Artist Tim Schmalz’s Nativity sculpture spreads joy of Christmas

By 
  • November 16, 2011

TORONTO - As sculptor Tim Schmalz works on his Nativity sculpture, he compares it to a Christmas carol — one of the songs of absolute happiness.

“Throughout this process, what happened was the figures became more joyous, the designs became more lyrical… And it wasn’t ‘Silent Night.’ It was definitely one of loud celebration as far as the representation is concerned,” said Schmalz.

Schmalz was working on his clay sculpture of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the sixth annual Friends of the Crèche International Convention, held at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel Nov. 10 to 12.

Hosted by St. James Cathedral, the convention, themed “A Northern Nativity,” opened with an ecumenical service at the Anglican cathedral. It had Nativities from around the world on display, including works from Tanzania, Ghana, Poland, the Philippines and Nepal.

Schmalz finds familial joy in working on his latest piece.

“When I’m working on it, I’m thinking about being a father and the joy of the family, the joy of Christmas and how my own personal life and my own personal experiences are put into this sculpture to a certain degree,” said the sculptor based in St. Jacobs, Ont.

The model for the face of baby Jesus was none other than Schmalz’s own son, Luke.

“I’ve taken baby photos of Luke and sculpting his face on it,” he said. “I think that if my experience of creating the piece is so meaningful, some of that must brush off on the piece and perhaps other people will see that, too.”

Schmalz’s work, which includes both religious and non-religious sculptures and public monuments, can be found in Canada, the United States and Europe. Some of his works include the National Mining Monument in Sudbury, Ont., a life-size bronze work created for Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome and a 9/11 memorial in New York depicting firefighters rescuing fire chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge.

Working on the subtle details, Schmalz had only been at work on the Nativity sculpture for a week by the time the convention began. But it wasn’t quite completed by its end.

“I probably have around two weeks before it’s finished and then I’ll cast it and make a mould of it.”

He plans on expanding the piece by adding an angel, the star, the different shepherds and the wise men. While they will act as independent sculptures, the other additions will conform style wise and thematically to the focus of the piece: the Holy Family.

The work will be displayed in a variety of sizes once the clay sculpture is done, said Schmalz.

“I will use it as a prototype for a much larger version meant for churches and institutions and a very small one for people’s homes,” he said. The whole project will take a year.

For years, Schmalz has wanted to create a Nativity, he said.

“It’s challenging to do Nativities because you want to add something new to the tradition and history, but you don’t want to become gimmicky.”

Before starting the sculpture, Schmalz researched his peers — all of the Renaissance, he said.

“And I noticed that nothing very similar to this has been done so that gave me courage and excitement about continuing to work on the idea of a joyous Nativity.”

With Joseph’s hands raised upwards, it’s almost like he is saying “thank God” as he’s looking up to heaven, he said. “It’s a celebration of Christianity, it’s a celebration of Christmas.”

For more information on Schmalz, see www.timschmalz.com.

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