
I created this sculpture of Jesus the Homeless that, for the first time, is representing Jesus living out the full expression of one of his most powerful teachings from Matthew 25.
In my art, I want to take ideas from the Gospels and our faith and present them to the world in a very powerful and meaningful way, with as much integrity as possible.
It looks quite different than the way one would expect Jesus to look.
When you approach [the statue], you think it’s a real person. Then you realize it’s a sculpture. Only then will you understand it’s Jesus, by the wounds on his feet. When you realize it’s Jesus, it can jolt and wake you.
How have people reacted to this sculpture?
People started talking about the sculpture, and, immediately, there was this dialogue on Christianity and our relationship with the marginalized.
When I created Jesus the Homeless, so many immediately got offended by it. These people have read the Gospels but still don’t like to see Jesus looking like a vagrant.
Jesus did not say everything to make us feel comfortable. So many times, this is not reflected in artwork. Who would want to hear Jesus say, "Sell everything; then give to the poor and follow me" — like he did to the Rich Young Man?
Wealth is not [just] about how much we have in the bank or property we own, but [a wrong view of] it actually can make you worse. That’s what Jesus is trying to tell us. We need to hear that.
Christianity shows us stuff that we are uncomfortable with. That’s what my sculpture does.
Jesus said in Matthew 25, "When you helped the least, you helped me." So there is no ambiguity — that’s him. Jesus wears many disguises. It’s uncomfortable, but it also has that power.
The piece is doing precisely what a great Christian sculpture should do: make people have discussions about Christianity and the true values and morality of Christianity.
What happened after you finished it?
For a year and a half, ironic as it is, Jesus the Homeless had no home. [Once he told his former spiritual director about it, the priest wanted it for Jesuit-run Regis College in Toronto.] Two weeks after the first installation of the piece, we have the first Jesuit pope, with a message of what this sculpture represents. This unfolding, all at the same time, is remarkable.
This presentation is finding homes now, like the one placed in April in front of Catholic Charities of the Chicago Archdiocese in honor of Cardinal Francis George’s 50th anniversary as a priest. Tell us about some others.
Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl is working with the city of Washington to have the sculpture placed. [Protestant] groups have placed them or are to place them in Arizona, in California for Hollywood Boulevard, in Dallas and in North Carolina, and I am working on another for Perth, Australia.
The inception of that was spiritual, and it seems now that everything happening is having a "halo" around it. Five days before I was to go to Rome last November for this [to take the original to the Vatican], a patron walks into my studio. I told him about going, and he said, "If you can find a home in Rome for the piece, I will finance the cost of everything for it."
What happened in Rome?
On Nov. 20, 2013, the original five-foot model was blessed by Pope Francis. When he blessed the piece, he took a silent moment. He closed his eyes and prayed, and then he reached out and touched the knee of the figure. Later, I was introduced to Pope Francis, and he told me he thought it was absolutely beautiful and an amazing representation of Jesus.
Then I had meetings with the Vatican, going over details of the placement of the sculpture. The eight-foot original cast will be in Rome. It might be blessed in St. Peter’s Square. The location of the piece was decided by Father [Federico] Lombardi [the Holy See Press Office director]. It was his idea to put the piece at the base of the Via della Conciliazione going up to St. Peter’s.
They want to have information to connect to URLs with every language in the world explaining the sculpture and Matthew 25.
Where else do you have plans for the sculpture to be placed?
This, I believe, is just the beginning. I just got confirmation that a private patron is funding Jesus the Homeless to be permanently installed in 12 major cities around the world [in England, Spain, France, Poland, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and the Philippines].
This is one "advertisement" for Jesus and the New Testament that will hopefully hit every major city in the West.
I’d like to see many people become a part of this.
What are your future goals?
My ambition and hope is to do artwork to convert (people). This religion is not cute artwork that should be in the corner. It is haunting; it is powerful; it is a struggle with the faith. The dialogue is forever when someone becomes a Christian, and the artwork should reflect that.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
Timothy Schmalz is seeking donors in all cities as patrons for large permanent installations of the Jesus sculpture. Email Schmalz at email@example.com and visit SculptureByTPS.com for more information.