After attending a simple "building and arts" committee meeting at his local church, Donald Smith was surprised to discover that his year would never be the same. Here is his story...
The St. Anne's Parish in Ruskin, Florida, was planning on building a larger church and a "building and arts" committee was formed...so a friend and I decided to attend. St. Anne’s is my winter parish. I am what is called a “snowbird.” I live in Michigan, but spend the winter in sunny Florida.
In January 2008 my friend and I attended the meeting, and I brought along a couple of woodcarvings to show the committee, hoping, maybe, to get a small project to do.
After seeing what I had brought, Father John McEvoy, our pastor, asked if I would carve a life-sized statue of St. Anne, the parish patroness. I was taken by surprise but wanted the challenge.
Soon after, I went to the Internet and searched for images of St. Anne. I found a few with Jesus, Mary, and St. Anne that I liked (St. Anne is Mary’s mother and Jesus's grandmother). These were shown to Father John and he exclaimed, “That’s what I've been praying for!" So, now, instead of one statue, I had three to carve.
At the Sarasota woodcarving show, I watched carousel animals being carved and noticed that bigger carvings were made up of several pieces of wood glued together instead of one large piece. I was told that large pieces would be more apt to crack.
In preparation for the project I studied several books on human proportion and also used live models to get proper measurements. I discovered that two of the women who cleaned my house were exactly 5 feet tall—perfect for this project. I took their measurements, such as length of arms, legs, face, width of head, and shoulders.
For Jesus’s measurements I called my niece, who has a 1-year-old son, Jonah. We transcribed the figures over the phone, which proved to be quite a feat, since Jonah was being such a “wiggle worm."
At the end of March, I went to the Woodcarver’s Roundup (Michigan) and purchased two pieces of basswood for the faces of St. Anne and Mary.
I then created a 15” scale model to help work out the composition. This model was changed several times, but it was ultimately approved by the committee.
The figures before painting.
I created the bench from beechnut wood, which has a nice grain and finishes well. I also created life-sized templates of each figure, so that I would know how much wood was needed for each statue.
Over the past few years I have been very fortunate to have attended carving workshops in both Florida and Michigan. I learned useful techniques that helped me greatly during this project. Some of the instructors who proved invaluable were Pete LeClair, Bud Evans, and Chris Howard.
Mary is getting the final details, and then ready for paint.
I also followed a series of articles in Carving Magazine by Chris Howard that showed facial features being carved in step-by-step instructions. These helped greatly. I also attended seminars hosted by Jack Miller, Floyd Rhadigan, and Jim O'Day... to these fellows I am grateful.
The torso for St. Anne was clamped and glued together. Using the templates, the figure was roughed out with angle grinders. A Lancelot Chainsaw Disc and 4" Tungston Carbide Wheels made quick work of this stage. Caution must be taken not fcto remove too much wood. Also, for safety, a leather apron, gloves, and face shield should be used.
Jonah, the model, with the carving of Jesus.
I carved the faces separately, so they now needed to be glued together with the torso and also the back of the head filled in. These were all roughed down to size. The wood below St. Anne’s knees was added. The feet were added later.
Instead of being carved from a single block of wood, Mary was constructed like a long box. This design keeps the carving from cracking and cuts down on the weight.
Jesus and St. Anne were finished by Christmas; however, Mary was only half-finished. It took some late hours to get the project finished.
The carvings took two and a half weeks to paint. The color them a mix of traditional colors and own creation.
The final product.
The project was finished on February 11, 2009, with the dedication February 14th.