Lafayette, Oregon

Carving the Processional Cross for Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey Church

February 04, 2008

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In July 2007, I was commissioned by Abbot Peter McCarthy from the Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon to carve a corpus of Christ for the processional cross for use in the new church. The process of creating this piece was complex and interesting to me, both as a formal challenge and a spiritual experience.

Plaster proposal for processional crossI proposed several drawings, showing potential directions to approach this theme. Abbot Peter, together with architect Dave Richen, chose one of them, and then showed me a picture of a medieval crucifix from a Cistercian monastery in Boquen in Brittany, which they liked. The image was folk, primitive, and full of anatomical and proportional inaccuracies. I was resistant to following this direction. I went back to my studio and started to sculpt a plaster 3-dimensional model of “my Christ.” I was very happy with the final expression of this sketch, but when I presented it to the Abbot and the architect, again they showed me the same picture of Christ. I realized that my ego was creating an obstacle. I responded by returning to my studio to work on a new sketch, and in the process of studying this medieval piece more closely, I discovered qualities I hadn’t recognized before.

Accepted proposal for processional crossA month later I returned to Lafayette with another sketch, which was approved. I was ready to start carving in Honduran mahogany. I had the feeling that this was a chance for a great sculpture.

It is difficult to tell how long I was working on this piece, because every time I entered to my studio time disappeared. Work became prayer and contemplation. The wood was sensitive and responsive. Each day I was coming closer to the expression of the image of the Boquein Christ, and at the same time, I could see my own personal imprint emerging. There were many gifts in the process: the wood itself with its perfect beauty of the color and pulls of the grain; the entire right side of the face of Christ seemed to appear almost perfectly in the wood -- I had to stop touching it at the beginning of my carving; and spiritual gifts like peace, joy, and an opportunity to learn humble obedience. This carving was a sweet encounter with Christ.

Detail of processional crossHow to carve Christ on the cross? It is the most powerful icon of Almighty God and also a kind of koan or haiku that contains contradictions and profound meanings. Every time I reach for this theme, I face all its beauty and ugliness, simplicity and depth. Is Christ on the cross the King or Humble Servant? Is He a Savior of humankind or miserable victim crying, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” To me, the answer is always the same: He is all of this and much more. He is Love. With this answer, I started my work and my work turned back to this question, and it became the greatest gift, which I hope is extended to others who see this Christ. 

Tomasz Misztal is an artist in Oregon (U.S.A) who works in multiple media.  He has a Master of Fine Arts and Ph.D. from the Academy of Fine Arts, Gdansk, Poland.

Photos provided by Tomasz Misztal.

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