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How Saints are made

Updated: 18 hours ago

Making a statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria

While a statue factory uses centrifugal casting to mass produce figures, at Lewis and Lewis we produce only hand built bespoke works. From time immemorial, clay, plaster and the use of moulds are universal when it comes to creating sculpture.

Making the statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Earlier this year, Reverend Hall commissioned me to make a 44 inch statue of St. Catherine of Alexandria for his parish (of the same name).

Reverend Hall sent me some photos of a carved wooden flatback of St. Catherine, which he had admired.

This gave me a starting point to supply some sketches of how the finished statue might look. We used these to explore and develop possibilities as our collaboration progressed.

The sharing of images between artist and client is essential for understanding what each has in mind - it helps to keep the project on track and reach the final vision.

sketch of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Reverend hall wanted to include a dove in the final piece.

In one legend of St. Catherine's life, she was imprisoned by the Emperor for attempting to convert him to Christianity. She was to be starved for twelve days.

During which time, a dove fed her bread.

The intervention of the dove bringing bread to sustain her in time of trial, symbolises the presence of the Holy spirit providing spiritual sustenance in the Eucharist.

Just as Tolkien used lembas bread to sustain Sam and Frodo in his novel Lord of the Rings.

Once the sketches had been finalised and approved, I could begin to plan the

construction of the figure, and how each part would be cast. At this stage, the figure cannot be changed or added to further due to technical considerations.

Building the Armature - (figure Support)

To support the clay figure of St. Catherine, David constructed a rotating platform and scaffolding jig. This would hold the metal armature which I would use to build the figure. The armature is shaped to fit the pose of the figure, and has to be strong enough to support the clay, in this case around 50+ kilos.

Modelling St. Catherine's face

​One request was for the face of the statue to resemble Reverend. Hall's granddaughter, this was a challenge as she is much younger than St.Catherine would have been.

Children's faces tend to have larger eyes, plumper cheeks and smaller noses than adults; yet many beautiful women have faces which retain a child like quality, and so I was able to work within this framework. Reverend Hall sent me photos of his granddaughter by which I could replicate her pretty heart-shaped nose.

Moulding and casting the model of St. Catherine

St. Catherine of Alexandria by Jeanette Lewis

Once the clay model was completed, we made a rubber mould for the figure. This would be covered in a harder support mould made from fibreglass resin. Separate moulds were made for the hands, crown and dove. All the parts to the figure were then cast in plaster, and assembled.

Once the plaster was fully dry, the addition of colour (polychromy) could begin. 

Consideration was given to the colours of the  clothing, the detail of the cloak clasp, and the dove. Reverend Hall required that the dove display the plumage of an African species which would have populated the Jordan in biblical times. I love to make artworks as authentic as possible so this was a welcome detail to add. St. Catherine's complexion, eye and hair colour were matched to that of his granddaughter.

The statue was complete and ready to install in the church of St. Catherine for her feast day on 25th of November.

See More of Jeanette's religious sculptures

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