Saturday, October 21, 2017

Three-Dimensional Wooden Crucifix Icon by Francis Koerber

I received a note from the multifaceted artist Francis Koerber of Jackson, Wyoming, concerning a project he recently completed: an interpretation, in three dimensions, of the traditional Byzantine crucifixion scene, using woods and paints. Here is the completed work:

The woods utilized are, back, quarter sawn oak; crucifix, Brazilian cherry; corpus; quarter sawn oak; hair and beard, walnut; halo, cherry; loincloth, poplar; Mary: outer garment, walnut; inner garment, cherry; hand and shoes, light cherry; St. John: cherry, hair, walnut; headplate and footplate, cherry. The colors of the wood are all natural; Koerber does not use paints or stains (the only paint is the crimson blood). A clear coating of Tung oil brings out the subtleties of the color and grain of the wood simply by accentuating what is already there.

On one of Koerber's many websites, Teton Craftworks, he shares with the reader the process of putting together this icon. I will post only a few of the photos here; the rest may be viewed there.

The artist wrote the following to me:
My basic philosophy on Catholic Art is that I value the tradition of iconography from the Byzantine (Russian and Greek) schools. In my opinion, the religious art from the Middle Ages and beyond fell into the decay of anthropomorphism, which for me, presents more of an opaque view into spiritual realities. I prefer the transparent view of those earlier styles which allows one to see ‘through’ the artwork into the spiritual realm. For me, it is a purer art form. This is not a hard and fast rule because you can certainly find wonderful works of sacred art that aren’t a part of those early traditions, but in general, I believe it is true. I think this ideology also mirrors the anthropomorphism of the liturgy, where the music has also become opaque, the end of its own means, and is heavily marked by a sense of time and gravity (Mozart for instance) that weighs one down. The polyphony of the earlier years maintains the same artistic transparency of the iconography of the East.
This account from Koerber largely parallels that given by Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy when he defends the suitability of Byzantine, Gothic, and (to a lesser extent) Baroque styles for sacred visual art, and severely critiques the Renaissance. In the sphere of music, as Koerber notes, we would have to say that medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music are better suited for the liturgy and for prayer than the later Classical and Romantic styles. David Clayton also goes into these topics in his book The Way of Beauty, which we use at Wyoming Catholic College as one of our texts for the Visual Arts in the Western Tradition course that all seniors take.

This admirable wooden icon is available for purchase; please contact Francis Koerber if you are interested or if you would like to discuss a commission.

You can find out more about Francis Koerber's creative activities at his main website. He has a composer website (I particularly love his A minor prelude and fugue for organ), a performer website, and a site for fine handmade rosaries, among others.

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