1.800.720.8574 308.697.3493 sjonson@swnebr.net LITURGICAL ART
1.800.720.8574308.697.3493sjonson@swnebr.net LITURGICAL ART 

Space Leads Sculptor to Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE — Artists require thought and space, sculptor Sondra Jonson of Cambridge said.


Sondra Jonson works on a life-size statue of Pope [Blessed] John XXIII in her Cambridge studio. The sculpture will be placed in the [Blessed] John XXIII Diocesan Center in Lincoln. The works in museums often are done by artists who don’t live in urban centers, she said.


Instead of what she calls “concrete and desert” in Las Vegas, Jonson wanted greenery and the quiet of a small community in which to raise her sons and pursue her profession as a sculptor. She and her sons moved to Cambridge in 1994. Since then, her career has thrived, and her sons have learned about 4-H, running cross-country and four seasons of weather.


Jonson grew up in Philadelphia and studied art at Bryn Mawr College. Her plan was to paint until she visited the studio of noted sculptor Donald DeLue in Leonardo, N.J.

To more fully understand the substance and form of what she would paint, DeLue encouraged her to study sculpture. She enrolled in an academy and discovered sculpting was her calling in art.


Her first sculpture was done 19 years ago [in 1985] for a private collection near Harrisburg, Pa. Her works have been installed in public and private collections from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C. Her small bronzes appear in Europe, the Vatican and the White House.


Jonson has done many commissions in Nebraska. She has 10 projects, and much of her work involves religious subject matter.



Her studio is an older house she remodeled into a brightly lit studio directly behind her home.


Her workroom is dominated by a clay mold of Pope [Blessed] John XXIII, pope from 1958-1963. At 5 feet, 4 inches, the mold is slightly shorter than the late pope’s actual height.


It was commissioned by the Lincoln Diocese and will be placed in the [Blessed] John XXIII Diocesan Center in Lincoln.


She began a miniature model of the pope in October 2002 and completed it the following March. She delivered it to Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz in Lincoln for his approval. The full-size statue is scheduled for delivery in September [of 2004]. A steel frame, called an armature, was built for the statue’s size and framework. Special steel netting was shaped about the armature to create the basic form of the statue.


I filled the netting with foam — the same kind you can buy in a hardware store. Except, I buy it by the case,” she said with a smile.


The foam fills the cavity created by the netting and becomes the core for the statue.


When the netting is satisfactorily shaped, the hard work begins. The core could be anyone, but as clay is applied over the core the likeness of a person begins to appear.


Jonson cuts, trims, adds more clay and rubs it to the exact outline displayed on the miniature. Slowly, the head acquires its shape. The arms and shoulders gain form. She fusses at the precise shaping of the hands and fingers, the folds in the robes, and the tiniest details of the late pope’s genial face.


The work takes many hours and many days. As she rubs, the muscles of her slender forearms appear hardened by years of such work.


When it is finished and ready for shipment to the foundry in Springville, Utah, the clay model of the pope will weigh 450 pounds, Jonson said. At the foundry, a bronze casting will be made in sections from the clay model, then welded together.

Bringing the welded sections together and eliminating all signs of the welds requires craftsmanship, she said.



Her sculpture, “Rachel Weeping For Her children,”recently was named Best in Show for 2004 by the American Mothers Association. The bronze statue has been on permanent display since 1999 at the Lady of Fatima Shrine at St. Germanus


Catholic Church in Arapahoe. Other castings of “Rachel” are in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Long Island, N.Y.


Additional castings of a sculpture are sometimes arranged with the client who commissions the original, and permission to do so affects the cost.


Jonson created “Breaking News,” a 4-foot by 6-foot bronze sculpture in front of radio station KRVN in Lexington. A 6-foot-tall bronze, “Swan Princess,” is a wall sculpture that hangs at The Tassel in Holdrege.


She is also sculpting a wall hanging in resin for Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Kearney. This work, portraying the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph, will be set against a mosaic background to hang above the tabernacle.


She is asked if this can be a lifelong work.


Jonson replies, “I hope so — so I can be good at it.” 

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View more images of “Pope Blessed John XXIII.”

Kearney Cyber Hub
By Harry G. Perkins, Hub Regional Correspondent
May 17, 2004

Hub photos by Harry G. Perkins
Sondra Jonson works on a life-size statue of Pope [Blessed] John XXIII in her Cambridge studio. The sculpture will be placed in the [Blessed] John XXIII Diocesan Center in Lincoln.

Pope Blessed John XXIII” bronze miniature model.

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