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Upon the Cross

Some custom woodworking jobs have been rewarding artistically, some financially, some have brought me in contact with intriguing people, others have delivered abundant servings of humble pie, and a select few have been quite bizarre, namely this one.

Cross for Alice Manzi Crucifiction Sculpture

Several years back local sculptor and artist Alice Manzi ( commissioned me to make a fourteen foot tall cross. She herself had been commissioned by a new Catholic church in New Jersey to design and build several full scale liturgical settings, one of them being the Crucifixion. It required a large wooden cross to look appropriately textured, hewn, not smooth. The cross could not be two solid timbers notched and nailed, however. The new church floor would have built-in metal sleeves at different stations. The cross needed to be constructed as hollow boxes with a discreet, unobvious access door in the back. There would be a metal pole strapped inside that would drop into the floor sleeves. Reducing the overall weight was another important consideration.

The woodworking and joinery challenge appealed to me. I used some long, clear boards of Aspen, and once the boxes were assembled and the lapping crossing joints finished, I went over the whole structure with an axe to simulate the hewing process, and an antique plane whose blade I shaped into a large “scrub” profile.

Axe and Scrub Plane

I figured that, at that point, the job was done, and all that remained was to deliver it and get the almighty final check.

Some personal background. On my mother’s side of my family the Catholic faith ran deep through Cosgroves and Ballous. My grandmother worked internationally for Catholic Relief and through her I met many Monseigneurs, Bishops, and maybe some Cardinals. As a child I was exposed to a heavy dose of Roman Catholicism. When I got old enough to call my own shots I firmly and consciously put it in the rear-view mirror.

The afternoon for delivery came and I drove across Saratoga in my pick-up truck with the large cross, no doubt engendering a few curious glances. On my delivery days you can count on some kind of threatening weather. That afternoon the atmosphere was close, muggy, with rain impending and angry bugs biting. I reached the studio, set back in the wooded foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, just as raindrops began falling.

Alice and I carried the cross inside and placed it on the floor. I knew the job had been done well, to the specifications, and yet I sensed that, perhaps, there was something bothering Alice, who is a very easy, congenial person. She seemed to be a bit “off”, shall I say. Well, it finally came around that she needed help. The job wasn’t over. What remained to be done was…

A bit more background here. When Alice began work on the sculpture of Christ she consulted a world renowned expert on crucifixion. He furnished her with a thorough analysis of the physical processes the human body endures while undergoing the worst, most insidious torture devised by man. Thus, her sculpture was, as the church commissioners wished, very authentically “life like.” I will spare readers the information I obtained in discussing the subject with her.

… to nail Jesus to the cross.

So, you’re a pro, and there’s a job to do. “What size diameter are the spikes? How should they be angled?” Pull the hand up a bit, swing the feet over a little. Careful not to strike too hard, damn, woops. Hey, don’t break the fiberglass. The room is steamy, Alice is not a happy camper. Sweat is pouring off of my forehead onto my hands. Never had to place a fastener through a gaping wound before. Jesus… Christ, what did I just say?

That was an environment I was all too pleased to put in the rear view mirror.

When I pulled into the driveway at home, instead of taking the tools directly into the shop I uncharacteristically took off for a brisk walk down the lane. All of a sudden words that had not been uttered for decades forced themselves from my lips: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou should come under my roof. Speak but the word and my soul will be healed.”

7 comments to Upon the Cross

  • gina

    Great post, Tico! Man, I was with you feeling all nervous while nailing Jesus to the cross! What a great way to end this piece.

  • lovely and real, kisses, Martha

  • nathan

    Its so symbolic of the fact that we have all had a part in nailing Jesus to the cross, through our sin that required him to die. Thanks for the post.

  • Wow, that caught me off guard. Very interesting. Whether you had any Christian beliefs or not, that would have been a very powerful moment for anyone. Great post.

  • Tico,
    I was very moved by your point of view of the events surrounding your delivery of the amazing cross you made for me in 1997. I. too, had left Catholicism behind for a number of reasons after childhood. Since that time I have made numerous religious statues, and have found that, simply, this is the way I participate in ‘religion’. I am not a churchgoer, but you and I made something of lasting beauty and significance that is venerated every day by that congregation in Millstone, New Jersey. I hope we can work together in the future,
    Alice Manzi

  • tico

    Thanks, Alice, for your comment, and it is good to see the bigger picture, that for the worshipers at that church, the work we did was valuable.

    I like the idea of working together!



  • […] funny. How did you know I was raised Roman Catholic? See my blog post "Upon the Cross"(Upon the Cross ). The final lines say it all. Anyway, my LN # 62 plane works great, and the Super Chute works […]

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