By JON COX
A man lies on a bench in front of the brick façade of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, huddled against the wind under a thin coat. But he doesn’t feel the cold—he’s made of bronze, and a plaque identifies him as “Homeless Jesus,” a sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz.
This lifelike sculpture of a vagrant in the middle of the picture-perfect St. Alban’s neighborhood has sparked a conversation about homelessness and the purpose of public art, both locally and in national publications like the Huffington Post.
And that, St. Alban’s senior warden Peter Macon said during a dedication ceremony on Sunday, is exactly what it was intended to do.
The sculpture is dedicated to Macon’s late wife, Kate McIntyre. Macon says she “saw public art as a way to inspire conversation, a way to inspire emotion,” two goals which have certainly been accomplished in the few weeks since the sculpture was erected.
In television interviews, letters to the editor, and comments on this site, Davidson locals have chimed in with their views on the controversial piece of artwork.
While some see “Homeless Jesus” as a reminder of the plight of those who can’t find affordable housing, others see it as an eyesore. Some residents have suggested that the sculpture would be more fitting inside St. Alban’s, instead of next to a public sidewalk.
In a brief speech, Mayor John Woods said that public art, both at St. Alban’s and around town, should stay public. “These works of art express our uniqueness and invite us to connect with one another,” Woods said.
In fact, “Homeless Jesus” is not the first local art installation to portray Jesus in a non-traditional way—a bust of Jesus as a blue-collar man with calloused hands and a weathered face sits in the entry to the E.H. Little Library on the Davidson campus.
During the dedication, St. Alban’s Deacon Rebecca Yarbrough said that debate over “Homeless Jesus” is well and good, but she hopes that the sculpture will encourage active participation in local programs to help the homeless, like Room at the Inn and the Mooresville Soup Kitchen.
“This sculpture reminds me of Jesus’ call to leave our comfort zones and walk and talk with those people we often shy away from.” Yarbrough urged them to become more sympathetic with the homeless. “Any combination of circumstances could put any of us in a situation where we could be homeless, or at least challenged in finding housing.”
“Let us work with others in the Lake Norman area,” said Yarbrough, “to do what we can to make sure that everyone who needs and wants a bed has one.”
See previous coverage of the “Homeless Jesus” on DavidsonNews.net.
See previous coverage of Public Art on DavidsonNews.net.