World-renowned Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz is creating a bronze sculpture of the university’s patron saint, Thomas Aquinas, one of three new art installations in and around the new Iversen Center for Faith.

Schmalz’s work includes “Angels Unawares,” unveiled last year by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square in Rome – the first new statue added to the square in more than 400 years. In crafting Thomas Aquinas for the first time, Schmalz will bring a lasting representation of the university’s patron saint to campus when it is installed at the end of August. The statue’s placement on the north plaza outside the chapel symbolizes the pursuits of faith and reason, characteristics of Aquinas’ legacy that carry on at St. Thomas today.

“We’re creating a space in this revitalizing of the chapel and the Iversen Center for Faith that’s meant to unify our campus religiously. We’re trying to bring together different faiths, different ideas about faith, and a higher power for people,” College of Arts and Sciences Art History Professor and Department Chair Victoria Young said. “It was important for us to think about these artworks as sustaining that vision and providing for campus a true spiritual heart of faith and reason.”

In addition to Schmalz’s sculpture, nationally recognized artists Kelly Kruse and Mary Griep will both contribute paintings for inside the Iversen Center for Faith, to be installed at the end of July. Their work will highlight art’s role in bringing cultures and faiths together to create St. Thomas’ new spiritual heart of campus, said Victoria Young, chair of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Art History Program and one of the lead organizers for the new art pieces. The newly named Hoedeman Gallery of Sacred Art will also feature rotating artwork within the Iversen Center for Faith.

Representations of all three artists’ work will be on display in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center art gallery starting the first week of February.  

‘A modern-day Michelangelo’

Last year’s art selection committee focused on the idea of a bronze statue of Thomas Aquinas, in line with a tradition of representing some of the university’s key benefactors, including Archbishop John Ireland.

Schmalz’s world-renowned name stood out when artistic submissions were reviewed last September in part because Pope Francis had just unveiled “Angels Unawares” in Rome. Another of Schmalz’s pieces, “Homeless Jesus,” has been displayed in more than 100 countries around the world; in November 2013, Pope Francis blessed the statue on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. In an article earlier this month, the National Catholic Register titled Schmalz a “modern-day Michelangelo.”

“The amount of work he does, where his work is all over the world, is extraordinary,” Young said.

The statue’s concept features the pages of Aquinas’ theology ascending to the sky and transforming into a dove. Unseen wind not only carries the pages to heaven, but also animates the saint’s clothing, creating a spiral of movement throughout the whole work. At the base of the sculpture are ancient busts of Aristotle and Greek pillars, giving visual recognition to the background and range of Aquinas’ theology.

“There’s going to be this incredible energy between our chapel and the plaza: You’ll come out the front door on the same level and onto the new plaza, and there’s Thomas Aquinas, 12 feet tall, situated between two trees,” Young said. “It’s going to be really a great place for our community to gather.”

Spiritual contemplation

The selection of Kruse and Griep’s pieces is the product of a call for artwork last year that drew more than 120 submissions.

Kruse, a Missouri-based artist, will have two three-piece installations span across two walls in the Iversen Center for Faith’s main lobby area.

“We liked the way her work drew on themes of Christianity, but also Greek traditions, and really spoke to the whole human being,” Young said. “We talk, and work so hard at St. Thomas, about educating the whole person in our students; those ideas in her work really resonated with the community.”

Northfield, Minnesota-based Griep’s work will be featured on the west-facing skylight area of the Iversen Center for Faith as it opens up onto the upper quad. The installation, “Tell Me A Story,” will be a series of prints based on Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic and Mayan sites dating from the 12th and 13th centuries.

“We knew that we had to have people think about that place of the Iversen Center for Faith – and the whole coming together of the chapel and the Iversen Center for Faith – be anchored around our commitment to nurturing all our students, faculty, staff and alumni through faith and different cultures,” Young said. “The art we’re bringing here will really add something special to help make this a very powerful place.”

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