Contemporary Sculpture | Sculpture Artist | MARTON VARO

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..ann17b

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.”

ann14bFather 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.”

Márton Váró

AVE MARIA — There’s a virtual stone road from Ave Maria to the Vatican, and its first mile marker rises on the facade of the tiny town’s oratory.

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.”

Carefully easing a 500-pound block of carved Carrara marble into place atop 14 other panels, stonemasons completed installing the bas-relief sculpture of the Annunciation on the front of the Ave Maria Oratory Friday.

A team of 10 workers, including stonemasons, engineers and a crane operator, worked for more than a month to mount the 70-ton sculpture, which, at 30 feet high and 35 feet wide, is one of the largest sculpted images of the Annunciation in the world.

Sculptor Márton Váró, who anxiously watched the entire installation process, now has several months of work ahead of him to complete some of the carving and ensure the panels fit together seamlessly. The creation will be officially unveiled and dedicated at Ave Maria on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.

He smiled broadly Friday afternoon as one of the masons gave the “thumbs-up” sign that the sculpture was finally complete. He then hopped in a lift to inspect the work with James Blair, whose crew from Titan Stone of Ft. Lauderdale did the installation work.

Mr. Váró has been working on the sculpture for almost two years, doing most of his work in public on the Ave Maria University campus mall where the plume of white marble dust emanating from the carving was a familiar site to students, faculty and town residents.

Mark Nagan snapped this photo of builders installing the pieces of the Ave Maria Oratory on Friday. He writes: “After a Founders’ luncheon on Marco Island, I traveled to Ave Maria (I was told the last pieces were going in today) yesterday to see the final installation; ended up watching as the last piece was finished and hoisted into place.” The landmark 100 foot, $24 million structure holds 1,100 people and sits in the center of the town of Ave Maria.

Mark Nagan snapped this photo of builders installing the pieces of the Ave Maria Oratory on Friday. He writes: “After a Founders’ luncheon on Marco Island, I traveled to Ave Maria (I was told the last pieces were going in today) yesterday to see the final installation; ended up watching as the last piece was finished and hoisted into place.” The landmark 100 foot, $24 million structure holds 1,100 people and sits in the center of the town of Ave Maria.

Mark Nagan snapped this photo of builders installing the pieces of the Ave Maria Oratory on Friday. He writes: “After a Founders’ luncheon on Marco Island, I traveled to Ave Maria (I was told the last pieces were going in today) yesterday to see the final installation; ended up watching as the last piece was finished and hoisted into place.” The landmark 100 foot, $24 million structure holds 1,100 people and sits in the center of the town of Ave Maria.

Mark Nagan snapped this photo of builders installing the pieces of the Ave Maria Oratory on Friday. He writes: “After a Founders’ luncheon on Marco Island, I traveled to Ave Maria (I was told the last pieces were going in today) yesterday to see the final installation; ended up watching as the last piece was finished and hoisted into place.” The landmark 100 foot, $24 million structure holds 1,100 people and sits in the center of the town of Ave Maria.

The first piece of the annunciation sculpture by Marton Varo was placed on the face of the Oratory late in the work day on Saturday, December 11. This is the first of 15 pieces that are scheduled to be up by the end of this week or early next week. This first piece was delayed by almost three days due to unexpected weather and machine failure.For more than a year now, the residents and visitors of Ave Maria have seen the sculpture being worked on. A group of devoted fans gathered the day the first piece went up, and even a day early before it was postponed. “I’ve been here since it began and I want to see the first piece go up,” said one of the onlookers.

The project is expected to be ready for reveal by March of 2011.  Watch the video here.

For much of the winter, he was a familiar sight working every day on the Ave Maria University mall, often highly visible because of the plume of white dust rising from the Carrara marble that he was forming into what’s believed to be the largest bas-relief of The Annunciation in the world.

Márton Váró completed the first panel for the 35-foot sculpture, the bust and head of Mary (left), in May. To avoid working outside in the summer heat of southwest Florida, he’s been spending the summer creating the other parts of the bas-relief that will adorn the oratory. The work, he says, is proceeding on schedule.

marton3a“I have to work in the woods, literally,” he told The Ave Herald, “wearing a mask 9 to 10 hours a day.”

His place in the woods is next to the quarry in Carrara, Tuscany, the source of the marble for the Ave Maria sculpture, which came from the same part of the quarry as the marble for Michelangelo’s David and Pieta.

marton7aMr, Váró will continue working in Italy through October and expects to be back in Ave Maria in the first part of November.

Sculptor Marton Varo chips away at a $3 million, 35-foot-tall bas relief sculpture of The Annunciation at the Ave Maria University campus in Immokalee, Fla. The sculpture will one day adorn the facade of the 10-storey Ave Maria Oratory. The building of the university and town have slowed with the recession but its chancellor, Thomas Monaghan, has made some cuts that will preserve the dream he has for a place steeped in conservative Catholic teaching and symbolism.