Timothy Schmalz puts some finishing touches on the original model for the ‘Maternal Bond’ sculpture. The sculpture is on exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. The museum has also commissioned him to do a Nativity scene, which he began forming from clay earlier this month. Courtesy of Timothy Schmalz

The art of the season

  • December 22, 2019

The works of renowned Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz will be prominent over Christmas at Washington, D.C.’s Museum of the Bible.

His Madonna and Child, titled Maternal Bond, is on exhibit in the main atrium of the museum through Jan. 5, and he was commissioned to create a new Nativity scene for permanent display, which saw the museum become a live studio over three days in early December as Schmalz gave birth to his new creation.

“They invited me to use their museum, the Museum of the Bible, as my studio for the creation of the piece,” said Schmalz.

It’s not something he experiences every day and Schmalz was excited to have people observe him as he created his art. 

Calling himself a “hermit,” it was a change from his normal routine where he is in that artistic solitude, alone in his own creative thoughts and space as he envisions the piece at hand. It’s something different, but something he enjoyed as Schmalz interacted with patrons, describing to them the process in creating his art and how the biblical texts shape his work.

This new Nativity scene was envisioned and sketched out leading up to Dec. 6 when Schmalz began work on it. Over three days he formed it out of clay into a metre-high Nativity. The work in progress was revealed during a Dec. 8 ceremony. 

Over his career, Schmalz has created numerous Nativity scenes, but this piece — as with much of Schmalz’s work — is a new concept of a well-known and loved standard that stays true to the traditional Nativity. 

Where most have Mary and Joseph as almost “passive observers” of the baby Jesus in His crib, the finished product will have Mary and Joseph lifting the child out of the crib. It’s a subtle change, but “pretty radical” when you see other scenes represented throughout the years, said Schmalz. 

The Nativity may be one of the most sculpted scenes in history, but there is always room for a modern interpretation without taking away from the traditional, he said, and he’s confident this will enhance the tradition.

“It brings the eternal truth to us in our day-to-day lives. Likewise, artwork has that power to bring something relevant today,” he said.

“New, great things are always possible in every century when it comes to Christian artwork…. In Christian artwork you understand God is full of surprises and I’m ready to be surprised and hopefully impressed by what comes out of this Christmas season.” 

Schmalz was pleased with the invitation to turn the Washington museum into his studio, if only for three days.

“The Museum of the Bible is open to all Christians, but it’s awesome to have the emphasis on the Catholic heritage of art, and Mary, being the feature of their Christmas this year,” said Schmalz.

“It gives me the opportunity to get into the spirit of Christmas in action.”

The completed clay model will be brought back to Schmalz’s studio in St. Jacob’s, Ont., to mould and fine tune before pouring the bronze and doing technical detailing at the foundry. 

All told, it should be finished in about six months.

It’s just the start, however. Schmalz intends to add a new piece to his new Nativity each year, filling out the whole scene.

“But I’m starting with the exciting. I’m not starting with the Three Wise Men, I’m starting with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.”

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