Unveiling of interpretative sculpture

Artist Toni Cross De Chavannes and Mayor Clare Stewart with sculpture Perfect Love.

By Dr William Sultmann

The renowned Pieta, meaning, pity and compassion, was created by Michelangelo in 1498 to go into a side chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The work features the body of Jesus placed on the lap of the Virgin Mary after the savior’s crucifixion.

Its theme was a popular subject among northern European artists and is unprecedented in Italian sculpture.

Little wonder it was selected as a work to inspire the creation of a distinctive symbol for a charitable foundation focused on compassion and support. Named Perfect Love, the work was commissioned by residents of Noosa, Dr and Mrs Noelene Sultmann, after a chance meeting with the renowned sculptor, Toni Cross De Chavannes. Dr Sultmann commented: “Who would believe a grandchildren’s birthday party would provide a platform for communication and admiration of what Toni had created over decades?”

The observation of Toni’s work, multiple pieces that grace most places in her home and studio prompted the question: “do you think you could do something for a foundation that values symbols and wants to say thank you to its generous benefactors?” The response by Toni, “one does not copy a Master, but I could do an artist’s interpretaion of the masterpiece’.

What followed became the passion for Toni over 12 months as she examined photos, secured life models, and created from clay a finished bronze work of incredible significance. The unveiling of Toni’s Perfect Love was attended by a small group of art enthusiasts and friends who gathered for the celebration of excellence.

Toni Cross De Chavannes has always brought to her artistic creations a strong sense of the spirit in support of others. With the eye of a storyteller and the soul of a gypsy, Toni sees things anew, allowing the capture of that special something.

Many have described her unique creativity as the innovative blending of abstract with realism which results in artworks that are exceptionally different. When Toni discovered sculpture, she instantly clicked, and new paths of adventure opened that continue to this day. Toni is the holder of the Tony Palmer Sculpture Award and a proud family member of the world-famous impressionist, Pierre Purvis de Chavannes- the youngest artist to have works hung in the Louvre.

Recently, her pieces have included works on the theme of relationships. Her works have been exhibited in Canada, England, United States, and New Zealand and extensively throughout Australia, with many international private and corporate collectors retaining pieces of her ‘gifted touch’. As an example, the Pope’s Ambassador to New Zealand held a special mass when Toni’s sculpture of Pope John Paul II, was unveiled at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland, New Zealand.

Her latest work was commissioned as a symbol to characterise the ministry of The Passionist Heart Foundation which supports the Passionist Congregation in the Asia Pacific region, especially in Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, as well as vital Passionist works in Australia and New Zealand.

The Foundation invites support from the thousands of Australians who have built a close relationship with the Passionists through their involvement in parishes, schools, hospitals and wider community. In addition, the Foundation welcomes new relationships with anyone who aligns with its objects of providing relief from poverty, sickness, misfortune, disability and helplessness experienced by individuals and families.

Father Tom McDonough CP, the Provincial of the Passionist Fathers in Oceania, underscored the focus of the Foundation when speaking of the congregation’s charism: “Jesus’ passion on the cross means remembering those in the world who bear the cross today: the disabled, the sick, the dying, the grieving, those isolated and alone – all who share the burden of pain. Jesus identified himself with the ‘least’. He shared their burdens and brought them hope. He, too, bore the cross. We are called to be living memorials of the Passion of Jesus”.

Present at the unveiling of Perfect Love, Emeritus Professor Ron Weber, chair of the Passionist Heart Foundation, commented: “how extraordinarily appropriate is the work of Toni in creating a wonderful artistic piece to symbolise the essence of the Foundation”. He added the board was exploring ideas to promote the work in the hope that it might assist with fundraising for international projects where compassion underpinned support for the profoundly handicapped in PNG and the safe delivery of infants in remote parts of Tanzania. Limited editions of the original work and miniatures of about half size, may serve as expressions of thanks to those who generously support the Foundation and perhaps reproduced in full for communities inspired by the love of Christ and the enduring faithfulness of Mary”.

Two ministries of immediate focus for the Foundation are to assist a centre for children with profound disabilities in Vanimo, PNG (Senta Bilong Helpim) and a women’s ward in a Passionist-managed hospital in Tanzania (Itololo Health Centre). Senta Bilong Helpim has been caring for children with profound physical and mental disabilities in the Sandaun Province of PNG. The Bishop of Vanimo has asked that the existing Senta be expanded to accommodate more children with disabilities as well as establishing new facilities that include a post-school-aged workshop for young adults with disabilities and accommodation for victims of domestic violence. The Itololo Health Centre has no capacity to accommodate sick women and sick children who need the support of their mother. These women and children are often severely disadvantaged in terms of the health outcomes that the medical staff at the centre can achieve. With the support of the local Passionist community, a midwifery and women’s health facility is being pursued as a Foundation priority.