Tom Quirk’s Stations of the Cross: Sacred Sequential Art

"Jesus is Condemned to Death." Station of the Cross by Tom Quirk.
“Jesus is Condemned to Death.”  1st Station of the Cross by Tom Quirk.

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.

2. Jesus carries his cross. All art by Tom C. Quirk, Jr.
2. Jesus carries his cross. All art by Tom C. Quirk, Jr.

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.

3. Jesus falls the first time, and 4. Jesus meets his mother.
3. Jesus falls the first time                                    4. Jesus meets his mother.

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.

5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross.

Tom Quirk went to Catholic high school in Johnstown, PA where he lettered in football and baseball.

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

He was a WWII Navy veteran. He illustrated popular coloring books for Dover books.

7. Jesus fall a second time. (detail.)
7. Jesus fall a second time. (detail.)

He also illustrated a number of natural history and gardening books for Rodale Press, including The Field Guide to Wild Herbs.

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

A former student, now an art teacher herself, Maureen Yoder, remembers Tom Quirk as a great teacher and “master of watercolor washes.”

9. Jesus falls the 3rd time.
9. Jesus falls the 3rd time. (detail)

Illustrator Martin Lemelman shared an office with Tom Quirk. Martin fondly recalls “His ink work was meticulous, masterly… breathtaking.” 

10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.

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.”

11. Jesus is nailed to the cross. (detail)
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross. (detail)

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.

12. Jesus dies on the cross.
12. Jesus dies on the cross.

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.

13. Jesus is taken down from the cross.
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross.

Stations 13 and 14 are mounted on gray crosses.

14. Jesus is taken down from the cross. (detail, Q.. in lower right corner)
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb. (detail, Q.. in lower right corner)

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.

Thomas C Quirk, Jr. (1922-2014)

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