Joel Wright is reconditioning the statues and stations of the cross at St. Edward Catholic Church in downtown Texarkana.
"I'm using my talents to serve. It started as a job, but it's become a spiritual journey," he said. "It's really reconditioned the way I think."
St. Edward was founded under the Most Rev. Edward Fitzgerald on June 20, 1903, with its first Mass celebrated in the Miller County Courthouse. On Dec. 25, 1903, a frame chapel on Fourth and Hickory streets was dedicated, and its first Mass was held there on the same day.
The current building was constructed at Fourth and Beech streets in 1923. It was designed and built under the supervision of Lambert deKonning and modeled on the Church of the Most Holy Trinity at the top of the Spanish steps in Rome.
It has a beautiful altar of Carrara marble and classic statues. There are four large round stained-glass windows, depicting the seven sacraments, the birth of Christ, the birth of St. John the Baptist and St. Gregory the Great. The smaller stained-glass windows along the sides of the church follow the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Wright, a local artist and owner of Joel Wright Art Gallery, grew up in a Christian family but didn't often visit church in his youth. He did, however, often stop by the local Catholic church to look at the beautiful statues.
As an adult he opted for the Hindu ways of peace and meditation.
"Just spending time here in the sanctuary, focused on these stations, has given me time to work on some stuff, spiritually," he said. "You really can't not think about it. The church is jam-packed with Jesus."
"That's the intention of the stations," the Rev. James West said. "No matter where your eyes wander, you see a reminder of what Jesus sacrificed for you."
The stations of the cross or the way of the cross, also known as the way of sorrows or the via crucis, refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his Crucifixion. The actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary, the Via Dolorosa, is located in Jerusalem.
The object of the stations is to help the Christian faithful make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion of Christ. A series of 14 numbered images are arranged along a path and the faithful travel from image to image, stopping at each one to say the selected prayers and reflections.
Beginning in the 17th century, the standard format of 14 pictures or sculptures depict the following scenes: 1) Jesus is condemned to death; 2) Jesus carries His cross; 3) Jesus falls for the first time; 4) Jesus meets His mother, Mary; 5) Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross; 6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; 7) Jesus falls for the second time; 8) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem; 9) Jesus falls for the third time; 10) Jesus is stripped of His clothes; 11) Jesus is nailed to the cross; 12) Jesus dies on the cross; 13) Jesus is taken down from the cross; and 14) Jesus is placed in the tomb.
Besides the stations, Joel will also be working on the statues in the front of the sanctuary. "I will more than likely be taking them into the church's storage building across the street or my studio to work on them," he said. "I've always wanted to paint Jesus but was unsure of the skin color. I did some research and I think I've done well."
Those statues include Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as well as the two angels on either side of the cross in the center.
"I was told that everywhere Jesus goes, he leaves two angels," Wright said. "So that's the symbolism of those statues."
For his quick education in the Catholic symbols and meanings, Wright credits the Rev. West and Brenda Engel, parish business manager. "They have been so nice and helpful."
Wright has always loved to paint and discovered he had an eye for it at a young age. But this job was originally supposed to belong to someone else. Nina Cork, a Mississippi-based artist and sculptor, has experience in reconditioning Catholic churches but was unavailable for the time frame.
"Nina mentored me in sculpting and I'm thankful that she recommended me for this project," Wright said. "Some artists can paint and some can sculpt, but not many do both."
Spending so much time in the sanctuary that is "jam-packed with Jesus" might have an effect on anyone. It's certainly affected this artist who believes in peace and meditation.
"This is the first time it hasn't been for me," Wright said. "It's for God."
(WHAT'S NEXT: Wednesday evening, Aug. 28, at 6 p.m., the Rev. West will lead a tour of the historic building, explaining not only the architecture but the story of faith that is told in stone, wood and glass, including the stations. The tour is free and open to the public.)