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WICHITA-STATUES Feb-21-2012 (680 words) With photos. xxxn

'Realism is back,' says sculptor of new statues for Kansas cathedral

By Catholic News Service

WICHITA, Kan. (CNS) -- The statues that will dominate the east and west transepts of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita are taking shape.

Sculptor Rip Caswell, who works from his studio in Troutdale, Ore., was commissioned to create two heroic-size bronze sculptures as part of the cathedral renovation project. The two sculptures, "Mary and Joseph" and "The Crucifixion" will face each other from the east and west alcoves of the cross-shaped cathedral. The statues are scheduled to be installed in late August or early September.

The first piece, "Mary and Joseph," depicts a pregnant Mary with her hand on her womb and Joseph as a supportive father figure and husband standing behind her. Mary is looking across the cathedral to a scene of the Crucifixion.

"We've made some bold departures with this piece," Caswell told The Catholic Advance, newspaper of the Wichita Diocese.

Traditionally, Mary's pregnancy was hidden or portrayed as barely showing, he said. Joseph has been characterized as older, benign and in the background. Caswell said he sees a wave moving in churches across the country now to tell the traditional stories, but with a new angle, with a fresh perspective.

"Culture and society have changed," he said. "Churches still want commissioned works to be of the highest quality and to remain true to doctrine, but they want them to reflect a more genuine portrayal of life and of the things with which we can all relate. Realism is back.

"With this sculpture, we're celebrating Mary's pregnancy -- we're celebrating motherhood, he said. "We show Joseph as a strong, solid and protective man, very much in love with Mary."

The second sculpture, "The Crucifixion," with a larger-than-life figure of Christ, "will be powerful," Caswell said.

"The cross will appear to come right out of the floor. People will be able to walk around it, look up into Jesus' face, and even touch his feet," he explained. "In the Book of John, it talks about Christ willingly sacrificing himself on the cross. He was in control at every moment. He will be looking down, but his face will not appear as a victim. I will create his face to reflect a sense of calm and peace."

Caswell added that the wood for the cross will have special meaning because it is being shipped from Israel.

Msgr. Robert Hemberger, chair of the Cathedral Arts Committee, said that "Mary and Joseph" in the west transept and "The Crucifixion" in the east will give the impression there is a conversation taking place between the crucified Jesus and his mother.

"She and Joseph are standing here with the child and Mary has a distant look in her eyes, looking toward the future," he said.

Msgr. Hemberger said one of the reasons Caswell was chosen as the sculptor was that he took the project so seriously.

"He understood what we were looking for and he had an intuitive sense for our vision. We were struck by his attention to detail," the priest told The Catholic Advance. "Historical accuracy is important to him. I'm just delighted by the beauty of what he's created with Mary. Her face is astoundingly beautiful -- it's just amazing."

Both sculptures are one-fourth larger than life size. Mary is 7 feet 1 inch tall. Joseph stands 7 feet, 8 inches tall. Caswell used more than 500 pounds of clay just to create the Mary and Joseph sculpture.

Barbara Riggs, a local artist and a member of the first master's of theology graduating class at Newman University in Wichita, said visual imagery was used in the church from the earliest times, as Greek and Roman converts continued their artistic traditions in their new faith.

"In eras when most of the faithful were illiterate, art had a teaching role, communicating the faith both through two- and three-dimensional representation," she said.

"Humans are sensory people, and the world communicates to us through sensory input - especially visually. As the world increasingly crowds our senses with pictures of various worth, Christians must include religious imagery in life, if only to compete with the prevailing culture."


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