Five years ago Timothy Schmalz was walking in downtown Toronto. As the sculptor made whiskey through the city streets, he noticed someone perfectly still and shrouded in a blanket.
"It was actually a shock to me to see in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of one of the busiest streets in this city, this human form," says Schmalz. "It jolted me."
The pause immediately brought a passage from Schmalz's faith to mind — Matthew 25. A portion of the Bible where Jesus instructs his followers to treat "the least of these" as they would him.
"It was almost a eureka moment, where I interpreted that sight as something deeply spiritual," says Schmalz. "I was left believing that I just saw Jesus. And it was something that would not leave me."
The experience didn't stray far from his mind for the next year. Schmalz began sculpting and casting a human statue in his studio; one that could be placed on a bench and look like a homeless person lying still no matter the weather.
Schmalz's bronze cast that was installed in Indy last year,
continuously causes a stir when it snows or rains. It's not uncommon to see someone walk over and check to see if the figure needs help, nor is it uncommon to see people never notice it.
"The fascinating thing about the Gospel is it unfolds like theater," says Schmalz. "Likewise my sculpture does the same interesting twist."
He compares it to the comments made in Matthew 25 where Jesus is asked when he was homeless or needed help.
"When one approaches the Homeless Jesus ... it's only till you get closer to the sculpture that the center of the feet have the ruins of being on a cross that you have that eureka moment," says Schmalz. "... That's where the sculpture becomes like theater."
Since the sculpture was made, Schmalz has created an entire series of figures in similar
vulnerable positions. (One is nearly naked, for example.) During Indy's Spirit and Place Festival he will be showing them in one location for the first time ever.
However, Schmalz's work is hardly exclusive to Indy. There are versions of the installation all over the world — at the Vatican, the National Cathedral of Spain in Madrid, Dublin, Detroit and Johannesburg, just to name a few. It's his goal to have one in every major city in the world.
"The sculpture has basically become viral," says Schmalz.
(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by Spirit & Place Fest [www.spiritandplace.org]. Spirit & Place Fest had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)