A Modern-Day Michelangelo: Canadian Sculptor Presents the Gospel in Bronze
On Sunday, Schmalz’s sculpture “Homeless Jesus” will have a new home in Mexico City.
“Harmony and peace – that’s another side of Christianity. The faith challenges you, to be sure; but you also have the comfort and the absolute beauty.” Timothy Schmalz, renowned Canadian sculptor, is talking about the meaning of his art. Schmalz is devoted to creating artwork that glorifies Christ, and has described his work as “visual prayers.” His works – which have graced churches and institutions around the world including the Vatican and, most recently, the Museum of the Bible – help to draw the viewer to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures.
Consider, for example, his series of works on the Gospel of Matthew. “When I Was Hungry and Thirsty” is based on Matthew 25 and depicts an impoverished Christ, empty cup and bowl before him, begging for help. It tells us that we need to see Christ in the poor and the hungry, and that we should see our acts of kindness to them as kindness toward Him. The theme continues: “When I Was a Stranger,” “When I Was in Prison,” “When I Was Naked” and “When I Was Sick.”
In September 2019, Schmalz’ sculpture “Angels Unawares” was unveiled in St. Peter’s Square on Migrant and Refugee World Day, commemorating immigrants throughout history who have fled to new lands. And a sculpture which addresses the problem of human trafficking features 19th-century slave St. Josephine Bakhita.
“Homeless Jesus” Brings International Recognition
Another work drawn from the Gospel of Matthew which earned Schmalz international acclaim is his popular sculpture of “Homeless Jesus” – a depiction of Christ sleeping on a park bench, nail holes clearly visible on his bare feet. Schmalz fashioned the unusual sculpture after encountering a homeless person sleeping on the corner of one of Toronto’s busiest streets. It was Christmastime, Schmalz explained, and while the rest of the city was bustling around with the holiday spirit, this person was wrapped in a sleeping bag. Schmalz didn't know if it was a man or a woman – all he could see was a mass of cloth lying still on the ground. His initial reaction was, “That is Jesus!”
Since its creation, “Homeless Jesus” has been displayed in more than 100 cities around the world. Schmalz was honored when, in November 2013, Pope Francis blessed the statue of “Homeless Jesus” on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. That statue found its way to the Via della Conciliazione, the cobblestone street which passes in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, where it was installed on the sidewalk near the Papal Office of Charities. Other versions of the sculpture can be viewed in Toronto; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Chicago; Austin, Texas; Valparaiso and Indianapolis, Indiana; Charleston, West Virginia; and Denver. Outside of North America, the statue is exhibited in Dublin, Ireland, and in ancient Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
And as of Sunday, Jan. 12, “Homeless Jesus” will have a new home in Mexico City. On that day Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, the Primate Archbishop of Mexico, will bless and unveil the statue at the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. The unveiling will be followed by a Mass; and later in the afternoon, volunteers will deliver food and goods to the homeless people of downtown Mexico City.
Taking Marian Devotion to the Wider Christian Community
In December 2019, Timothy Schmalz was invited to exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. The nonsectarian museum, which claims one of the largest assemblies of biblical artifacts and texts in the world, is generally recognized as Protestant. The focus of Schmalz’ sculptures, however, evoked a popular Catholic devotion to Mary, the Mother of God.
In a conversation with the Register, Schmalz explained that two of his works would be featured: In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Museum would exhibit Schmalz’ massive sculpture of the Madonna and Child – a work which is, according to Schmalz, “all about harmony and peace.” In addition, Schmalz was invited to sculpt live in the Museum over a three-day weekend, crafting a new piece on the Nativity. Schmalz explained that the sculpture, which has been commissioned by the Museum of the Bible and which will become part of their permanent collection, would be a celebration of the family. It will feature the Holy Family, in a scene filled with happiness and joy. As visitors watched, Schmalz would begin the work there in the Museum of the Bible, and he would finish it in his own studio near Toronto.
Tim Schmalz has a well-deserved reputation as a prolific artist whose works are both moving and deeply symbolic. His final work of 2019 was a unique sculpture of Mother and Child – the first in a series of pro-life works, and the first to be produced in bronze and polished curved steel. Dostoevsky’s quote “Beauty will save the world” was in his heart, he explained, when he created the work; and he expressed his hope that beauty would also save the unborn.
In the first week of the new decade, Schmalz has already completed two new sculptures: the first, a poignant image of St. Francis of Assisi embracing the world; and secondly, a pro-life sculpture of Mary and Joseph, with Joseph’s arm slung protectively around Mary’s shoulder while he reaches down to gently touch her pregnant belly. The third work on his plate for the new year is the most ambitious yet: a sculptural depiction of the Bible. His first effort is completion of creation scenes from Genesis, including the creation of Adam and Eve; from there, his plan is to move ahead to Revelation, then return to fill in artworks depicting scenes from the other biblical books.
Art That Has the Power to Convert
Saint Gregory the Great wrote that “art is for the illiterate.” He believed that the use of images was an extremely effective way to educate the general population. Tim Schmalz believes that the same is true for today’s culture, because so often people are too busy to read.
“My purpose,” Schmalz says, “is to give Christianity as much visual dignity as possible. Christian sculptures are like visual sermons 24 hours a day.” The artist is happy when his sculptures are installed outside; he recognizes that three-dimensional bronze works of art are excellent advertisements for any Christian church. It’s Schmalz’ hope that his works will amaze and fascinate the most cynical youths of today, because if they think that the art is amazing, then they will have to consider that the message is amazing, as well. “A ‘cool’ sculpture outside a church,” Schmalz explains, “may make them think that something ‘cool’ is to be found inside the church.”