Handcarved St. Joseph statue coming to grotto

An artist is using the St. Joseph statue saved from the St. Joseph grotto, left, as a model to create a new handcarved limestone statue, right. Photos courtesy Friends of the Grotto


JASPER — A limestone statue of St. Joseph will soon join St. Mary in the Mother of God grotto on Bartley Street near Cathedral Health Care Center.

The Friends of the Grotto commissioned a recreation of the statue of St. Joseph and the baby Jesus that sat in the St. Joseph grotto from Kopelov Cut Stone in Bedford. The St. Joseph grotto was on Bartley Street before Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center announced it would build its $8-million, 15,000-square-foot Family Medicine Center on the land.

The original St. Joseph statue that was saved from the St. Joseph grotto in Jasper.

As soon as the hospital announced its project in 2016, the Friends of the Grotto formed to preserve the historical place. Ultimately, the group was able to save the St. Joseph statue, a 7,000-pound archway and about 30 stone planters from the St. Joseph grotto. Now, 20 of the planters sit in the Mother of God grotto, and the other 10 are in storage with the archway. Once complete, the new St. Joseph statue and the archway will be placed on the hill between the Mother of God grotto and Cathedral Health Care Center.

When the Friends of the Grotto couldn’t find a statue that closely resembled the original St. Joseph statue, the group decided to commission a recreation. The decision led them to Kino Kopelov of Kopelov Crushed Stone. The recreation will cost about $15,000, and the Friends of the Grotto is paying for it with donations. Anyone wishing to donate can send checks to Friends of the Grotto, Inc. P.O. Box 564, Jasper IN 47547-0564. For more information, Friends of the Grotto member Tim Bell can be contacted at 812-630-4038.

At Kopelov Cut Stone, Kopelov is hand-carving St. Joseph and Jesus from a chunk of Indiana limestone. He’s using the pointing method, which has been used by stone and wood carvers since the 1700s. In the method, sculptors use a pointing machine — a pointing needle that can be fixed in one position to tell a sculptor where to point it on one statue so that it can be transferred to the replica — to recreate plaster, clay or wax models in wood or stone. The process involves finding thousands of points on the old statue and transferring them to the new work, then carving the point with chisels and hammers. It’s a long process that involves a lot of moving back and forth between the original and the new. Kopelov has been working on the new St. Joseph statue since October.

Once complete, the new, limstone St. Joseph statue will be placed on the hill between the Mother of God grotto and Cathedral Health Care Center in Jasper.

Although today there are machines that can carve much faster, Kopelov prefers the traditional methods, partly because he wants to keep the methods alive and partly because they’re more aesthetically pleasing.

“The traditional ways of carving are, I think, still the most beautiful,” he said.

Father Philip Ottavi built the original grotto in 1954 in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Ottavi wanted to build the shrine to imitate the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France, where in the 1850s a vision of the Holy Mother appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl who would become St. Bernadette Soubirous.

The grotto’s origin is part of why the Friends of the Grotto wanted to save the area, but that turned out more difficult than expected.

“They did such a good job constructing it that it was near impossible to take apart,” Bell said.

To remove the stone archway, for example, the Friends of the Grotto needed a crane. When the group puts the archway on the hillside in the Mother of Mary grotto, a crane will be used again.

Then, the last 10 stone pots and Kopelov’s St. Joseph statue will be added.

Since the new statue will be made of stone, it will stand in the archway for many years to come.

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