January 2011 – It takes lots of little pieces for Bill Wolfram’s artwork to come together.
When the retired Concordia – Seward art teacher completes a chancel cross for a church, only the most discerning eye would spot the hundreds and hundreds of 3/4” dowel pieces that went into the finished mosaic.
It’s quite a process. “First, I have to chop the dowels up, and then I have to torch them so they have a nice, brown color,” Wolfram explains. “Then I sand the ends to get them nice and smooth. Next I paint them with acrylic colors, varnish them and put them in place.”
When the hundreds of little once-dull wooden pieces come together, the completed 10-foot-or-more crosses are beautiful to behold. Shown at left is Wolfram’s largest artwork to date, a 13-foot chancel cross that hangs in St. John Lutheran Church in Bakersfield, Calif.
The chancel crosses aren’t Wolfram’s only work.
He also keeps a close eye out for “trash, junky things, rusty things, worn-out things,” he said. When he finds, say, an interesting bit of twisted wire, Wolfram pulls out his camera and starts shooting.
Then once again, the artist starts pulling small pieces together. Using specialized computer software, Wolfram manipulates bits of his photographs into the shape of a cross like the one shown at right.
“The cross isn’t beautiful in one sense, but it is beautiful in another,” Wolfram explained. “It’s an ugly theme, but for Christians, it’s our celebration.”
Wolfram’s cross photos have gained a lot of attention in Lutheran circles. In addition to being featured in several art shows and galleries, he also has a book of his work called Regarding the Cross (available for purchase from Concordia University’s Center for Liturgical Art – http://estrada.cune.edu/1396/).
As more people learned of his work, Wolfram decided to use the proceeds from the sales of his crosses for missions.
It took lots of little pieces falling into place for Wolfram to learn about and support LHF’s work in Sudan, too.
Wolfram’s interest in Sudan started when “we’d had a student or two from Sudan at Concordia. I knew there was a lot of suffering there,” he said.
Then Wolfram visited an LCMS church in Houston where a former student of his was now pastor. There, he heard about LHF’s work in Sudan, and the pieces started to come together.
“I like LHF’s emphasis on mission, that’s what I really like to give toward,” he said. “It’s good, solid teaching, and I like that. I feel comfortable knowing that the right things are being taught and distributed by LHF.”
Now, Wolfram’s work even graces the walls of the very mission he supports. This fall, two of Wolfram’s cross photos traveled to the seminary in Sudan, where they were presented to the Yambio Lutheran Church.
“I don’t make crosses just to make decorations,” Wolfram reflected. “They have to have meaning. I think it’s good that people look at a cross, and they don’t just simply say, ‘Oh, that’s a cross.’ I hope that my work somehow draws them into it and make sthem think about the theology, or about different parts of the crucifixion event and what salvation is all about.
Click here to view some of the inside pages of Bill Wolfram’s book, Regarding the Cross.
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