Thursday, September 30, 2010

Probably the most permanent piece of art I'll ever create...


Shortly after Henry passed away, in the whirlwind that followed, we were supposed to pick out a grave marker design. When we looked at the designs they had at the cemetery we didn't see anything that we thought would suit us for this marker. Most were too "cartoony" or had some angels or something generic, and it just wasn't something we were looking for. When we were told we could always design our own and they could have pretty much anything made, we decided to hold off on picking a design because we thought that maybe I could design the marker. However, it's been almost two years now, still with no marker in the ground.

I did start working on some sketches for a design last year, but then came selling our house, preparing to build the new house, moving in with my parents, construction, moving in to the new house, having another baby, etc. It seemed like I would never get the proper time to finish-off a design. Now that we are moved in, completing the design for Henry's grave marker weighed heavily on me. It was clearly priority number one and I had to devote the time necessary to finish it off so that we could get the stone ordered.

The only constraint on the design is that the marker lays flush with the ground and is 12" high by 20" wide. I was sure that I wanted to convey Henry being received into God's heavenly kingdom, and work in images of St. Henry and St. Blaise (our little guy's two patron saints). I also eventually decided to try to work in two others who I know prayed for Henry and our family greatly: the Blessed Mother and Henry's guardian angel.

Here is the initial sketch that I did for the full piece (click to enlarge):

This study shows St. Henry on the bottom left and St. Blaise on the bottom right, with outlines of Henry's guardian angel and the Blessed Mother higher up, and Christ on His throne bending down to pick up Henry.

Working further on Christ, I sketched a little more detail in a different study:

I also worked further on Henry's guardian angel and Mary...

Once these sketches were done I completed a more carefully done sketch of the entire piece:

In order to ensure the final product was as clean and finished as possible, and also in order to have an image that would be easiest to reproduce via the etching process for the granite stone marker, I scanned the more detailed sketch above into my computer and then used Adobe Illustrator to trace over the sketch and ensure every line was where I wanted it. This also made it easier to make the any simple shape elements more perfect than I could sketch them and allowed me to clean up any other loose ends and correct any design problems without having to erase.

After I completed this process, which took many a late night, the finished image is below (click to enlarge):
St. Henry, who was Holy Roman Emperor in the 11th century, is shown at the bottom left with his crown denoting his earthly role and also holds a scepter that is a typical attribute of his when depicted. St. Blaise, a bishop of the 3rd century, is shown at the bottom right with his bishop's crosier and mitre, as well as the bishop's pallium around his neck, and also with the two candles which are a typical attribute of his when depicted. Both St. Henry and St. Blaise are blessing our Henry as he ascends toward Christ. Henry's guardian angel is above left, in prayer, and the Blessed Mother is above right, with her crown of twelve stars, also in prayer. Christ sits in his throne and reaches down to pick up Henry and welcome him to his heavenly kingdom for eternity. There are seven steps up to Christ's throne (a symbol of perfection), and the Greek letters alpha and omega on Christ's throne denote that He is the beginning and the end.

The full design of the marker, with the above image incorporated, is shown below (click to enlarge):

I think the final product balances a quiet, somber tone with the optimism of knowing that Henry is enjoying the vision of Christ. We decided to go with Roman numerals for the dates, so that the date reads (translated): December 1, The year of our Lord 2008. "Ora pro nobis" is our simple prayer that Henry pray for us, his family, still here on earth.

The marker stone is in the process of being ordered right now, and because it is a custom order and will require special processing to render the image sharply, it will take a couple of months before we receive it. This means it won't be able to get installed in the ground this year (before the freeze) and so it will be installed in the Spring of 2011.

For all those who donated money as a memorial for Henry, a portion of those funds are being used to create this beautiful, permanent reminder of our son and we are very, very grateful for your generosity. We did not have to compromise on the manufacturing method due to cost. The rest of the funds are being used to purchase a monstrance for Eucharistic adoration for the Twin Cities TEC retreat program, in Henry's memory.


Jenny Clarke said...

It's really beautiful.

Joseph Clarke said...

Well done, Brendan.

Anonymous said...

I'm in awe.

John Curran said...

Beautiful and meaningful design.

Debbie said...

Papa says, "Spectacular." I say, "This is truly a work of love and beauty." Thank you for sharing with us the process that you went through as well. Love, Mom and Papa

Kristi said...

Amazing! I love the image of Christ picking him up to hold him. Touching.

Todd Kraft said...

Brenden and Molly,

What a beautiful final image! You've captured an amazing vision of the Communion of Saints and its mystery, yet realness in our lives. God Bless you and your family!

Ginny said...

Truly beautiful. What a gorgeous and moving tribute.

Cathy_of_Alex said...


Erin Snyder said...

That was so incredible Brendan. Thank you for sharing.