On Earth:
Building a House for Mary

June 26, 2012 |

I did a q&a a while back on carmelites.net about my ongoing project, carving a life size figure of Mary for my home parish of St Anastasia’s in Teaneck, NJ.  At the time I was about to undertake the second stage of the project, creating a shelter over the carving to keep rain off it (more or less). This part of the project took on something of a life of its own, and took quite a bit longer than originally intended, but is finally finished and I thought folks might be interested in a look at the result.

 I got really into the idea of creating a shelter that provided a unique frame for the piece. Reclaimed materials play a big role in my work, so I was excited to be able to build the structure entirely out of tree limbs from the church property that came down in last year’s freak October snowstorm. The shingles for the roof I hand split mostly from a large pine that came down in another storm the year before. I developed a new appreciation for shingles while struggling to split them in the traditional manner using a froe and mallet.  I spent almost an entire day at it, and this is a tiny roof compared to a house. The final result is I think worth all the effort. The rough shingles and the natural shape of the branches adds a bit of a fairytale look that I hope is succeeds in being inviting while evoking a sense of mystery.

As I mentioned in the interview, the end of my part in this construction only begins rather than ends the process of the piece’s development. I’m excited to see that the face is slowly starting to weather to a uniform gray tone. When I was doing the carving I was rather upset that there were two blind knots prominently located in the face. Four inches up or down in the layout and the face would have been clear of them, but they are becoming less prominent, I’m not sure I regret them at all.

I’m also watching with anticipation the slow rise of these morning glories I planted at the corner posts. In the foreground of the picture you can see the remains of some flowers left for Mary in May.

It is a humbling and somewhat strange experience to see the work you do play a role in the devotions of your community. On some level my work doesn’t seem worth the attention. And it isn’t I suppose, once it is out there it ceases to be ‘my’ work and belongs to the parishioners who make it a symbol of their faith.  It’s a funny feeling being both the creator of the object and a part of the parish, I’ll be curious how the piece and all of our relationships with it change over time…

 

Anthony Santella
Anthony Santella is an artist and computer science PhD. His reclaimed wood sculptures explore world traditions of ritual woodcarving in a modern context (the sculpture on his blog graphic is a self portrait). His computer science research explores problems in image analysis, visualization and computational biology. He is a near lifelong parishioner of the Carmelite parish, St. Anastasia’s in Teaneck, NJ.
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