George Hoelzeman shapes wood on a lathe, blazes images of saints on his creations
Posted: April 4, 2022
Courtesy of George Hoelzeman
Liturgical artist George Hoelzeman designed this wooden egg, photographed Feb. 4 in his home library/drawing room, featuring the image of St. Pope Callistus I. Customizable eggs are available to order.
What started with an extra pile of wood and an affinity for saints turned into liturgical artist George Hoelzeman offering personalized wooden Easter eggs with a burnt image.
“It’s great fun working on the lathe,” a machine used to shape wood, Hoelzeman said. “I like to turn (wood on a lathe), and one of the great adventures for me is to see what the wood will look like. Once it’s turned, it can sometimes be quite spectacular and see by what saints people are attracted.
Hoelzeman, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton, where he grew up, is an award-winning liturgical artist, with artwork displayed in Catholic churches in Arkansas and nationwide. He had already discerned a monastic life, earning a bachelor’s degree in history and religion from St. Joseph’s Seminary in 1985. Hoelzeman, married with two daughters, completed graduate studies in modern history and the history of the medieval art.
He masters various artistic mediums, creating an array of religious art including altars, statues, crosses, stained glass and icons. Some of his best-known works include the Afro-centric Stations of the Cross at St. Augustine’s Church in North Little Rock, engraved on mahogany plaques, and a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus created for the Abbey of Marienstatt in Germany.
“I’ll give people the option to choose their saint, that way it’s a lot more personal and it would connect to something they have a real devotion or interest in.”
“I love icons. I have a background in medieval art history, and the church fathers and monastic fathers have always been a real inspiration,” Hoelzeman said.
He has created decorative eggs in the past, including one for the Sacred Heart School bazaar using wood from a dying oak tree on campus before the Civil War. He raffled an egg this year at the annual Southwest Liturgy Conference, held virtually in January, which he has attended for nearly 20 years. A Denver priest chose to have the image of Saint Pope Calixtus I (218-222). Because he had no preference on the particular image used, Hoelzeman based it on the papal portrait displayed at St. Paul’s Basilica Outside the Walls.
“Wow, I didn’t think anyone knew who I was anymore, Pope Callistus,” he admitted, adding that it was “pretty cool” for the priest to choose a lesser-known saint. This is what especially excited him to see what others choose. He promotes these eggs for Easter, but said they’re available year-round.
“I will give people the option to choose their saint, that way it’s a lot more personal and it would connect to something that they have a real devotion or interest in,” Hoelzeman said, but added that it will also put most other images on it. In the past, he created ones with a cross and with the image of a favorite tree or bird.
Eggs can range from the typical “chicken-sized” egg to around 6-7 inches tall, which is the size of the egg he made for the priest and the other two qu it has manufactured, waiting to be customized. They come with a wooden base, so there’s no chance of them falling off, although they’re “pretty indestructible”, he said.
A customer can choose the wood for their egg, depending on what they have available, including cherry wood, wood from a red-tipped bush, and aromatic cedar.
“All in all, it will take a few hours,” Hoelzeman said of creating the egg, not including preparing the wood for carving, which can take a few days. They are finished with a rubbed wax or polyurethane, which gives them a smooth finish.
Customers can send him a picture, or he can find one to draw freehand in pencil on the egg before using a pyrography tool to burn the picture into it.
Hoelzeman charges $75 per egg, explaining that he’s seen similar work “online go for hundreds of dollars.” For him, it’s about creating a work of art that can have a real spiritual impact on a person.
“That’s what liturgical art and devotional sacramental art are meant to do – they’re meant to connect you with the divine and transcendence through beauty and form in all of this. When it does, that’s what brings people’s faith to life,” he said.
To order, email or text (501) 416-0514.
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