Wooden Saints and Angels

I have an interest in hand-carved wooden saints and devotional statues. These often use a Baroque visual vocabulary, and a saint can be identified by its attributes. For example, a martyr carries the tools of his or her martyrdom. In New Mexico, these are carved by santeros (saint makers). In Lithuania, they are made by Dievdirbiai, literally “god-carvers”. The folk carving may include symbols from pre-Christian religions.

These are my attempts at the art.  Click on the paragraph to view the image.

Gabriel, of course, has a large horn. The wings are painted with white milk paint. Ash wood.

Sorrowful Christ This is my interpretation of a traditional Lithuanian folk sculptre, called a rupintojelis. This was carved from an old cedar tree trunk, that was given to me by a carpenter of Lithuanian descent. There are examples of this pose in sculpture that pre-dates Christianity by thousands of years.

St. Patrick. walnut In Haiti, St. Patrick may also represent Elegba, the west African god in charge of snakes.

San Isidro Labrador. patron saint of farm laborers

St. Lucy of Syracuse, with her eyes on a plate. I thank Linda Nemic Foster for the inspiration to get this one done. Elm. Although she was an actual martyr, Lucy has accumulated some legends from pre-Christian solstice goddesses. Some art historians suggest that the “eyeballs” are actually spherical votive pastries offered or exchanged on the winter solstice, representing the sun. The dagger of her martyrdom should call attention to her anatomically correct neck wound.

Mary Magdalen There is a legend that she was a women discovered in adultery, but that her hair grew miraculously long to cover her when she was discovered. This was used as an excuse for several nude portrayals. There is a Kiki Smith sculpture of an alternative explanation of the tale, where she grows long hair all over, like a bear. The original story for this image is that she lived as a hermit, with nothing but her long red hair to keep her warm. This carving is birch.

St. Christopher

St. Christopher

This is an Orthodox Christian version of St. Christopher. He is carrying the Christ Child over a river. Christopher has the traditional dog’s head and club. He was said to be a cannibal soldier, before he converted to Christianity. The Christ Child has a halo and an orbis mundi.
This is carved from mulberry wood from the student parish in Bowling Green, Ohio.


St. Thomas More. birch. patron saint of lawyers. He was beheaded with an axe. The book is Utopia.


St. John the Baptist. The saint of the summer solstice. He is usually depicted as a very thin wild man.

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