Everyone loves a restoration gone wrong. A cartoonish terracotta head that went viral after being temporarily affixed to a statue of Jesus in Canada last year is being returned to the artist, at her request.
The statue in question is at Sainte-Anne-des-Pins Catholic Church in Sudbury, Ontario, and was created during the mid-20th century. Over the years, it has become a recurring target of vandalism, and Jesus has been decapitated numerous times. Following one such incident, the statue’s head disappeared.
Local artist Heather Wise then approached the parish priest, Father Gérard Lajeunesse, offering to create a free replacement head for the damaged work.
“I was so sad,” Wise told Sudbury.com in 2016. “My feelings were hurt when I saw it, because I thought ‘Who would do that?’ It’s just not a positive feeling to see that. I said ‘I’m an artist, I would like to fix it.’”
Lajeunesse, estimating that a brand new statue would cost $6,000–10,000 CAD ($4,400–7,300), gladly accepted the offer. Wise intended to carve a permanent replacement out of stone, but spent one afternoon quickly sculpting a placeholder out of terracotta clay, working directly on the original.
The incongruous appearance of the reddish-brown head paired with the milky white statue quickly attracted comparisons to the infamous “Beast Jesus” restoration, which put the Spanish town of Borja on the map.
“Americans talk of your 15 minutes of fame, but I never thought I would be associated with a red-headed Jesus,” Lajeunesse admitted to the Sudbury Star. The spikey-headed statue has also been likened to Lisa Simpson.
Within days of the story going viral, the original head was returned to the parish by an anonymous woman who claimed the thief had been going through personal problems. “I almost cried,” Lajeunesse told the Toronto Star.
Wise’s replacement head, which had begun to weather in the rain, was deinstalled, and the statue, which bore some stains from the eroding terracotta, was cleaned by restoration specialists. There are plans to reunite the two original pieces of the work in the spring.
Lajeunesse told CBC News that Wise has asked for her sculpture back: “The reason she gave was, ‘This is my most famous piece of art.’”
Despite the negative attention it received, Wise’s temporary head still holds a special place in Lajeunesse’s heart. “I was hoping to keep it myself,” he admitted. “I have told her if she ever wants to sell it, I would like to be the first to be told about it.”
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