You know your sculptures are convincing when someone mistakes one of them for a real person. That’s exactly what happened when someone called the cops on Canadian Catholic sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz’s sculpture Jesus the Homeless. Schmalz, 46, of Ontario, is trying to bring little-talked-about subjects out into the open through his art. Especially dear to his heart are the unborn; through his monuments and miniatures of the unborn, he hopes to make visible the hidden pain of those who are victims of abortion.
There’s a strong pro-life theme in your sculptures. Is there a story behind your motivation to create sculptures with a pro-life message?
Abortion in our culture is a serious concern of mine. I know it from firsthand experience because I am a victim of abortion. I had a relationship when I was in my early 20s, and the woman I was dating became pregnant. We were duped by our culture to do the supposedly “responsible” thing. I experienced what it’s like to sit in a clinic waiting for my girlfriend to have an abortion and what it was like to be with her after the abortion. I saw firsthand the devastation that it did to my heart and to my soul — and also to my girlfriend’s. It was absolutely overwhelming.
Why is it important to have pro-life sculptures in public view?
Father Frank Pavone said, “As long as abortion is invisible, it will exist in America.” I see my sculptures as battling against that invisibility. To this day, more than 20 years later, I’m still moved when I think about the abortion experience and the devastation and the secrecy behind it.
My sculptures are an active way to atone. I hope my sculptures will serve as an oasis against this silence and make visible what is oftentimes left invisible.
Where do you get your inspiration for your pro-life work?
The inspiration comes from my abortion experience and learning from my failure; I felt the need to create something positive. I would like to see one of my latest sculptures — an angel leaning over an empty crib — in many different cities because I know there are so many people, both male and female, silently suffering through their abortions.
I think when a pro-life sculpture is displayed, whether it’s on a mantelpiece in someone’s home or a bronze sculpture positioned in front of a cathedral, it’s doing the same thing: unmasking hidden evil. That’s my motivation; it’s my way of using my skills to fight evil in the world and, hopefully, save people from the horrible experience that I had.
The more our culture talks about the devastation of abortion and the sacredness of life — and the more artwork is not afraid to show this — the more we’re going to see a change. After all, the English didn’t notice the fog in London until artists started painting it.
Does your work also speak to parents who have lost a child through miscarriage?
The sculpture of the angel weeping over a cradle was done after my wife miscarried [three years ago]. It was a time when we thought for sure we were going to have our third child, and we were so excited that our kids were going to have another sibling. Then we had to tell them that it wasn’t going to happen. I remember sitting in my studio feeling so empty. That’s when I did the cradle piece, which I called I Knew You in the Womb. When our family experienced that miscarriage, it brought back similar feelings to when I had lost my first child through abortion.
I envisioned an angel weeping over an empty cradle; there was something so subtle, so absent, and so touching about him. The idea was borrowed from cemeteries in France where you often see an angel weeping over a tombstone.
Ideally these empty cradle sculptures will be placed in different places and be like tombstones in their own way. Similar to the Wailing Wall, someone could put flowers or notes into that empty baby cradle.
Do you think of your sculptures as three-dimensional pro-life billboards or protest signs?
A protest sign is great, but after the protest it gets put in the garage. I see my art as a permanent protest sign. If I create a bronze sculpture to be placed on a church lawn, that bronze sculpture is going to be there forever, whereas a sign comes down or gets torn and destroyed in the rain and the elements. When I have a pro-life piece destined for a particular location, I think about all the people who will see it and how it could impact them.
How does being Catholic influence your art?
Christianity provides an unending stream of inspiration. It is one of the most amazing, phenomenal subjects to bring to your artwork. If you look at how radical and powerful Catholicism is, in order to authentically represent it, you are going to have to create radical artwork. I’m not talking about an art piece done out of meat or these ridiculous pieces that are shocking for the sake of shock. That’s boring! People look at my sculpture of Jesus the Homeless and comment on how radical it is, and I say to them, “It’s only as radical as the Gospels.”
If you really study what Jesus says, it’s some very scary, challenging stuff. Christianity is a hard religion to swallow, and this is what’s fascinating. When Jesus says we should love our enemies, it’s difficult. The artwork that illustrates that will be just as powerful if it’s done with sincere authenticity and hope and striving.
There has been a strong public response to your Jesus the Homeless. What inspired you to create this sculpture?
I was in Toronto and I saw this homeless person. It was in November around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and this man was wrapped in a blanket and lying on a park bench; the city of Toronto was his bedroom. All that day I was haunted by the vision of him; the words that came into my heart were: “That is Jesus.” The next day, the thought of him being Jesus was still with me. As a sculptor, I felt compelled to do a representation of Jesus as a homeless person.
There was a “What would Jesus Do?” slogan that made the rounds. Well, my slogan is “What would Jesus sculpt?” He wants us to see him in the marginalized, the sick, and the hungry. In my sculpture, I depicted Jesus how I believe he would want himself represented because it’s exactly what he said: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
What was it like meeting Pope Francis?
I was invited to Rome, where I had the honor of presenting Jesus the Homeless in person to Pope Francis. I think it’s providential that this sculpture was born at a time when we have a pope who cares deeply for the most marginalized.
I was waiting for Pope Francis to greet all of the cardinals from around the world. Then he came over to my sculpture, which had been placed on a beautiful stand. He took a moment out of this amazing rush of greeting people to kneel down and pray in front of the sculpture. He grabbed the knee of Jesus, and as he prayed, he was holding Jesus the Homeless. Afterward I was introduced to him as the sculptor, and Pope Francis told me “that it was an excellent and beautiful representation of Jesus.”