The 'Homeless Jesus' sculpture went viral, now more biblical public art is coming to Cleveland

Artist Timothy Schmalz sits on the park bench with his "Homeless Jesus" sculpture [Timothy Schmalz]
Artist Timothy Schmalz with his "Homeless Jesus" sculpture [Timothy Schmalz]

A bronze sculpture of Jesus depicted as a homeless man on a park bench outside a suburban Cleveland church sparked national headlines last year. This week, additional statues inspired by biblical passages are being installed across the city’s West Side.

The artworks were acquired by the Community West Foundation, which funds efforts that promote social justice and understanding. After the "Homeless Jesus" statue was installed outside of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Bay Village in October 2020, police were notified that a person was spotted sleeping on a bench outside the church. The false alarm sparked national media attention, putting a spotlight on homelessness and spurring conversation.

That statue is part of a series of six sculptures by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz that illustrate Christ as person in need, alternately sick, hungry, naked, a stranger, a prisoner or without shelter.

"When I was Naked" is being installed at Malachi House, 2810 Clinton Avenue. [Community West Foundation]

“I think one of the most powerful parts of scripture is the idea that's presented in Matthew 25,” Schmalz said in a phone call from his studio in Kitchener, Ontario. “It's where God, or Jesus, directly makes a connection with the least in our community and himself.”

Two of the sculptures were previously installed in the Cleveland area and the remaining pieces are due to be in place by this coming Spring. In each case, the sculpture’s face is shrouded or somehow covered. Schmalz said that’s by design.

"When I Was Sick" is installed at Cleveland Clinic Lutheran Hospital, 1730 West 25th Street. [Community West Foundation]

“I've been sculpting Christ for probably 30 years obsessively, and I oftentimes say that my best portrait of Jesus is the one that's missing the face. And I think that's one of the powerful ways that it connects to people,” he said. “In a sense, it's not a spoon-fed visual message. It's something that someone can put their own image of what God looks like within the sculpture.”

Schmalz said that, over the course of those three decades, he has worked exclusively in bronze. He likes the metal’s qualities of strength and endurance.  Those characteristics carry over into the themes of his work.

“I think a great thing that artwork can do is to touch people and make them think about deeper values and deeper responsibilities. The right way to live,” he said.

"When I Was a Stranger," to be installed in Spring 2022 at Refugee Response, 4909 Lorain Avenue. [Community West Foundation]

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