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Wichita cathedral statues offer new look at Holy Family
By Kevin J. Jones
Rip Caswell's
Rip Caswell's

.- Wichita’s Catholic cathedral has commissioned two statues whose creator intends to provide a “powerful” depiction of the Crucifixion and to celebrate Mary being pregnant with Jesus.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception commissioned the Oregon-based artist Rip Caswell to create the bronze sculptures one-fourth larger than life size.

The piece “Mary and Joseph” depicts a pregnant Mary with her hand on her womb, while Joseph is shown as a supportive father figure and husband standing behind her.

Caswell said he has made some “bold departures” with this piece.

Traditionally, Mary’s pregnancy was hidden or portrayed as barely showing and St. Joseph was characterized as an older man in the background.

But Caswell said he sees a trend in churches of telling the traditional stories from a new angle.

“Culture and society have changed,” he explained. “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.

With his new sculpture, Caswell said he aims to show Mary “celebrating” her pregnancy and motherhood, and to portray Joseph as a “strong, solid and protective man, very much in love with Mary.”

But this depiction also hints at the sorrows of Mary. Her statue will look across the Wichita cathedral to a scene of the Crucifixion that Caswell promises will be “powerful.”

“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,” the sculptor said. “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.”

Msgr. Robert Hemberger, chair of the Cathedral Arts Committee, said the statues are intended to appear “almost as though there is a conversation taking place between the crucified Jesus and Mary, his mother.

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

The monsignor said he was ‘delighted” by the beauty of the Mary sculpture.

“Her face is astoundingly beautiful—it’s just amazing.”

The figure of Mary is 7 feet, 1 inch in height, while Joseph is 7 feet, 8 inches. The artist used more than 500 pounds of clay in the process of making the Mary and Joseph statue.

The Diocese of Wichita’s Arts Committee selected Caswell for the work after a national search and an extensive interview process in December 2010.

Msgr. Hemberger said that the cathedral chose the artist because of his serious approach to the project.

“He understood what we were looking for and he had an intuitive sense for our vision. We were struck by his attention to detail. Historical accuracy is important to him.”

The statues will be positioned facing each other in separate east and west alcoves of the cross-shaped cathedral. They will be installed in late August or early September.


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