|For two years, the sight of Márton Váró at work was almost as familiar to residents of Ave Maria as the town’s well-known oratory, on whose façade Mr. Varo’s marble sculpture of The Annunciation now rests.
Now, with the sculpture in place, Mr. Varo is back at his home in Irvine, California, beginning new projects at his studio on the campus of the Irvine branch of the University of California.
There will be a period of readjustment, Mr. Váró told The Ave Herald before leaving for the west coast.
“I have devoted my whole life for the last three years to the project,” he said, adding, “This project probably has been the happiest time of my career.
Mr. Varo worked seven days a week, carving the 70-ton, 35-foot-high sculpture entirely by himself, first working on individual blocks on the Ave Maria University Mall and then on a lift after the delicate task of mounting the sculpture over the oratory’s entrance was completed. “I couldn’t wait to start work each day,” he said. Right, Mr. Váró holds the first chip from the first block of marble he began carving, which became the face of Mary.
He hopes to return to Ave Maria in the future, where he said he made many friends and received “strong spiritual support from the whole community” as well as outstanding technical support from professionals like AMU’s construction director, Skip Doyle, whom Mr. Varo called a “technical magician.”
“Skip’s technical resourcefulness came through when some major engineering firms proved not to be up to the task of mounting the sculpture on the oratory,” Mr. Varo said.
Before leaving, Mr. Varo completed 1:5 scale models of the archangels Michael and Raphael which would flank The Annunciation on the sides of the oratory if donors underwrite the cost. Right, the models of the angels and, far right, a digital rendering of what they might look like when mounted on the oratory.
At age 68, however, he said, “I have little time left to pull together other projects.”
The first of those projects, he said, likely will be a set of marble cubes similar in style to those he carved for the campus of Texas Christian University. (below)
As for what else the future holds, he said he’s ever optimistic.
“My whole life philosophy is to be really positive. You have to be positive when you’re facing a big block of stone from which you will pull out something.”
AVE MARIA – A parish church has unveiled a relief of the Virgin Mary that was carved from marble mined in an Italian quarry used by Michelangelo.
Hundreds gathered for the unveiling Friday at the Ave Maria Oratory east of Naples. The 120-ton sculpture consists of several pieces and depicts the Annunciation, when the archangel Gabriel told Mary she was with child.
The relief is embedded above the entrance to the oratory, which serves the Roman Catholic “quasi-parish” of Ave Maria. Ave Maria is a planned community whose centerpiece is Ave Maria University.
The $3 million Annunciation project was paid for with private donations through the Ave Maria Foundation.
Sculptor Marton Varo spent nearly three years on the relief, working in marble from the quarry used for Michelangelo’s Pieta and David sculptures.
Varo carved five of the smaller pieces in Italy while larger stones, some more than 7 feet tall, were carved at Ave Maria.
The sculpture was blessed by Bishop Frank Dewane of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice.
AVE MARIA, Fla. – A southwest Florida university has unveiled a 54-ton sculpture of the Virgin Mary.
Hundreds gathered at Ave Maria University for the unveiling Friday. It took the sculptor two years to carve the 35-foot-tall, 31-foot-wide sculpture.
He started with an 80-ton block of marble that came from the same quarry Michelangelo used for the Pieta and David sculptures.
The sculpture was blessed by Bishop Frank Dewane of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice.
As guests of the planned 5,000-acre, 11,000-household self-contained community filled rows of folding chairs around her, Healy remarked, “what a fabulous thing this is to see after all these years.”
The sculpture, called The Annunciation, was created by Romanian Marton Varo, who uses classical Greek and modern approaches to stone sculpture. His works are in private collections and museums worldwide.
He created The Annunciation from 15 blocks of Carrara marble from the quarries of the Italian city of that name. The original block of marble weighed more than 80 tons.
Varo worked for two years on the rendering of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, depicted at the moment he tells her that, with her consent, she will be the mother of Jesus. There are four base pieces under the statue where donor names will eventually be engraved.
Bishop Frank. J. Dewane of the Diocese of Venice was on hand to bless the sculpture, which is 35 feet high and 31 feet wide.
Healy’s husband, Nicholas J. Healy, was president of the university until his replacement Thursday by Jim Towey.
In a festive atmosphere that drew people from across the United States, the large marble sculpture of The Annunciation that adorns the front of the Ave Maria oratory was officially unveiled and dedicated Friday afternoon — the Feast of the Annunciation..
Joined by his wife, Ilona, and two daughters, Mr. Váró beamed from his front-row seat as the marble depiction of the Virgin Mary receiving the news from the angel Gabriel that she would bear the Christ child came into view before more than 1,000 people outside the oratory. Pictured, Mr. Váró and his wife, Ilona (R) and daughters Ilona (L) and Kata Anna.
Two students from Ave Maria University sang a newly-composed musical rendition of Ave Maria as the 40-foot cloth that had covered the sculpture since early in the morning was slowly lowered.
For sculptor Martón Váró, who has spent more than two years on the project, it was the culmination of what he called his “greatest work.”
“Everyone in my family was so excited,” Mr. Váró said. “We thought the way the sculpture was unveiled was beautiful, better than we even expected.”
Father Robert Garrity, AMU’s director of campus ministry, paid special tribute to Mrs. Váró before leading prayers at the start of the dedication. “Thank you for giving us Martón for the last two years, so he could create this magnificent work of art,” Fr. Garrity said.
Although the work was officially unveiled today, and blessed and dedicated by Diocese of Venice Bishop Frank Dewane, Mr. Váró still has some finishing touches to do and will continue working in Ave Maria for another few weeks. Left, Bishop Dewane incensing the statue before sprinkling Holy Water in the dedication.
Before the official dedication, Bishop Dewane presided at Mass in the oratory that was concelebrated by Archbishop Francis Assisi Chulikatt, the Vatican’s personal observer to the United Nations, and 19 other priests.
The events drew people from all over Florida and around the United States.
Susan and John Pezzella from New York City were in Fort Myers when they read about the sculpture and, Mrs. Pezella said, she “thought it was important to come.”
She said she was raised Catholic and was so moved that she intends to start attending church services again. “It’s bringing me back into the Church,” she said.
Marton Varo sits next to former Ave Maria President Tom Monaghan during the revealing of the Annunciation sculpture. After three years of planning and hundreds of hours of sculpting by artist Marton Varo, Ave Maria University’s Oratory revealed it’s new facade to hundreds of people on March 25, 2011. The project from inception to fruition took nearly 3 years and more than 3 million dollars to achieve. It is the first project to be undertaken by the Ave Maria Foundation for the arts completely funded by private donations. The relief depicts the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 120 tons of Carrara marble hand selected from Cava Michelangelo, the same quarry Michelangelo used to acquire his marble for his most important works. Once the project began Marton made several trips back and forth from Italy to Ave Maria carving portions of the relief in both places. The smaller five pieces were carved in Italy while the larger stones measuring 210 cm x 230 cm were carved at Ave Maria, making the largest blocks almost 7 1/2 feet tall.
Márton Váró says he has waited for an opportunity like this all his life. He is excited for the unveiling but more so, he is focused on the task at hand: completing the only structure of its kind in the world, and the project that could be his life’s legacy.
It is the sculpture of the Annunciation of Ave Maria, a massive 50+ ton statue of the Virgin Mary that has captured Mr. Váró’s attention for the past two years. The sculpture will adorn the façade of the impressive Ave Maria Oratory, a building that has served as the heart of the community since it was completed in 2008.
It would seem with Mr. Váró’s previous accomplishments he could afford to be cavalier about the Ave Maria project. But all he can think about is the hope that he won’t disappoint all of the people who have given him their trust and support along the way.
“This community has been extremely supportive of my work and I am very happy and lucky to be able to do this job,” he said. “This is such a blessing to be able to sculpt such an important piece in such an amazing community, and while this has been my most challenging project, it’s been the most rewarding project that I have done in my career.”
There, the likeness of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ in Christian theology, is depicted in a 31-foot tall, high-relief Carrara marble sculpture. The blend of realistic figures and stylized radiance re-creates the moment an angel is said to have appeared to Mary to tell her she would bear the son of God.
It is the alpha to the omega of the “Pieta,” the famous Michelangelo work in its own chapel; that one shows the same Mary, mourning the death of Jesus, her — and God’s — son.
While the “Pieta” faces crowds of tourists and pilgrims daily, “The Annunciation” currently gets its viewers by the scant carloads. Many of them are curious visitors who want to see Ave Maria, the town developed around a conservative — or orthodox, depending on your perspective — Catholic university.
“The Annunciation” has fueled visions much bigger than its square footage. Márton Váró, its sculptor, believed so strongly in the project he built his maquette, the scale model, in Carrara marble for the competition nearly five years ago. Váró is not new to Southwest Florida; the Transylvania-born sculptor created the figure of Serenity in the Garden of Hope and Courage at the NCH mother campus on Third Street South.
Nor is he new to large commissions. Váró has created public works of art all over Europe, in both contemporary and realist styles. He also sculpted the two 48-foot, trumpet-blowing angels on the facade of Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. That may have been his largest commission. This is obviously his most important.
“I’m already fixing in it my dreams at night, how I’ll do my next day’s work,” he says. At 67, the trim Váró works with the stamina of a teenager: Borne up on a lift truck each morning after early morning Mass in the oratory, he sands, he chips and he chisels until noon. Then it’s time to come down so that worshippers at the noontime service aren’t listening to drills and sanders.
“I got really nice permission to work through the 5 p.m. Mass,” he says, beaming impishly. At sundown he comes back to earth, after days that are “about a total of 10 hours in that basket,” he guesses.
On Sunday, he works in a makeshift studio Ave Maria University has lent him, creating his own abstract sculpture. In just 12 days, his work on the oratory is to be dedicated, appropriately on the Roman Catholic feast of the Annunciation. After that, Váró will be working on some other project, somewhere else, until more funding allows him to create two side wall angel sculptures.
“I’m like the migrating bird,” he says. This bird, however, may be subject to post-partum depression. Váró talks about his time in the basket with pure joy: “I’m so happy when I’m working with stone,” he says. “It’s what I was meant to do.”
Váró would not have been sanding and chiseling at this fevered pace were it not for the Naples gallery owner who represents his work, Michael Windfeldt. Wind-feldt, who owns Gallerie du Soleil at 393 Broad Ave. S., thought that Váró, with his large-scale experience and his artistic skill with figures, should enter.
Unlike sculptors who work with assistants, Váró prefers to do his own sculpting, excepti for the large-scale chiseling around the figures that he has planned. It was one more credential that brought an oratory committee to choose Váró’s entry over others from as far away as Russia, with dreams from bronzes to a gold-leaf mosaic.
“We were the only ones who actually had an idea of how to do a project like this,” recalls Windfeldt.
Even Windfeldt wasn’t prepared for what came next, however.
“They told us, here’s the good news: You won. The bad news is we don’t have any money to do the sculptures right now,” he recalls. “That was kind of bittersweet that we won. But they don’t have any money so we won’t be doing this commission any time soon.
“Tom (founder Tom Monaghan) was telling me, “We really want to do this, but we have a responsibility, and we can’t really take money away from classrooms and buildings right now.”
So Windfeldt, with Váró’s help, came up with his own proposal: Create a foundation that could, first, raise the money to pay for the sculptures. That could be done by creating smaller bronze ones for donor appreciation presentations, he says.
“When you’re out raising the money you’re up against all the charities in the world. We needed to do something unique. So why don’t we use art to raise money for the arts? People will have this symbol of the sculpture as a reminder of the important work they’ve helped to create:” But by now Windfeldt had become intrigued at the prospect of working groundup with the art programs of this new university and its town.
“It was a blank canvas,” he marvels. “It really had a potential to be something for Southwest Florida that modeled a new high level of everything it was doing.
“The public art at Ave Maria, instead of following the same model every other church is dong these days — setting a ridiculously low budget for arts or buying them from a catalog — would return to the philosophy of old … that beauty is a manifestation of the divine … that you recruit the best artists in the world at your time to create your artwork, whether it be at St. Peter’s Basilica or in your own church or wherever.
“The best artists of time left this legacy — and centuries later, people are still coming to see those works at the Vatican and other churches in Europe.”
Windfeldt credits his inspiration to a public letter by Pope John Paul II to artists in 1999 (a weblink to it is in the accompanying box): “He is making a call to artists and to society to return to supporting them — to return to the philosophy that beauty is a manifestation of the divine.”
Váró offers his own philosophy of art in a similar way: “It’s from St. Augustine — that beauty reflects the goodness of God’s creation.”
Windfeldt is Lutheran. Váró is a Calvinist.
“ You don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to want to support art,” Windfeldt explains. “We felt there was a much broader base of people who would want to give to the arts in Ave Maria who might not otherwise be involved.
“I have a Jewish lady from West Palm Beach who just loves what’s going on and wants to be part of it.”
The apostles have been giving Váró fits. The smaller sculptures are set into niches across the front narthex roofline, and they pick up marble dust in a heartbeat. They were also expensive work-arounds when Váró and a crew were trying to affix the 3-feet-thick marble segments of the sculpture to the wall of the oratory.
The match tolerance was in millimeters, the weight in scores of tons. The final weight of the sculpture sitting on that reinforced concrete foundation is 54 tons. One broken segment could set the completion back a year. The process was an allday session of nerves, sweat and bated breath.
“I’m still shaking just thinking about it,” Váró admits.
In the meantime, Wind-feldt, who is now executive director of the new Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts, is in California, supervising the first bronzes of “The Annunciation.” Windfeldt’s father, who had been following his son’s growing involvement, offered family underwriting of the installation so it could begin without waiting for the bronzes, which are a project in themselves.
Váró is at work every day to finish the sculpture — shape the delicate fingers on a remaining hand, detail the feathery folds of a wing, chisel out the veil into the soft folds that dominate the the angel and the madonna. Above them, shooting down in milky slabs is the divine message, straightforward, even without words: Hail, full of grace.
The Rev. Robert Tatman, pastor of the quasi-parish at the Ave Maria Oratory has watched the whole process for the past two years. It’s wonderful to see it come to completion,” he observes. “I’m inspired by what it brings to what that building means.
“Having her being the very first image people see, and walking under it to enter the oratory — it’s just wonderful to know that beauty draws into the beauty of this place.”
Váró marvels at this commission: “There has not been one comment that ‘I would do it this way’ or ‘It is strongly advised. My worry every day instead is that what I’m doing is good enough. I want it to be worth all the trust they have in me.”
It’s so much more than “good enough,” says Windfeldt.
“I was just blown away when I saw it,” he marvels. “If you want statistics, it’s the largest Carrara high-relief attached to a building in the world. It’s the largest depiction of the annunciation in the world.”
But its art, he says, is what will make it a work for the ages.
“Those people who came out to watch Marton chiseling and sanding the last pieces, they can say in five or 10 years they saw history in the making.”