St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Kutztown, PA is out by the Rt. 222 bypass. From the highway it looks like a typical mini-mega-church. Inside there is something to behold -the art of Tom Quirk. Stations of the Cross are a fixture of Catholic and some Protestant churches. The stations are 14 sequential images depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Thomas C. Quirk, Jr. retired from teaching illustration at Kutztown University in 1989. I know the year, because 25 years ago I got his job.
Tom Quirk’s obituary tells the story of a life well-lived. He was born in Pittsburgh. He died in Pittsburgh this month. He was 91 years old.
Tom Quirk went to Catholic high school in Johnstown, PA where he lettered in football and baseball.
He was a WWII Navy veteran. He illustrated popular coloring books for Dover books.
He also illustrated a number of natural history and gardening books for Rodale Press, including The Field Guide to Wild Herbs.
A former student, now an art teacher herself, Maureen Yoder, remembers Tom Quirk as a great teacher and “master of watercolor washes.”
Illustrator Martin Lemelman shared an office with Tom Quirk. Martin fondly recalls “His ink work was meticulous, masterly… breathtaking.”
He also taught oil painting. Kathi Ember, the children’s book illustrator, had Tom Quirk for Intro to Painting. She remembers a very organized teacher who was incredibly patient with his students’ first attempts at painting. She calls him a “sweetheart of a prof.”
It wasn’t until he retired from teaching that Tom Quirk devoted himself to sculpture. In the 25 years after his retirement his focus has been on the religious sculpture. Notice how for stations 1-11, above, he carves squares of unpainted wood into relief illustrations and places them on decorated cruciform panels.
For the 12th Station, the crucifixion, he created a near life-sized figure of Christ. The crucifix measures 6 feet across. It is carved from laminated basswood. It is polychromed in parts. Other parts are animated with illustrated biblical scenes, including the stories of Abraham and Lazarus. He carved this masterpiece in an old red barn on Rt 73. I went out there one day around 1992 to see his progress. I told him I thought it was extraordinary. He shrugged and got back to his carving.
Stations 13 and 14 are mounted on gray crosses.
In the lower left corner of the 14th and final station, less than 1/4 inch tall, you can find one carved initial “Q..” – followed by two dots. I’m guessing the dots stand for junior, the signature of the artist – Thomas C. Quirk, Jr.
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