St Elizabeth Seton

Seton College. Samson. Western Australia

2021

St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
St Elizabeth Seton
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
St Elizabeth in her setting at Seton College
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
St Elizabeth in her setting at Seton College
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
Studio photo prior to installation
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
St Elizabeth in her setting at Seton College.
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
Books, quote, a pen in her hand and the tapestry shawl
St Elizabeth Seton, books
The books that were dearest to her.
St Elizabeth Seton, bronze M.Judge
St Elizabeth in her setting at Seton College

A woman born into the chaos of the American Revolution, a wealthy, married, Episcopalian woman with children and dependants, seems to be an unlikely candidate to become a Catholic Saint.

Elizabeth Seton’s journey through life is intriguing. She was a seeker, always looking for the truest path she could find, and navigating the bewildering pace of change; political, societal and personal, at the same time as facing the perils of disease, financial destitution and the uncertainties of religious persecution, entrenched patriarchy and injustice.

The sculpture depicts Elizabeth with her journal in her hand. It is an important metaphor, in fact it is the indicator of an indispensable tool. Elizabeth held her world together with her words. Her journals tracked the sincerity of her personal quest, her letters connected her to the people who believed in her and took her seriously, her language built the world she came to inhabit.

On her death her community were urged to keep everything, all the papers, books and notes. This is an extraordinary archive from a time of change in the voice of a woman of change. I am accustomed to working with fragments, with broken records and smudged recollections of women whose clarity and spirituality changed the world. Again I get to bear witness to women who follow their words with actions, their ideas with commitment, their setbacks with persistance.

The sculpture sits on a two tonne boulder, in an echo of the famous sculpture in Emmitsburg. We chose to use a stone boulder; Australian sandstone as a link to our country and an acknowledgement to the original custodians of the land we are privileged to live and work upon. Our home and studio is on land on the junction of Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna nations. The stone comes from Kaurna Land in Eden valley. Seton college is Wajuk nation in South West Perth.

The original clay sculpture was shaped from the outset to fit the curves of the boulder. The soft eroded stone perfectly contrasts the finished cast bronze. The folds of her skirt fall over its edges.

There is a quote and a personal practice that Elizabeth spoke of using. When she was troubled, she would lift her eyes to the sky, gaze upwards & remind herself of divinity. As the sculpture grew in my hands I realised how that gesture, that movement of looking upwards, reveals her vulnerability.

The sculpt for the work was started in March 2020, just as our world slipped into pandemic crisis. Elizabeth’s own journey through illness and disease, quarantine stations and devasting loss, was an apt echo for our times. She was installed November 2021 while borders were briefly open between our state, SA and our neighbours in the West. The college had completed their new build administration block in the interim, partly with the sculpture in mind. Its traditional WA limestone block walls and contemporary design provide a clean backdrop to the work. The design request to present a work that reads well from many angles makes sense when you see the curved driveway, flights of stairs and high set windows. She greets every visitor who arrives.

I was aided in the production of this sculpture by the book that came into my hands from Catherine ODonnell. Fresh off the press when I started this project. It was the best guide I could have sought to inform the new sculpture. I read several other texts but this was the one that gave me the depth of detail I wanted into the context of Seton’s time, and the respectful exploration of the relationships that enriched her life.

I was assisted by a glorious life model whose natural resemblance to the lovely Elizabeth, plus her calm and meditative nature, informed the sculpt from head to toe. We worked through the lockdowns with (socially distanced) modelling sessions once a week.

TUT foundry run by Tim Thompson did the hard grunt of the actual bronze casting this time. Tim is a superlative skilled craftsman and an excellent sculptor in his own right.

Seton College were wonderful to work with. Responsive, interested and engaged with the project. The install, organised on short notice by Peter Farrier Smith went brilliantly. Two truckloads of boulders, cranes, and able assistance. Sarah was awesome with social media and vids. Katie Kingdom with lovely photos and for really bringing the engagement with the kids into her classroom.

My husband and I masterminded every stage of the making, outside the bronze pouring that TUT did for us. We moulded, prepped the waxes for casting and fettled the unfinished bronzes. Welding and fine fitting bronze to the undulating stone base (whose great idea was this?) with my accomplice Will, was our winter work for 2021, working late, both of us scrummaging around the cement floor lifting the bronze sections into place and welding them precisely. Quiet city. Noisy, hard work, socially isolated workshop. Grateful to be living in this city.