The Project: Make a painted plaster statue of St. Blaise (San Biagio in Italian) with base and carry handles and plaque for Holy Ghost Church in Providence RI.
Background: Holy Ghost Church was established in 1889 as the first Italian parish in Southeastern New England and though the parish has become more diverse, there is still a significant Italian population that attends mass there, including my mother-in-law. Among the parishioners of Holy Ghost Church is a group that hails from the town of Sant Ambrogio Sul Garigliano Italy. San Biagio is a popular saint in this town. The main plaza of the town is called Piazza San Biagio and there is a beautiful painted plaster sculpture of the saint in the local cathedral which is used in a procession through the town on San Biagio’s feast day, February 3rd. This group had been raising money and searching for a sculptor to create a version of their hometown San Biagio sculpture for more than a year before learning from my mother-in-law that I was a sculptor. After looking at my work, they were satisfied I had the skill to make a sculpture based on the one in Italy.
Challenges: My patrons wanted a copy of their hometown sculpture but only had one picture of the front. I told them I needed other views, particularly the side views. They provided me with pictures of four views of a San Biagio sculpture in Canada, commissioned by a group of Canadian Italians who also hailed from Sant’Ambrogio. So I was set up to do a copy of a copy. I told my patrons that I would make a San Biagio with the same effect and impact of the fine examples in the pictures they provided but that mine would differ in subtle ways. I had never painted a sculpture before or made a piece that would be carried at shoulder height for a procession. I collaborated with master woodworker and furniture maker/builder Gordon Moss, who made a spectacular wood base with removable carry handles that harmonized with the baroque style of the sculpture.
Recollections: I wanted to do this project to repay the generosity and support of my mother-in-law Lina and late father-in-law Vincenzo. Also, I studied sculpture in Rome for a year and have always been a huge fan of Italian renaissance and baroque sculpture, which was all commissioned by the Catholic church, so this was an opportunity to make a contribution to that tradition. What I hadn’t counted on was the added pressure to not embarrass the family by failing to meet the deadline or not making a piece as beautiful as the statues in Italy and Canada. Thankfully, I did get the sculpture delivered in time for the feast and procession and everyone was happy with the sculpture.
After the unveiling and mass, a women from Sant Ambrogio congratulated me on the sculpture and showed me a black and white picture she had on her phone of the original statue of San Biagio after the town was liberated from the Germans in World War 2. The picture reminded me of a story that several of the Sant Ambrogians had told me. Apparently when the Germans fled the town, six soldiers attempted to carry the statue away but were unable to budge it.