Saint Francis of Assisi

This image of a beloved saint and a personal hero might never have been undertaken but for a winter respite with my students, who have long modeled for me the loving-kindness of Francis.


Sketch for the winged friends.

Why hummingbirds? Some years ago, I was working in a Vermont greenhouse and nursery wherein a sweet colleague and I rescued ruby-throated hummingbirds. They would become caught in spider webs; the silk was too strong for their wings, and our little friends would emit panicked cries from the ceilings. So, my colleague and I spotted each other on precariously positioned ladders, gently parted silk from feathers, and marveled at the weightlessness of the creatures until they rallied and flew from our hands. After a batch of rescues on a very warm day, I was sweeping out the greenhouse and paused to rest, closing my eyes and leaning on the broom for support. The air near my face changed, and I slowly opened my eyes to find four male hummingbirds hovering before me. We made eye contact for long seconds and I felt a current of pure, loving gratitude pass between us. I am convinced that they fully knew we’d risked the climbs to help them in genuine care and reverence – indeed, had now re-entered the environment of their trauma to communicate it – and this image of multiple, fiercely territorial birds in a moment of harmony has remained with me. In addition, hummingbirds are often seen as symbols of joy and their wings beat in the shape of infinity, which makes them a lovely fit for the subject. A fifth bird protected between the hands completes a reference to the wounds of Christ.

The primary tool for this work was a small, damaged chisel. It gave the surface rough imperfections that catch and reflect light.
Apparently there was a long-ago discussion about dental tools and sculpting…gratitude for the super-abundance of toothbrushes that were saved and gifted! One was used to gently clean the plaster mould and others will be shared with my students. What you’re seeing is a recessed (and reversed) image of the original relief, although it appears raised – an optical illusion.
While the cast is setting up and a full studio schedule tended, there are simple joys to contemplate (Lenten roses).
Brushing debris away from the terra-cotta cast. To align ourselves with the Divine image is an act of faith. It requires the willingness to recognize the beloved in each being we encounter, with no exceptions.
The terra-cotta draft surprised me. Its imperfect, distressed appearance is a greater truth, makes his equanimity sing…