BY ALLISON BARRICK
A sculptor spoke April 10 in the Gentile Gallery about his work for Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma.
Andrew Smith began his talk speaking about the dystopian book “Brave New World” in which one character reconstructs Christianity from the only book he owns – the complete works of Shakespeare.
“I’d like to think the same thing can be done understanding Christian art,” explained Smith, saying that one can come to find truth in art itself.
The project Smith has undertaken at the Benedictine abbey in Oklahoma involves the main portal on the west side of the church. Smith shared that he created plaster models before cutting the stone into depictions of the story of salvation and the 12 apostles. He said that he sculpted persons and events, including the fall of Adam and Eve, the messianic prophecy of Isaiah and the Holy Family.
Smith said that when he was sculpting these projects, he studied old stories and traditions concerning these biblical persons and events.
“There’s always a lot of study,” he said. “You always have to study the tradition of these images.”
One of the stories Smith told concerned constructing St. Joseph at the birth of Christ; he sculpted St. Joseph rending his stockings at the moment of Jesus’ birth.
“Tradition says there were no swaddling clothes at the moment at the nativity,” explained Smith, saying that St. Joseph ripped his stockings to provide clothes for the baby Jesus.
Carving the twelve apostles required similar research. Smith had two goals in mind when recreating the disciples of Jesus. He said one of his goals was to depict each apostle individually, so that a person could develop a devotion to him.
“The other goal is that they all have to create one composition,” said Smith.
He explained that each of the 12 apostles has a unique symbol or sign associated with him. For instance, St. Matthew holds a book while kicking away a bag of coins, indicating how he gave up his life as a tax collector, said Smith.
He said that St. Thomas, the patron saint of architecture, depicts signs of his patronage.
“He is shown with his carpenter’s square measuring the trueness of a right angle in stone,” described Smith, sharing that St. Thomas’ desire to know the truth is what makes him “doubting Thomas.”
In another scene which Smith described, St. James the Lesser sits between Sts. Simon and Jude, creating a comical depiction. Smith explained that Simon and Jude are disputers, discussing a theological point as poor James sits between their arguing.
“You want to have some sense of humor as an artist but do it in the right way,” he shared.
Smith explained that the semi-circular relief of the doorway will depict Christ, along with images from the book of Revelation – the ox, eagle, lion and man.
Franciscan University student Steven Hischier shared that he found Smith’s stories about the 12 apostles and “how he individualized them” the most intriguing.
Student Meredith Kuzma said that it was Smith’s explanation of creating the sculptures that struck her.
“I really enjoyed hearing about the different methods involved in actually creating the sculptures, from the artistic development to the extraction of stone to methods of carving,” she said. “I’ve never had a deep understanding of this art form, so I learned quite a bit from the talk.”
Smith is a sculptor who teaches at Gregory the Great Academy in Pennsylvania. The plasters of Smith’s work and his father Thomas Gordon Smith’s water colors of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey can be viewed in the Gentile Gallery.