A New Renaissance in High Sacred Art
by Donna Sue Berry
Edited by Rosa Kaspar
The high art of wood carving is everywhere in evidence in traditional German churches — inspired, many say, by the country’s vast forests. Sadly, in the 20th century — mostly in the years post-Vatican II — iconoclasm swept through the German Church.
In a spasm of runaway clericalism, many churches were denuded of their sacred art. Even today, this work is often sneered at by the German elites, though secretly beloved by the people.
But even ideology and iconoclasm slowly die away. This interview by Donna Sue Berry is one clear sign of this salutary trend — the story of a fifth generation family business in the South Tyrol experiencing an uptick in demand for their astonishingly beautiful work.
After 140 years and five generations, the Ferdinand Stuflesser family continues to create exquisite church restorations, believing that dignified art inspires praying. Their customers include the Vatican, as well as cathedrals and churches throughout the world.
The Stuflessers create all their woodcarvings in their workshops in Ortisei, Italy, where they use raw materials of the highest quality. Their work features altars and hand-carved statues in wood, bronze, and marble.
Fifth-generation Stuflessers, brothers Filip and Dr. Robert Stuflesser are prized by their customers throughout the world for their state- of-the-art craftsmanship, assurance of superior quality, and their continuing dedication to improve.
Q: Robert, have you noticed a growing interest in statues from people looking for a more traditional decoration in their churches? Can you tell me what they are wanting?
Yes, during these last years I have noticed that people are coming back to more traditional statues and interiors. Some like a more modern style, but the trend is going clearly towards a more traditional style. Some also like combining a modern architecture with traditional carvings.
Q: Have you built any traditional altars lately?
Yes, we had the opportunity to realize different altars during these last years. None of them was modern; they all were constructed in a traditional style. One of the high altars we realized was a copy of an altar destroyed during war. Its height was 27 feet and it was created for Vukovar, Croatia. Another altar was for Scotland, and it was actually a reconstruction of an altar we received from the Vatican. We also constructed one for a church in Burleson, Texas.
Our long experience and knowledge passed on from generation to generation for approximately 140 years allows us to form our creations with all the ancient techniques used a century ago. Naturally, these techniques are refined with modern instruments. All projects are custom-made, which allows us to adapt each realization to the rest of the interior perfectly.
Q. What is the most popular statue that people want from you?
This is difficult to tell, for we realize traditional and new statues, but maybe the most requested statues are the Christ figure, St. Joseph, Our Lady in different representations, as well as Padre Pio, Mother Teresa (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta), St. Francis (of Assisi), and St. Antony (of Padua).
Q. Your family history is so interesting! Does your family have a favourite church that you go to? Have you carved the statuary there?
Since we all are living in Ortisei, where our workshops are located, our preferred church is our local parish church. We are not far away from this very beautiful church, which is full of carved art. Yes, there are some “Ferdinand Stuflesser 1875” statues and also a high altar that was constructed and donated from our workshops.
Q. Is there a ‘special’ project that you are working on or that you would like to do in the future?
At the moment we are working on an interesting project. We are restoring a Gothic high altar, which we bought some time ago. We are adapting it to the specific needs of a church in Holland: The existing parts will be completed by new parts to fill the space harmonically.
My dream for the future? A lot of custom carvings of each sort, which will make a lot of people happy and maybe one for Pope Francis.
Q. Do you have a precious treasure from the earlier generations carved by Ferdinand Stuflesser I or II or Johann Stuflesser?
Yes, there are some beautiful pieces that we all particularly love: A Pieta statue, a St. Ann figure and a Christ figure. These are my favourites.
Q. Robert, if there is anything you would like to add to these questions, please tell us.
To add: I thank all the people who love our carvings and pray to them. I also want to say thank you to our precious Facebook followers who see so many of our new statues.
To tell: I love to communicate with so many people all around the world and there is one thing that bonds us: Our Catholic Faith!