William Schickel, RIP
William Schickel, one of America’s finest liturgical artists, has died at age 89.
Educated at Notre Dame, where he studied under Yves Simon and was influenced by Jacques Maritain, Schickel settled in Loveland, Ohio (near Cincinnati), so that he and his family could live close to The Grail, a international Catholic women’s movement.
Schickel and his late, devoted wife Mary were exemplars of just how rich lay Catholic life could be in the pre-Vatican era. In addition to Bill’s interest in Neo-Thomism and Modernism in art, and Mary’s involvement in the Grail, they were also interested in the agrarian impulses of mid-century and spent their early years on a farm.
Bill never thought of himself as merely a liturgical artist — he was a painter and sculptor who produced many works outside of a liturgical context — but many of his greatest works were for churches and church-related institutions.
His most famous project was the renovation of Gethsemani Abbey. Thomas Merton sat on the committee that oversaw the project and said of the renovation: “I just want to tell you what a splendid job I think you have done in our Abbey Church and the Cloister. I particularly like the interior of the church—bright, simple, clear-cut, no nonsense and perfectly in accord with the spirit of our life. Also I am glad to recognize that it is still my Abbey Church, the place of my vows and first Mass—without its ancient defects.”
There is so much more that I could say, but in this limited space I’ll just end by noting that William Schickel offers an enduring model of an artist who believes that his own gifts only make sense when brought into dialogue with the communities he is called on to serve. And his desire to be both true to the ancient faith and to the best strains of contemporary art ought to inspire new generations of liturgical artists.
Brian Volck includes a moving description of Schickel’s funeral in his Good Letters post today.
My book about him, Sacred Passion: The Art of William Schickel, will be brought out in an expanded, second edition (with a foreword by James Martin, SJ) by the University of Notre Dame Press this winter.