This Small Thing
by Merna Chance
When I ventured into small business with a sculptor in 1994, I had no idea Mother Teresa would be on the horizon. But there she was; one morning in the studio, clay warmed by the sculptor’s hands the night before, undoubtedly--- Mother Teresa.
“In appreciation for Mother Teresa’s devotion to her life’s work”, said the sculptor. Julie, who at the time was considering 3rd Order Vows with the Franciscans stated, “It’s not for market.” It was just an evening of contemplative work.
Julie had recently started back into business on an island near Seattle. Previously, she was known for miniature sculptures of cats and otters. Since that venture she had traveled across the US on a bus, studied the great masters of art, and was currently in active contemplation with the writings of the desert fathers. In the midst of the latter, I met Julie, and decided to assist her in miscellaneous ways with her start-up.
Julie’s rental-home-studio brought together friendships formed from community-made food and thoughtful theological conversation. Originally constructed as a summerhouse—winters were worn in wool, with a wood stoked fireplace.
The studio’s creative project was to produce sculptural illustrations from the novel Redwall, by author Brian Jacques. In negotiated contracts with Random House Children’s Books and the Redwall Abbey Company UK, we were launching our first character, a mouse named “Martin the Warrior.”
Julie’s entrepreneurial mission was to produce rare-fine-quality art while creating jobs in the USA. We resisted the reality that to keep pace with the gift industry we would have to go overseas with manufacturing. Julie sculpted, researched materials, and engineered molds. She taught me her technique for casting and painting the sculptures. Along the way, I kept office detail and shipments to customers in process.
As you can imagine, the space was alive with creative attention. Working with our hands was an intentional life-work choice that allowed for laughter as well as focused quietude.
Time passed with the work, and in January 1997, Julie needed to make a decision as to the studio’s viability. Working within our stateside framework for production, the option was to close, or not to close. Julie did not want to sell her sculpture of Mother Teresa, but many had seen the piece and requested to buy it---reflecting a desire for the work. Julie’s step-dad offered to purchase Julie’s original sculpture of Mother Teresa if it would provide funding for her to finish the piece and offer it to the public.
There are not many photos from this era of the studio, but I remember clearly the afternoon that Julie brought her delicate sculpting tools and clay model of Mother Teresa to the table. In carving the details of Mother Teresa’s face and hands I could see Julie’s inward struggle to accept the offer or close; Julie was sculpting her way through the decision.
In all of my years at the studio, that one afternoon with Julie and her sculpture was one of the most memorable, and I would say, the most sacred of hours. As I watched Julie extend her arm to that little sculpture, I saw what at first could be a face off between two women. Instead, I witnessed what seemed a non-resistant participatory act of necessity and camaraderie extended back to Julie by Mother Teresa.