Plentiful Grace

In the tastefully restrained confines of the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University, a marble sculpture of Mary next to the altar strikes a jarring note. Representing Mary as a stream of milk spilling out of a bowl onto a craggy rock, the sculpture is a hulking, magnificently bizarre presence amid the chapel’s fussy little alcoves and high-class knick-knackery. I always thought the upturned bowl represented Mary’s head, but creator Steve Heilmer says it’s more common to see the bowl’s gold rim as a halo for the Lady-of-Guadalupe outline that emerges in the milk as it flattens against the rock. Speaking from his home in Greenville, Illinois, Heilmer downplays technique (the spilling milk is carved with show-stopping hyper-realism), preferring to talk about the ideas in the piece, whose official title is Gratia Plena (“Plentiful Grace”). “Horizontals are usually considered feminine,” he says, “but the piece is almost a phallic symbol in terms of its verticality.” In which case the milk could be … an ejaculation? “Sure,” says Heilmer, who quickly adds that his view is in no way the authorized one. Also unlikely to be mentioned in the visitor’s brochure is Heilmer’s interest in the paradoxical violence of Christian imagery (he is himself a Christian). But it might explain why, if you approach this eight-foot, 2,300-pound Mary from the side, she appears to be slightly off-balance, as if she might just crush you to death. DAVID STOESZ

Starts: May 20. Daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m., 2009

 
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