Carving out a piece of history
Local carver Alice Marthaler took on the special task of creating a wooden statue of the patron saint of the Church of St. Clotilde. Three years later, the statue was installed last month in Green Valley.
Being commissioned to carve a statue for a church is an amazing honor, especially if you are a retired woman like Alice Marthaler of Marshall who enjoys carving.
Marthaler is a member of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Marshall, a sister parish to the Church of St. Clotilde for whom she carved a statue of its patron saint.
As the Rev. Jack Nordick retired from the Church of St. Clotilde to his farm in northern Minnesota, Marthaler asked him for a tree from his farm to carve. He agreed to send one if she would carve a statue of St. Clotilde for the Green Valley church. It was a challenge she willingly accepted.
She received the log at a relative’s farm, Carl Louwagie, and recruited three generations of family members to assist her with the over 8-foot piece of lumber.
“I designed it from a picture I took of the St. Clotilde statue already in place at the church,” Marthaler said, “but I designed the church in her hands to look more like Green Valley’s church.”
She took it to a sawmill to do the rough work like trimming off the bark and cutting it in half so she could dig out the center.
“Fred Cogelow of Willmar, a famous carver, suggested opening it up and carving out the wet wood so it dries out,” Marthaler said. “Giving it air space in the center helps it dry from the center out as well as from the outside in.”
Once that was done, she said, her grandsons help her glue and screw the two halves together.
Marthaler sketched on the log the places to cut and another carver used a chain saw to chiseled it out, including the 33-inch diameter base.
Then, the hewn log was brought into her garage in Marshall where she could only work on it while her husband Martin’s vehicle was gone.
Since the statue was taller than she, it was lain on a couple of saw horses while Marthaler worked on the top. Eventually, it was moved into the house to be finished.
“The project took three summers in the garage before getting it to the point of moving it into the house,” she said. “At that time, the church was putting a new entry on to go with their new lift, so I decided it would be easier to wait until that was done to get the statue into the church.”
Not only were the two halves separate, but the hands were as well.
“I carved the hands separately so that the grain of the wood went lengthwise instead of crosswise,” Marthaler said. “I took pictures of Sophia’s hands to use as a model.”
The completed 6-foot-3-inch statue is now on display in the entry to the new elevator lift at St. Clotilde’s church. The congregation had the statue and the lift blessed in a special service on Oct. 20.
“I started carving the winter of 1996-97 when we retired and started going to Truth or Consequences in New Mexico for the winter,” Marthaler said. “The town was renamed after Ralph Edwards’ TV show. He wanted to put a museum somewhere with that name.”
The town had been named Hot Springs prior to the renaming and the high school still goes by that name, she said.
It wasn’t long after that that Marthaler found out there was a carving club there.
“My husband was not interested,” she said.
It was mostly men at first, Marthaler said. Snowbirds made up most of the 35 members. Toward the end, the pendulum had swung the other way, and it was mostly women.