The people of France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884, but sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi's masterpiece wasn't dedicated until 1886 – after a newspaper campaign had raised $300,000 to complete the 154-foot pedestal on which it stands.
This week's unveiling of sculptor Frank Bougher's latest work won't be on quite that scale, but it will at least get the Virgin Mary out of Father Tom Shoemaker's garage.
“A lot of people have been coming to see her,” said Shoemaker, pastor of St. Jude Catholic Church at 2130 Pemberton Drive, referring to the statue that is the centerpiece of “The First Step Toward Salvation,” which will be blessed by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at 2 p.m. Wednesday. “We started talking about this in 2010, and I'm just thrilled. It's fantastic.”
Bougher (pronounced “Boyer”), who sells cigars at Riegel's Pipe and Tobacco Shop by day and sculpts by night, actually ended the two-piece work weeks ago. But public display of the baby Jesus and his mother had to wait until 18-year-old McKenzie Gardner, as his Eagle Scout project, could design and complete the base, which required 22 bags of cement.
And so the pilgrimages to Shoemaker's garage will stop – and devotions at the parish's new grotto will begin.
“Students (at the church's school) have had prayers at the flag pole on Thursdays, and we thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have a better place to pray?'” Shoemaker said.
St. Jude member Clara Bloom commissioned the work in memory of her parents, Michael and Oliva Mickelini, and the church contacted Bougher, who attended school there. The rest was just a matter of inspiration, followed by perspiration.
“(The design) was inspired by the Wedding at Cana (in the Gospel of John), where Mary says, 'Do as (Jesus) instructs.' I was going through a reconversion at the time, praying (the) rosary, and the image just came to me. It is a foreshadowing of our whole journey, which is the cross itself,” Bougher explained.
Actually, the design also demonstrates how seemingly small details can dramatically change an artist's message.
When the two pieces were first placed in the base Saturday, Jesus and Mary faced each other, their arms outstretched as if ready to embrace – a loving, appropriate and entirely human thing to do.
Turn Jesus around, however, and the meaning changes completely. Mary's arms are not extended to embrace her son but to send him forth into the world. And Jesus is not reaching for his mother, but is instead reaching out to the entire world. Thus does his first step from her become the “First Step Toward Salvation” for those who follow him – an appropriate message as the church prepares to celebrate Pentecost, which commemorates the sending of the Holy Spirit by the newly risen and ascended Christ.
Gardner said he was glad to serve the church while fulfilling his duty as a Scout. For Bougher, who wanted to be a priest before withdrawing from the seminary because “he liked girls too much,” the work is even more personal.
Mary was modeled after his 14-year-old daughter Marie – who, ironically, would not even exist had Bougher followed his original vocation.
“There's a lot of Marie in (Mary),” Bougher said of his daughter, who posed in her “Johnny Appleseed” dress for 18 months while he completed the mold.
“I'm really excited,” said Marie, whose image on bronze will remain forever youthful.
Bougher, whose earlier works include figures of Christ, a monk and a student at his former St. Meinrad's Seminary in southern Indiana and the lion-head fountain in Lakeside Rose Garden, is also a talented graphic artist. And, like all artists, he's rarely satisfied with the final product because reality seldom achieves perfection.
But Bougher said he is pleased with the work nevertheless, especially since his original wax mold partially melted during shipment to a foundry in Cleveland on an especially hot day and had to be carefully restored. And that's as it should be:
The journey toward salvation isn't about our perfection, but that of the sinless baby who turned from his mother – and toward us.