The Story of Hempel Studios, Part III

The following is a reprint of an article that I wrote for Lutheran Forum Magazine, Winter 2007. It will appear here in several parts. Read Part I and Part II first.

With the Virgin Mary out of the studio, I began work on St. Joseph. Initially, finding imagery for St. Joseph was difficult. He is mentioned a mere seven times in the gospel text. I had to find a way to identify with him. I imagined that his hands looked very much like the hands of my own father, which are calloused and worn, cut and stained from years of hard work. Then I imagined a man with such hands hearing the news that those very hands would soon hold a newborn. What’s more, for St. Joseph, that tiny baby would be the Son of God! In my image, St. Joseph sits in his workshop with his carpenter’s angle in one hand dropping into his lap. A hammer and nails on the floor remind us of Christ’s passion. Joseph has just heard word from the angel in his dream about Jesus, and he stares into his hand, “Me, a father? The Son of God?!”

There are a few ways to enlarge a sculpture. With St. Joseph, I had the sculpture roughed out by another artist at my studio, just as I had roughed out and enlarged sculptures for Jay Carpenter when I worked as his assistant. Many sculptors will enlist the help of assistants to save time and energy. The making of a sculpture on a large scale is very physically intensive; and for a woman with fibromyalgia, a muscle disease that causes a lot of pain and fatigue, enlisting the help of others is an act of survival.  My assistant built an armature by welding steel pipe together and incorporating thick aluminum wire for the arms and legs. Then I had a model come to the studio so the sculpture could be articulated as a full-scale nude. He did this for the sake of accuracy; Jay Carpenter he told me that if I did not do it this way, the sculpture will end up looking like a pile of laundry with a head!

Once the nude was complete, I added more clay for the drapery and worked the details. Meanwhile, I met a charming fellow who would later become my husband. His Persian features, pensive brow, strong nose and graceful hands were perfect for St. Joseph. I had found my muse. The work was enjoyable while I worked on his portrait, but the sculpture had to be finished before our wedding. The constant pressure of a looming deadline was enough to squelch my artistic spirit.  By this time I had already lost much of the joy I had while working on “The King’s Handmaiden.”

During the difficulties of creating these two larger-than-life-sized marble sculptures, I wrote a prayer for the studio.

Dear God in Heaven, Creator of everything! You have imbued me with certain gifts and I pray that Your Spirit guide my hands as I finish the work You have set me out to do. I pray that You bless my time in the studio; fill me with energy; and give me peace. As your messenger Gabriel told the Virgin Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God,” let that ring in my heart as I feel that I am up against an impossible task. Bless me with Your Presence, O God, and let others experience Your Spirit in my work. In the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, Amen.

Truly, nothing is impossible with God. I finished the clay sculpture just before our wedding in October, 2005! Since the carver in Virginia was working on the sculpture of the Virgin Mary, I sent the plaster of St. Josephto a carving studio in Pietrasanta, Italy. Then in September the following year, my husband and I took the trip of a lifetime. We flew to Rome and made our way north to Pietrasanta to meet the carvers and oversee some of the finishing work on the sculpture at Studio Antognazzi. While we were in Italy, I wept at the feet of Michelangelo’s Pieta, marveled at the sight of his David, and was humbled to be a part of such a tradition.

Once the sculptures were finished at the respective carving studios, the next task at hand was to deliver them to the church. It is no small feat to transport and set two and a half tons of marble! I hired a crew and we had plenty of volunteers come out to Berryville to help move the Blessed Virgin out of the studio and load the sculpture onto a truck. It took us half a day to load the truck and the rest of the week to figure out how to get the sculpture onto the niche. Once we had the logistics resolved, installing St. Josephwas a snap. It was importing the marble sculpture from Italy that proved to be the challenge. After nearly five years, the sculptures are complete. Now all we had left to do is celebrate.

Andrew Logan of Canal Street Studios and his team transported St. Joseph from the harbor in New York to Washington,DC. He loaded the several ton sculpture onto a forklift and set it in place in Our Lady of Mercy. 

St. Joseph, the Carpenter at Our Lady of Mercy, Potomac, Maryland

You can see these sculptures at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Parish, 9200 Kentsdale Road, Potomac, Maryland just outside Washington, DC.


A figurative sculptor for over 20 years, Sarah tells monumental stories in clay, bronze, and stone.

No Comments

  1. Jeri A Jones on April 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    I can’t even imagine how you do this. It truly is a gift from God. I love your prayer.

  2. […] Forum Magazine, Winter 2007. It has appeared here in several parts. Read PartI, Part II, and Part III first. This is the final […]

  3. Megan on April 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Sarah, I am truly amazed at your work and the gifts that you have from God. I could not have imagined how much work goes into the pieces of art you create.

  4. le artiste boots on April 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Reblogged this on LE ARTISTE BOOTS and commented:
    This blog is timely for those wanting inspiration. Lovers of sculpture can follow the development of a studio business and the creative process.

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