Liturgical Artist George Hoelzeman (Dennis Aubrey)


“Sacred space exists where a community encounters the Divine, offers its worship to God, and experiences the movement of grace. Liturgical art facilitates this transcendent experience and reveals God’s boundless beauty.” George Hoelzeman

Conway County is situated near the center of Arkansas on the fringes of the Ozark National Forest. As of the 2010 census, 21,273 people lived in its 567 square miles. It appears from the map that the town of Hattieville (population 1,563) is located at the intersection of State Highway 213 and County Highway 911. Hattieville is distinguished by Wonderview High School with a student body of 218 and whose “Daredevils” captured the 2010 1A State Basketball championship. It is also graced with the G.R. Hoelzeman Studios.

A liturgical artist/consultant specializing in wood sculpture and liturgical furniture, Hoelzeman’s family “has been in woodworking since the Middle Ages (a “hoelzemann” was some sort of woodworker in Germany). My great grandfather brought his trade with him when he came to the U.S. around 1890. I have the tool chest that my great grandfather and grandfather used to carry to jobsites.”

George studied to be a Benedictine monk after High School, then did graduate work in History and Medieval Art History. His particular interests were the Medieval and Renaissance sculptors of upper Germany/Bavaria who worked in lindenwood and, of course, church architecture, particularly monastic church architecture.

Here is a sampling of three of his more recent works.

The Prophet (2007)
Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Material: Makore mahogany

Immediately below the Cosmos is the Prophet who calls God’s People to reform, renewal and regeneration. The figure is an iconic image personifying the spirit of all prophecy rather than an individual prophet. The Hebrew passages are from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . “ (first two lines) recalls the Divine inspiration which moves the Prophet. “Make straight the way of the Lord” connects with the last Prophet, John the Baptist who “makes straight” the way of Christ who he announces.

"The Prophet," Holy Trinity Episcopal, Fayetteville, North Carolina

The Cloister Cross (2009)
St. Mary Star of the Sea, New London, Connecticut
Material: Cherry

The pastor and donor were inspired by a Medieval crucifix seen at The Cloisters in New York to commission this processional cross for the Gothic Revival church at St. Mary Star of the Sea. Symbols of the Evangelists are carved in rondels at the end of each of the cross’ arms. The Agnus Dei appears on the reverse side surrounded by painted foliate patterns inspired by the mosaics of San Clemente in Rome. The overall height of the cross and staff is 8 feet.

Cloister Cross, St. Mary Star of the Sea, New London, Connecticut

Wellspring of Jerusalem Baptismal Font (2009)
Holy Redeemer Church, El Dorado, Arkansas
Material: Cherry, Terra Cotta, tile

The terra cotta bowl was a gift to the pastor and is 32″ across and 15″ deep. The principle challenge was to seal it from leaking. The interior was tiled with quartz and glass tesserae to reflect mosaics of the ancient world found in Rome and Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Cross in the font bowl celebrates both the spiritual and historical origins of the Church, and honors the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, of which the pastor and many parishioners are members. The cherry wood base conceals drain and mechanicals with a hidden door. Placement of the font was limited by the pre-existing pipes and drains. The font was installed for Holy Week and saw its first use at Easter of 2009.

Wellspring of Jerusalem, Holy Redeemer Church, El Dorado, Arkansas

Please visit George’s website to see more of his remarkable work. There is also an article in “Envision” about George’s doors for Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

This post is part of a series on contemporary artists of liturgical and religious subjects. If you have any suggestions as to other artists to profile, please leave a comment on this post. Thank you.

Note: all photos are provided by George Hoelzeman.

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