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The Stations of The Cross -

A Carving Journey

by William Judt

(Click any images for a larger view)

Short before Christmas 2008, Bill Judt completed a six month project carving the Stations of The Cross. He agreed to share the experience with WOM. Editor Matt Kelley started with several questions:

Kelley: Tell us a about your carving journey.

Judt: As of this year, 2009, I have been carving 34 years. That’s longer than I could have imagined the day I first picked up a carving tool. But, God willing, I will be able to carve till the day I die.

It all started with a choice between two lines at the registration office of a Winnipeg school. I had decided to sign up for an adult evening hobby class. One line was for wood working and the other line was for wood carving. Since my brain did not recognize the difference between wood working and wood carving, I simply chose the shorter line. Thus my practical nature led me to a decision that shaped the next thirty-some years of my life. If  you will allow me to express a deeper conviction, I consider the circumstances in which I found myself - with the choice of two lines - to be the way God provided for my future. His finger prints are all over the story of my carving career.

I entered parish ministry as an ordained pastor in the Lutheran church, towing behind me a new passion for wood carving. Carving proved to be a welcome diversion from “all things parish”, and the object of my attention Sunday nights as I anticipated my Monday day off. My first few carvings were in the strictly decorative category as I tested my ability to render objects in wood with a limited selection of tools.

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in those early years of carving was my limited ability to design a carving on paper. At first I was dependent on imitating and reproducing the carvings done by others. My first carving references were Tangerman’s old books on carving. In those days there were precious few books on carving. I can remember pouring over Sunset books, and the Manual of Traditional Carving. It would be many years before publishers offered book on wood carving in any significant numbers.

I discovered that if I was going to have sufficient image resources at hand for creating my relief patterns, I would have to produce these patterns from my own images. It was not enough to rely on the photos that others produced, or the few patterns that came off the drawing tables of others. I would have to take my own photos and use the images as the basis for my carvings. Of course, this was a difficult process before the advent of digital cameras. One never knew what the photos looked like till they were developed, and the time lag was often intolerable. When digital cameras became available at consumer-level pricing, I was finally able to take photos without regard to number, and see instant results. This meant I was able to take as many images as necessary until the results were acceptable. Only the best images needed to be printed to photo paper, saving both time and money. These images could then be enlarged on a color photocopier to the size that allowed for accurate tracing on my light table. It was a very special day when I was first able to take a digital image and end up with an accurate drawing.

Computer technology also made a huge difference. I was able to generate accurate and decorative text for use in my patterns. Prior to computers, text had to be drawn by hand, and believe me, this was a difficult and time consuming process. But computers helped me in my work as a carver in other ways. I was able to connect through the internet with hundreds of other carvers around the world, and exchange information about carving. I cannot fully relate to you how much this electronic community changed my perspective on carving. But to be sure, it allowed me to discover that I had something to contribute to other carvers, and that my approach to relief carving, in particular, was special and unique.

Over the years I gradually found the niche that allowed me to grow and mature as a carver. My existing passion for carving met and joined with another passion that was growing inside me: a passion for expressing the Word of God in wood. It occurred to me that it was not enough for me to carve well. It mattered that my carvings served a greater purpose, namely to serve others by presenting the word of scriptures in both image and text.

An instructor at St. Olaf’s college in Northfield, MN, named Arnold Flaaten, proved to be an excellent mentor of how to mix word and image when producing Christian art. I owned a book featuring his life’s work, and spent many hours over many years gleaning a deeper understanding of both his methods and his objectives as he carved the Word. Gradually, I moved away from his methods, techniques and themes into my own, claiming full ownership of the ideas, techniques and themes of my carvings.

My on-going goals as a carver have been the following, in no particular order, all being necessary:
• To honor God through my carvings.
• To serve the needs of every customer who orders a carving.
• To make a living through my carving.
• To grow in technical skill and artistic expression with every carving.
• To carve from the heart, with prayerful preparation.
• To carve as long as God permits me to.

Of the milestones that I passed over the years, most prominent among them are the following:
• Learning to sharpen my tools.
• Developing a reliable and efficient method of building relief panels, using what I call “initial camber”.
• Weaning myself from the dependence of the drawing, patterns and photos of others, to developing my own.
• Finding a reliable source for hardwood, and settling on a selection of favorite species.
• Choosing to teach carving to others.
• Realizing and accepting that my work as a carver needed to serve others and honor God.
• Integrating computer technology into my work as a carver.
• Extending my offerings as a carving instructor into the print media and the internet.
• Offering summer workshops.
• Learning how to carve realistic and accurate human and animal portraits in the relief format.
• Completing a life-long dreams of carving the fourteen stations of the cross.
• Learning to release my career as a carver to the care and keeping of God.

Of the future goals I strive to attain:
• To successfully navigate the transition from full-time carver to part-time carver.
• To eventually integrate carving into a retirement lifestyle.
• To mentor more life-long carvers.

Kelley: What inspired you to undertake this long series of carvings?

Judt: It may seem strange to read this, but from the first years of my carving career, I’ve considered the Stations of the Cross as one of the highest goals and achievements for a carver. The stations appeared to be one of the most challenging projects for a relief carver, not just because of the number of carvings involved, but in respect to the consistency of design and rendering required. I reasoned that only a seasoned and dedicated carver would have what it takes to undertake such a project. Had I been an outdoorsman I might have determined that carving from nature - say, capturing the essence of wild animals in wood - was a worthier goal than carving the fourteen stations, but I was not an outdoorsman. I was a Christian in pursuit of a deeper relationship with God and a thirst for his Word. I carved what was important to me.

What held me back was the inability to create a series of patterns that was unique, relying completely on models, photos, techniques and patterns that I have personally gathered together for the task.

I remember corresponding with Ivan Whillock some years back on the subject of the stations. It was clear to me from our discussion that it would be more worthwhile developing a fresh rendering of each station than duplicating the efforts of others. Implicit in the effort to create a unique set of stations was the requirement to have a firm and comprehensive understanding of the biblical accounts of the passion of Jesus, the Christ. Along these lines, Mel Gibson’s film, the Passion of the Christ, served to strengthen my resolve to interpret and render the stations in a fresh way.

The notion that these stations belong strictly to the domain of the Catholic church is incorrect. For example, many Anglican congregations use these stations as devotional tools. So do some protestant and evangelical congregations. The stations do not reflect Catholic tradition as much as they point to the desire on the part of believers world-wide to meditate on Jesus' suffering and the victory He obtained for humanity through his death on the cross. The passion of Jesus is in the public domain, so to speak.

Kelley: Tell us about how you finally were able to undertake the Stations project:

Judt: The opportunity came to begin the project when one of my long-tern patrons contacted me, requesting that I undertake the Stations of the Cross on a commission basis. This would be a project spanning six months and involving many thousands of dollars. To put it mildly, I was excited about the project.

After extensive research into the evolution of these stations as a devotional tool within the Catholic church, it became clear that there were at least three streams in the rendering and interpretation of these stations: the traditional 14 stations, the updated 14 stations and the modern 15 stations. I wanted to be confident that I understood the purpose and history of these variations before entering into the design process.

The tradition stations included five that are “extra-biblical”, deriving from church tradition rather than the explicit mention in scriptures. Among these are the the three “falls” of Jesus while bearing the cross, and the incident involving Veronica who wipes Jesus face.

The modified stations delete the “extra-biblical” stations and replace them with others depicting biblical events attached to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, for a total of 14 stations, including:
• Jesus instituting the Eucharist
• Jesus praying in the garden
• Jesus before the Sanhedrin (highest Jewish Court)
• Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns
• Jesus entrusts Mary to his disciple
• Jesus rises from the dead.

The modern stations include some of the above, but adds also:
• Peter denies Christ
• Jesus promise His kingdom to the good thief

Photos used for patternsWith this information in hand, and the purchase of a new digital camera and computer software to aid in the editing and management of hundreds of photos, I undertook the project. First task at hand was to solicit live models for the photographs. It turned out that I would be the model for Jesus, my wife Debbie would be Mary and Veronica, my eldest son would be Simon of Cyrene and the man who carries Jesus body from the cross to the tomb )Joseph of Arimathea). My son would also model the hands of the Roman soldier. Two of my carvers lent their hands for the station depicting the nailing of Jesus to the cross. Finally, three students lent their images to the station depicting the women of Jerusalem.

Initial carving stepsIn all I took about 250 photos. Of these I selected the photos that were to be among the selection available to my customer. Together we selected the top 20 photos, and I was left with the final decision. Most of the patterns are a composite of drawings taken from two or three photos.

The photos were traced into line drawings which were later scaled to size. A master pattern was drawn in order to settle the common elements of each station, like outside dimensions, the supporting background and the placement of the crosses and the numerals. From that point, each pattern was drawn in numerical order and presented to the customer in groups of four or five for approval. Together we rejected to patterns outright, and agreed on two replacements.

The next task was laminating fourteen panels, using northern white birch. From that point on all my time was devoted to carving the panels.

Further progressI had only one panel completed when the bad news came. The couple who had ordered the carving contacted me to say that grievous family circumstances compelled them to terminate the project after one completed carving. To their credit, they paid completely for the work that had already been done. I made sure they had my blessing as I released them from our contract. I was left with a series of completed patterns and the freedom to complete the project on my own.



Station 6 near completionCome September, a pleasant summer having been tucked neatly away, I resolved to complete the stations before Christmas of 2008. This meant that I would have no income from commissions during this period, only income from carving classes. But Debbie and I agreed that once the project was done, I would find work that brought home a regular income.




Final cleaning Station 6With all the uncertainties surrounding this situation, I plunged into carving and experienced the finest four months of carving in my entire career. It was an opportunity to complete a life-long dream undisturbed by competing obligations. With the encouragement and interest of my carving students I completed one carving a week on average, 'till just two weeks short of Christmas the project was finished.

To date, I have not found a customer to buy this series. It’s worth about $16,000 so not just anyone can find that sort of cash, let alone a place to hang the carvings. Clearly, the Stations of the Cross need to find a permanent home in a parish setting, where they can serve to guide pilgrims as they meditate on the stations during each Lenten season.




Stations of the Cross Photo Gallery

Bill has kindly shared detailed photos of his Stations of the Cross, as well as versions of the patterns.

To view Stations 1 though 7, click HERE.

To view Stations 8 through 14, click HERE

Bill Judt in his studio Bill Judt in his studio. Some of the finished Stations may be seen on the walls behind him. Click the image for a larger view.


You may contact Bill via email at bjudt AT sasktel DOT net or visit his web site HERE for more information






Copyright 2009, All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.