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The Virgin Mary: China Doll or Prairie Woman?

GUEST COLUMN

By Ken Russell | June 1991
The Rev. Ken Russell is Associate Pastor of St. John's Catholic Church in El Cerrito, California.

The mental image most people have of Our Blessed Mother has probably been generated and reinforced by having viewed Mary depicted in art — sculpture, carvings, paintings, holy cards, even Christmas cards featuring mother and child. Most modern Marian art I have seen I frankly do not like. It tends to etherealize Mary, to picture her as an aloof, unreal china doll, an unearthly woman forever frozen in a posture of prayerful serenity — which is a Mary quite contrary to the Mother of the Lord seen in the Gospels.

Nor has the sight of Mary standing on a glove of the earth ever done much to inspire me. And why is Mary always draped in blue? Most women I know hate blue and simply cannot wear it. And why would any artist with an ounce of sanity portray Mary praying the rosary? Whose intercessory prayers is she requesting? Her own? Most modern Marian “junk art” may be amusing, but it is, unfortunately, what most people experience. And it does deflect attention away from the real Mary, the Mary of the Gospels.

There is a work, however, that I am very fond of and that has been an inspiration for many people who have seen it. The piece was commissioned in 1974 for a small parish in St. Joseph, Minnesota, 90 miles north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 90 miles south of the north pole. Very cold in the winter.

The parish church houses a life-size statue of Our Blessed Mother — carved out of white oak and stained in a medium walnut color. The figure of Mary is rendered in a seated position and presented in profile — facing the altar so the congregation views the piece from the side and not from the front. Thus Mary points us to the centrality of Christ in His Eucharistic presence.

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