Thursday, 03 March 2011 14:10
Sculptor developing ideas for two powerful scenes that will lift the faith of those visiting the mother church of the diocese
By Christopher M. Riggs
The meetings are over and Rip Caswell is ready to work.
Caswell, an artist from Troutdale, Ore., has been commissioned to sculpt two works for the anticipated renovation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Wichita, that is part of the TOGETHER vision.
“The concept is to sculpt Mary and Joseph – Joseph as a protector, a supporter, a father figure, husband. He’ll be behind Mary and she’ll be slightly pregnant. She’ll be looking across the cathedral to the other alcove on the other side of the cathedral at the Crucifixion.”
It’s like looking across time, he said. “Mary is pregnant, knowing and accepting that Jesus will eventually die for us all. It’s going to be very powerful to see that interplay between the two sculptures, but also with the viewer.”
The cross will seem to come up right out of the floor in the crucifixion scene on the east transept, Caswell said during a visit to Wichita late last month.
“You’ll be able to touch the feet of Christ and walk around him. It’s really going to be very powerful. He’ll be looking down. His face will not be that of a victim – in John it talks about how he was in control at every moment and willingly did this. There will be a sense of serenity and calm in his face.”
The sculptor said visitors will be able to look up into Jesus’ face and will be able to kneel at the foot of the cross. “It will be a very powerful experience,” he said. “The same with Mary and Joseph. They’ll be right there where they can be touched.”
Once Caswell and the committee reach an agreement on the drawings for the two scenes, he will begin sculpting models for their approval.
“I call it a heroic size, it’s larger-than-life,” he said. “In the scale of that building, if we were to do them life-size, they would look too small. The size of the columns, the height of the cathedral – it’s really quite impressive.”
Caswell has been sculpting full-time in bronze for about 20 years, building on his previous vocation of taxidermy.
“My dad was a professional hunter, outdoorsman, guide, and outfitter, so he was always taking me into nature,” Caswell said. “I was fascinated with the anatomy of animals. My dad saw this when I was about 15 and he said you should try taxidermy. He had met a guy in Oregon who was one of the best, so I started mentoring with him.”
He was mentored well. Caswell, who studied animal anatomy in detail, was named best taxidermist in the nation in 1991, but a love of sculpting that also began when he was a child never left him. He began casting in bronze and was soon commissioned by hunters who began purchasing his works of animals. “I eventually gave my business of taxidermy over to my apprentice and I focused on my artwork,” he said.
After he started his family he was so inspired by his children that he wanted to do sculptures of them. “So I started taking some portrait classes and trying to study the human form. It was challenging and I ended up going to Italy to study,” he said.
Caswell found himself studying human anatomy as he did animal anatomy. “An anatomy specialist had us build every bone and every muscle from the inside out. That’s really the way I learned, with my hands and eyes modeling what I see – it imprints in my brain that way. She showed us the fine points of portraiture work and I just started doing more and more portraits.”
His study paid off with commissions of several significant sculptures. “I found that I had a real gift with people. I am able to capture an essence, a spirit, and the emotion. And so I started getting more and more commissions with the human form and really evolving with that side of it.”
When he was commissioned to do a piece for a church called Christ’s Family, he said, he found it to be an exercise of worship.
“The responsibility to do Christ was so burdensome that I realized I wasn’t capable of doing this on my own, that I needed divine help and I started opening myself up to that more and more.”
He began fasting, praying, and asking the Holy Spirit for “inspiration to tell the story, to reveal the message and taking my ego out of that. It really turned out well.”
When he was commissioned to do a piece called the Baptism of Christ for a church outside of Chicago, he enlisted his whole staff into a Bible study. “I realized after doing this long enough, that you’re only as good as your knowledge of the subject, that the more in touch with the subject that you are – regardless of whether it seems unrelated – adds to the feeling, the emotions.”
Caswell said the people at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception have been generous with their time.
“They have filled me with stories and inspirations,” he said. “ I’ve gotten to speak to members of the Hispanic community, members of the Vietnamese community, all of the clergy. Their passion is inspiring. I am really looking forward to doing this sculpture.”
The two sculptures are made possible through the generosity of the faithful of the diocese.
More than $17 million has already been pledged to the TOGETHER vision in support of seminarian education, Catholic formation programs and the renovation of our Cathedral Campus. But your support is still needed.
Construction dates for the renovation are still pending. Visit TOGETHERvision.org to learn more about the renovation of our Cathedral campus, and find out how you can be a part of the TOGETHER vision.