Sculpture is three-dimensional art, and statuary is affordable sculpture for everyone. Statuary encompasses the sublime to the ridiculous it is as familiar as red- and-green lawn gnomes and as exotic the Winged Victory, an ancient Greek sculpture displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. The availability of free time to spend in our yards and gardens has boosted interest in ornamenting quiet corners of flower gardens with cherubs, birdbaths, and gargoyles. The same statuary can be used indoors as paperweights, decorations for the mantelpiece, wall display, or other ornamentation. It provides a relatively inexpensive means of echoing a design or artistic theme in a room, establishing atmosphere, and providing interest in an empty space.
Cast sculpture is the parent of statuary, but the process of making both is essentially the same. The major differences are that sculpture is produced in very limited quantities, materials like statuary bronze are more expensive, sculptures are often large in size (prohibitively so for the average home), and all these factors make sculpture expensive or, indeed, priceless. Statuary is cast using molds and is made of cement, plaster, or resin; but sculpture can be made of almost any material or many materials from marble and bronze to feathers and hubcaps. Any method or material that adds dimension to artwork has potential value to the sculptor. The finish of statuary, like sculpture, consists of either an applied finish like color or a natural finish that allows the true color and beauty of the material to show or to be enhanced by sanding or polishing.
Sculpture has been an important art form in all cultures that have evolved since Paleolithic times. Its three dimensions have permitted artists to interpret mythical characters or pay homage to kings, and construction materials like metal and stone are more durable and adaptable than canvas, paper, and paint. Artistic trends in sculpture have always kept pace and similarity with other styles, although its development has also followed architecture, the filling of large spaces, and the idea of freeing the personality trapped in stone.
The sculpture of all the great civilizations has been copied in making statuary. Statuary is just as old as sculpture, and these same civilizations have prized statuary for display in private and public gardens, patios and piazzas, and interior decoration. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79a.d. perfectly preserved the lifestyles of the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and their homes and gardens housed ornamental statuary.
The rise of civilizations in Europe and Asia produced new styles of statuary, but, periodically, interest in ancient forms and styles was reborn, so statuary has helped preserve and personalize the marble friezes of the Parthenon and clay statues of early Chinese dynasties. In modern America, private homes can feature French Gothic decor, thanks to statuary manufacturers who reproduce the great works of the period in affordable formats.
The extensive gardens of royal palaces and parks in many cultures have included the display of fountains and sculpture. Reproduction through statuary allows small spaces to be filled with similar artwork that adds personality, whimsy, and even scholarly knowledge on a more reasonable scale. The renaissance of interest in gardening has helped spur enthusiasm for relief statuary that can be mounted on walls or inset among paving stones as well as statuary birds, rabbits, fairies, and other real and imaginary woodland inhabitants.
Materials for home statuary consist of those for making molds and those for the actual sculpture. Flexible molds are used to cast statuary, as opposed to waste molds (that are used once and wasted) or piece molds (that are constructed in sections) for making sculpture. Molds are made from either rubber or silicone, depending on the material that will be cast. Cement and plaster statues are created from rubber molds, and resin statues require silicone molds. Both materials can be molded with different surface finishes, but they can be removed more cleanly from their respective statue types.
The statue-making cement, plaster, and resin are all mixed into liquids by adding clean water to powder components supplied by specialized manufacturers. The grade, dried color, and fineness of the powders will affect the appearance of the final product. They are chosen carefully and may be very different from one style of statue to another. Plaster is used to make statues for the interior only, but cement and resin can be made for indoor or outdoor use. Additives are mixed with the synthetic or polyester resin particularly to make it durable, give it the properties to withstand temperature extremes, and make it non-porous so moisture won't penetrate and cause damage during frosts and freezing. Sometimes, fiberglass are mixed in to add strength; the resin is then termed glass-fiber reinforced polyester resin or GRP. Statues made of enriched cement sometimes include marble dust and are left unfinished so the statue has the natural texture of the cement.
Designs for home statuary originate from three sources. Old molds made for original sculpture and for statuary makers that have gone out of business are sometimes available for purchase. Statuary makers hire artists to design statues based on existing art; these designers are basically copyists, but they are experts in the process of sketching, modeling clay pieces from their sketches, and making molds from those models. This type of design requires skills in proportioning and interpreting the original art and in reproducing it. Reproduction designers also look at ancient sources with modern eyes and often adapt an older work for modern tastes. Finally, manufacturers of statuary commission designers to create original works. Like reproduction specialists, these designers are also knowledgeable about the processes of modeling and molding casts for statuary, and they use antique sources or themes and new trends in home and garden decorating to create original works.
- For original artwork and some reproductions, the process may begin with a sketch from which the artist makes a clay or plaster original or model. Usually, this step is completed in the design process so the manufacturer can see the three-dimensional piece, review and approve it, and commit to full-scale manufacture. When the work is reviewed, modified (if necessary), and approved, a mold is made from the sculpted model.
- Using the mold made especially from an original design or an existing mold that may be several generations removed from its original, liquid resin, plaster, or cement is poured into the mold. Although each statue is made individually, many molds for the same design are used to reproduce a number of statues at the same time. The molds are stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms for 24-72 hours, depending on the configuration of the piece. Heat is not applied, so this is called "cold cure" statuary.
- When the statue has dried partially, the mold is carefully removed. This is possible because the flexible mold can be removed from complex detailing and undercut areas of the statue without damaging either the statue or the mold. The mold can be cleaned and reused. The statue is stored again in a drying room to be completed cured or dehydrated. This step also takes 24-72 hours depending on the material, size, and complexity of design of the piece. The dried statues are inspected before the finishing processes begin.
- Finishing involves two phases of sanding for most of the statue designs. Enriched cement statues and other pieces with rough appearances aren't sanded at all or are sanded once before priming. Statuary with the finest finish is sanded then painted with primer and sanded a second time. The statues are inspected before they are painted because the quality of the sanded finish will affect quality of the paint job and the final appearance.
- Statues of the same color are painted in batches in the paint room. Spray guns are used to apply the most popular colors. Most statuary makers will custom finish or paint statues at the customer's request; in this case, the statues are painted individually in small work stations. The painted statues are left to dry overnight.
- The statues are moved to the packing and shipping department where small ones are boxed in cardboard and larger models are crated in wood. They are stored pending shipment.
Statuary making is a hand manufacturing process, so opportunities for inspecting the product for quality occur throughout production. Quality control is practiced first in choosing the artists who will design the statues then in accepting the designs for production. Initials casts, prepared molds, and dried statuary are all checked. Sanded and primed statues are also inspected carefully because these preparations prior to painting are critical to the look of the finished statues. Painting is observed during the process and inspected after the paint has dried.
Statue manufacturers produce many varieties of statuary for interior or exterior use and in many artistic styles. Waste is minimal. The quality of the plaster, resin, and cement used for the statuary prevents air bubbles and other flaws, so few of the statues have to be destroyed because of errors discovered after they have been cast. Rubber and silicone molds are long lasting. Careful observations throughout manufacturing also limit waste.
Statuary's strong future is founded on its past. The museums of the world hold a range of art work that can be reproduced at full size, in smaller versions, and in modernized adaptations to suit every taste. Other sources of sculpted inspiration, like the gargoyles on the great cathedrals and public buildings of Europe, further multiply the possibilities. Interest in sculpture is fueled by the always evolving trends in interior decoration, the popularity of gardening as a hobby, and fascination with art. Mass production of statuary for the home and garden creates affordable art that can stand on the desktop or add personality to a stone walkway or lawn.
Where to Learn More
Dawson, Robert. Practical Sculpture: Creating with plastic media. New York: The Viking Press, 1970.
Johnson, Lillian. Sculpture: The Basic Methods and Materials. New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1960.
Adams, William Howard. "The Power of Bare Suggestion." House & Garden (April 1985): 234+.
Greenberg, Cara. "Heroics Come Home: Raise High the Roof Beams garden Statuary Is Moving Indoors." Metropolitan Home (July 1991): 32+.
Design Toscano. http://www.aaweb.com/toscano/ (June 29, 1999).
Eaglemount Statuary. http://www.olympus.net/eaglemount/ (June 29, 1999).
Gargoyles Statuary. http://www.gargoylestatuary.com/ (June 29, 1999).
Orlandi Statuary. http://www.statue.com/ (June 29, 1999).
Weeping Statues and Icons
Weeping Statues and Icons
She was like thousands of other plaster Madonnas manufactured at a plant in Sicily and sold throughout the country for a few lira. This particular Madonna was sold as a wedding present from a friend who decided that such a statue would be an appropriate gift for Antionetta and Angelo Iannusco, who were married in Syracuse, Sicily, in the spring of 1953. Then, on the morning of August 29, 1953, as Antionetta prayed devoutly to the Blessed Mother to grant her surcease from the pains of her pregnancy, the statue began to weep.
At first her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were skeptical, but then they witnessed a virtual torrent of tears flowing from the eyes of the plaster Madonna. Angelo, who prided himself on his atheistic philosophy and communistic politics, became so moved by the apparent supernatural manifestation that he left the Communist Party and assisted the priest as he said mass over the weeping Madonna.
Doubting neighbors, cynical journalists, and rational, scientific investigators were baffled by the phenomenon of the weeping statue in the Iannusco household. When news of the miracle Madonna spread throughout Italy, thousands of people hurried to view it for themselves. The southeastern Sicilian community's hotels were quickly swamped with requests for accommodation.
Before the Iannusco's home could be crushed by the onslaught of curious pilgrims, the Syracuse Police Department agreed to remove the little Madonna to their headquarters for safekeeping. As the squad car moved through the streets, a patrolman carefully held the statue on his lap. Soon his jacket was drenched with tears. A skeptical detective caught several tears in a chemist's vial and, without identifying the liquid, sent the specimen to a police laboratory for analysis. The next morning the irritated director of the lab berated him for wasting his time analyzing such substances as human tears.
Hardly any time passed before the crippled, the lame, and the ill from all over Italy were soon gathering before the weeping Madonna. The tears were caught on a cloth and wiped on the bodies of the afflicted. A middle-aged man recovered the use of a crippled arm. A three-year-old girl stricken with polio was able to discard the stainless steel braces that had encased her twisted legs. An 18-year-old girl who had been struck dumb 11 years before began to speak. Hundreds of others claimed to have received a healing blessing from the tears of the little Madonna.
The Madonna's tears ceased to flow on the fourth day of the phenomenon, but exactly one month later, the statue was carried through the streets of Syracuse at the head of a procession of 30,000 people. Since that day, thousands of pilgrims have flocked to the shrine of the little Madonna, including more than a hundred bishops and archbishops and several cardinals. Her glassed-wall case, capped with a bronze cross, is surrounded by dozens of crutches and braces that have been left there as silent testimony of hundreds of miracle healings. Hopeful that their city would become known as the "Italian Lourdes," the citizens of Syracuse purchased a 12-acre site and constructed a lattice-type pagoda shrine for the Madonna. Large ramps lead up to the entrance and the 400-foot high walls. Thirty-six small chapels surround the shrine and await the devout.
In a message to the Sicilians in 1958, Pope Pius XII (1876–1958) said: "So ardent are the people of Sicily in their devotion to Mary that who would marvel if she had chosen the illustrious city of Syracuse to give a sign of her grace?"
While the skeptical explain weeping statues and icons of the Madonna, Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.–c. 30 c.e.), or other holy figures as bizarre moisture condensation at best and as outright fraud at the worst, throughout the world and all of Roman Catholic Christendom, the ordinary statues or paintings become highly venerated objects of faith. As the old saying goes, "For those who believe, no explanation is needed. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible."
Just before Christmas in 1996, a painting of Jesus was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses to be weeping red tears. This painting was no ordinary icon, for it hangs in the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity, above the spot where Christian tradition maintains Jesus was born. A Muslim cleaning lady was the first to see a light that came from the painting just prior to the tears flowing from the eyes of Jesus. Since her sighting, thousands of Christians of all denominations, along with many Jews and Muslims, have witnessed the tears.
Among other recent manifestations of weeping statues and icons are the following:
Grangecon, Ireland: Three weeks after a retired postmaster and her daughter noticed tears and drops of blood tricking from the eye of a statue of the Madonna one day in 1994, 3,000 visitors from all over the world had arrived to witness the phenomenon for themselves.
The phenomena associated with the madonnas and the icons of various saints and holy figures that appear to issue tears are worldwide. To the skeptical, such phenomena can be easily explained as moisture gathering in the eye hollows of the statues due to condensation, sudden changes in humidity, or outright fraud. The weeping of blood is dismissed as normal condensation colored by the reddish-hued paints so often used in the formation of religious statues. For the faithful, who point to dozens of dramatic healings, hundreds of mystical experiences, and thousands of religious conversions as their evidence that something supernatural is occurring around these icons, such phenomena as the weeping madonnas are likely to be interpreted as physical signs that the spiritual presence of the holy figure is with them.
Delaney, John J. ed. A Woman Clothed with the Sun. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961.
Hayford, Jack. The Mary Miracle. Ventura, Calif.: Gospel Light, 1994.
Kirkwood, Annie. Mary's Message of Hope. Nevada City, Calif.: Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1995.
Weeping Statues Archives. http://www.mcn.org/1/Miracles/weeparchive.htm. 1 October 2001.
Zimdars-Swartz, Sandral. Encountering Mary. New York: Avon Books, 1992.
stat·u·ar·y / ˈstachoōˌerē/ • n. sculpture consisting of statues; statues regarded collectively: fragments of broken statuary | classical statuary. ∎ archaic the art or practice of making statues. ∎ archaic a sculptor.