Carving the Door Panels for Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey Church
March 19, 2009
View the Image Slideshow for Carving the Door Panels for Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey Church (Opens a new window).
In January 2007, architect David Richen asked me if I would like to carve the entrance double door panels for the new church at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon. I had known David for a number of years, admired his work, and was delighted to have this first opportunity to collaborate with him. He loaned me beautiful books depicting Cistercian architecture. Then I proceeded with tentative geometric designs to present at our first meeting with Abbot Peter McCarthy. The Abbot decided that Saint Benedict* and Saint Bernard* should be represented. At later meetings, I proposed several depictions of the saints and alternative designs for the opposite doors. The free-flowing grape and wheat sketch was chosen, this symbolizing the bread and wine of the Eucharist and in keeping with the environment. The Abbot then presented my enlarged sketches to his committee for comments, minor changes, and approval.
A formal agreement was signed May 1, 2007. I met with Mike Grant, contractor and owner of Grant’s Construction in Mt. Angel, Oregon. We had hoped to use white oak, grown on the Abbey property. But it could not be cut and seasoned in time. So we selected kiln-dried boards at a nearby hardwood lumber yard. Mike expertly trimmed and glued the panels (2 ft, 1 ½ inches wide by 5 ft, 6 ½ inches high by approximately 1 inch thick plus 1 inch lip for installation. Then he delivered them to my studio in Rainier, Oregon.
My cousin, Andy Thayer, routed out the borders and installed the four panels vertically on my large stand where a number of commissions had been completed. He made wooden clamps to securely hold the panels in place so that I had no problems carving the very hard oak with mallet and chisel.
Usually, I enlarge the small sketch by eye directly with charcoal onto the panel. But to save time, I took advantage of technology and had my 3 inch by 7 inch pencil sketches enlarged full-size to transfer. Corrections were then made with charcoal and as the carvings progressed. Very low relief was required, dependent on the drawing, angle of cuts, texture, and especially, lighting. On approval, the carvings were oiled with natural Watco Danish oil.
Carving began May 30, 2007, with approval of the carvings coming a few months later. On near completion of the church, the doors were installed (November 20 – 24), followed by a special dedication and reception for the artists and artisans on November 27th. The Mass of Dedication for the Abbey church was held on December 8th.
For me, this commission was truly a pleasure.
* Saint Benedict was born in 480 in Nursia, Italy. He died in 547. He is known as the founder of Western monasticism and wrote the Rule of St. Benedict.
* Saint Bernard was born in 1090 in Burgundy, France. He was founder of the Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux and many other monasteries. He was a strict follower of the Rule of St. Benedict.
Mary Lewis is a sculptor who lives in Rainier, Oregon.
Photo credit for photo 1: unknown; credit for photo 2: Mary Lewis; credit for photos 3-5: John Valls