Catholic artist Timothy P. Schmalz sought to find and bring to life the most important subject matter an artist could ever express.
“I wanted to create a sculpture project that would be the heart of Christianity,” the Canadian sculptor said.
He settled on Christ’s crucifixion and death.
His new creation, once finished, will be a life-size set of the 14 Stations of the Cross — scenes depicting Christ’s journey from being condemned to death to his burial — placed right next to Disney World. The faithful will be able to encounter the 12-foot-tall, 11-foot-wide sculptures at the Basilica of Our Lady Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Florida.
“I hope to rival Universal Studios, Walt Disney, and every other feature in Orlando by creating what has never been done before, and that is one of the biggest, most complex Stations of the Cross,” Schmalz said.
Schmalz is not new to sculpting. The experienced artist’s work can be found worldwide, from St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican to Washington, D.C. He is perhaps best known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculpture and the “Angels Unaware” statue.
His new Stations of the Cross, he hopes, will serve as a tool for evangelization and conversion for the roughly 50 million people that visit Disney each year.
“It’s right in the center of a place that desperately needs a spiritual Catholic oasis,” he said, adding that bringing the Stations of the Cross to Orlando is “bringing the Gospels [to] where the people are, in a sense.”
The stations — which combine mural painting and sculpture — will offer visitors “visual doorways into a Catholic-Christian experience,” he said.
So far, he has completed the first four stations: Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus carries his cross, Jesus falls for the first time, and Jesus meets his mother.
It will take another year, he says, before all 14 are done. On his YouTube channel, Schmalz walks viewers through the process of creating each station, from sketching them on paper to sculpting them in bronze.
Each scene, made of bronze, bursts with symbolism, movement, and emotion. The foreground shows Jesus’ passion. In the background, Schmalz plans to include every single parable found in the New Testament.
“When you see Jesus in the front, you’re going to see … a raw, hardcore scene from the passion,” he said. “But in the distance, you’re going to see the parables that he taught us. So it might be in the distance, you’ll see a camel trying to get through a little hole in the wall or the eye of the needle.”
While he works in his studio located in St. Jacobs, Ontario, Canada, he listens to an audio recording of the New Testament, he said.
“Things are pulled out and things describe themselves as I create,” he explained, comparing his role to a “passenger” or “director.”
The stations are getting funded by various donors, he said, as he works on them. As they progress from one to 14, each station will become “more and more intense.”
“The passion now has become my passion,” he said.
He hopes that viewers will feel like they are a part of the stations.
“We know there’s a lot of kids going to Walt Disney in Orlando every year,” he said, giving one example. “I’m putting a lot of children within them so they can see themselves in the scene.”
The 53-year-old artist also sees himself in them.
“It’s fascinating because you really become a part of the subject matter as you’re working on it,” he said. “It evolves and it grows as you’re working on it, and it’s almost like it tells you what to do in a sense where I don’t necessarily know exactly how the piece will end up.”
He called the project mentally, spiritually, and physically taxing. He might dedicate one entire day to creating a little corner of one of the stations, he said, and another day just focusing on the face of Jesus.
But, he added, the work is worth it. These stations allow him, as an artist, to “get to the absolute essence of Christianity” in the hope that “it will be one of the greatest tools to convert and inspire Christianity.”
“I want [people] to come back from Orlando and, sure, talk about the rides, talk about Mickey Mouse. But I want them to say that the most exciting and most interesting and most moving thing with their vacation was this Stations of the Cross project,” he said. “And if I can do that with this piece of artwork, I have succeeded.”
At a time when many people are attacking Christianity and Christian symbols, Schmalz’s response is to create new, stronger symbols. “Sculptures that are bold, sculptures that celebrate and glorify Christ, but also encourage people to walk through that doorway and see Christ in focus,” he said.
“As they try to make us invisible, we have to sharpen,” he concluded. “And me, as an artist, that is my job, to sharpen our identity with these symbols and art.”