Behold a Miracle in Progress
Márton Váró, who is sculpting an enormous marble relief in the town of Ave Maria, isn’t hard to find. Park at the town center, walk down the academic mall, and look for flying dust. That’s what Michael Windfeldt, the sculptor’s right-hand man and executive director of the Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts, tells me when we set up the interview.
But before you see the dust, or the sculptor, you see the head of the Virgin Mary emerging two feet from a block of white marble. Her face is smooth, her hair veiled. She’s humongous—seven feet from head to elbow. This is only her top third. She’ll be 20 feet tall when finished. One of the biggest—if not the biggest—Marys in bas-relief in the world, according to Ave Maria officials.
The block containing Mary is the most complex of the 15 Váró will carve to depict the Annunciation, the event in Christian faith when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would give birth to Jesus. The completed sculpture will be 35 feet high, 31 feet wide and weigh more than 50 tons. It will go onto the façade of the Oratory, a modern steel, stone and glass structure that reaches a hundred feet into the sky and serves as the centerpiece and symbol of the town and university.
Váró sits on a raised deck and leans over Mary’s forearm, carving her sleeve with an angle grinder. She looks past him with pupil-free eyes, having just gotten the news. Her hand is at her heart, her fingers touch her chest, and her wrist is curved, jutting from the stone by a yard. A fine mist of white dust drifts westward, pushed by a warm breeze. Váró is enclosed in cyclone fencing. Five people watch him silently from rows of metal benches. A placard on the fence reads, “Please do not disturb the artist while he is working.” Another sign informs visitors that they can buy a marble chip at Beckner Jewelry & Repairs on La Piazza next to the visitor’s center. These are signed by the artist and cost between $20 and $40.
Váró wears a headset with an antenna pointed skyward. He tells me later that he’s listening to AM radio. Classic rock. Not his first choice (he’s a classical music fan), but it’s the best this receiver can get out here, miles from anywhere, near Big Cypress Swamp.
Art and Engineering
Váró has blue eyes and unruly gray-white hair. A fleck of marble clings to his cheek, and dust defines the creases in his dry lips. He doesn’t wear a mask when he works. He says they don’t help.
“I wanted to be a sculptor since I was six years old, and I saw Geppetto carving Pinocchio’s eyes out of wood,” he says.
After seeing that cartoon, he begged his parents for a pocketknife. At first, they said no, fearing he would cut his finger. But Váró insisted, and his parents relented. And he promptly cut himself while carving wood. He shows me the 60-year-old scar on the first knuckle of his index finger.
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