Truth, beauty, goodness come to life through sculptor’s work

Sid Hastings

When Cynthia Hitschler reflects on the legacy of religious art, she is overwhelmed by the great faith of the people who created it and how it lives on to inspire future generations.

Hitschler, in her own right, has contributed to the world of art as a bronze sculptor for the past 20 years. Her work with religious sculptures — from crucifixes and statues of the saints to works that promote the sanctity of life — depicts truth, beauty and goodness.

"The Church has forever been one of the greatest examples and patrons of the most beautiful art that exists in the world," Hitschler said. "I'm inspired to look for those elements in every piece of art that I create for the Church."

Hitschler developed a love for the arts as a young adult, and studied sculpting at Washington University's art school in the late 1960s. She had a change of heart midway through her studies and went on to earn a degree in agriculture from the University of Missouri. She completely left the arts when she got married and stayed at home to raise six children.

By the late '90s, with her children grown, Hitschler returned to her first love. "My father died and with a small amount of inheritance, I took that to do my first bronze casting," she said. She reconnected with local Catholic sculptor and bas-relief artist Don Wiegand, who was a classmate at Washington University. "Here I am in my mid-40s and I'm asking him for advice about what to do to get back in the game. I will always be grateful for the advice he gave me."

While bronze sculpting is a "grimy" line of work, said Hitschler, the months-long process of creating a piece is a lesson in delayed gratification, not to mention the satisfaction of seeing it blossom from a oil-based clay sculpture into a permanent bronze statue that will last forever.

In the past 20 years, Hitschler has taken on at least one, sometimes two and three projects each year. Her latest work was a project commissioned by the Knights of Columbus at Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin, a series of four life-sized bronze statues of children that demonstrate the theme "I Am the Pro-Life Generation."

As common with most of her commissioned works, there is discussion between the parish and the artist on what message the statues are to convey. On the Holy Infant project, the composition acknowledges the sin and sorrow of abortion, but focuses on the joy of human growth and development — instruction, diligence, reverence and joy. When the parish Knights of Columbus council commissioned the work, it suggested the statues of the children be engaged in wholesome activities — "things that are wholesome and good and reaffirm their identity as boys and girls, in the most traditional and classic sense of the word," said Hitschler.

Other commissioned projects over the years include the Holy Family at St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville; another Holy Family sculpture at Cedar Lake Shrine, Family Center and Conference Center in Wentzville; a statue of St. Louis IX, commissioned as a gift to then-Archbishop Justin Rigali; St. Kateri Tekakwitha, commissioned by Cardinal Raymond Burke for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis.; and Christ with the Evangelists, a project for her parish, Most Sacred Heart in Eureka.

Eleven years ago, Hitschler began sharing her talents in the arts as a volunteer with the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific. She began with the Story Link program, in which volunteers assist prisoners in recording reading books, which are then shared with their children. Four years ago, Hitschler started working in the sewing room, helping offenders make hats and scarves, durable tote bags and other items, which are distributed to homeless people through local social service agencies.

"I love working in the sewing room," she said. "The irony of this development is that I really don't know how to sew. Nevertheless, I've picked up a few skills from the men who are especially gifted."

Hitschler takes her work seriously, whether in her full-time profession or as a volunteer. With sculpture, "you have the opportunity to make something that will impress a lot of people. That's enormous. You want to treat it with respect and handle it responsibly and make it something beautiful to behold." 

Cynthia Hitschler

• Graduate of Visitation Academy; attended art school at Washington University in St. Louis 1968-1970; degree in agriculture from the University of Missouri

• Registered at Most Sacred Heart in Eureka and a regular at the Passionist Convent in Ellisville

• Specialties: Painting in oil and acrylics, bas-relief, mural and graphic design

• Married to Ron Hitschler; six children, ages 28 through 42

• Began volunteering at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific 11 years ago with the Story Link literacy program; also assists in the sewing room 

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