Marfa artist creates staff for Chicago cardinal
By CAMERON DODD
MARFA — When Marfa artist Camp Bosworth finished college in 1989 he was primarily a painter. But he quickly taught himself woodworking and carving when offered a commission making furniture for a client’s new house.
“What was I going to say, ‘no, I don’t know how to make furniture’?” Bosworth said.
Years later, Bosworth has built an artist’s career upon his wood works. His pieces have been displayed in exhibitions and galleries around the country since the early 1990s.
When the Archdiocese of Chicago commissioned him to carve a custom crozier, a type of ceremonial staff, for the recently elevated Cardinal Blase Cupich, Bosworth approached the project with an attitude similar to the furniture project years ago.
“I was challenged but not intimidated,” Bosworth said. “All carving is really the same. I did research and read about the history of croziers.”
Bosworth this week completed a custom designed staff for Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago. Cupich has been Archbishop of Chicago since 2014 and was elevated to Cardinal by Pope Francis last November. As a cardinal, Cupich has significant influence in Catholic Church through his role as an advisor to the Pope.
Cupich is one of six U.S. cardinals who also lead archdioceses. He was one of a handful of archbishops appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 in a move viewed as a shift in years of conservative dominance in the American Catholic hierarchy, the Jesuit magazine America reported at the time. Since his appointment, Cupich has spoken out against racism in the church and welcomed Pope Francis’ openness to the idea of women serving as Deacons. Earlier this week, Cupich released a statement calling U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees and certain Muslim immigrants “a dark moment in U.S. history.”
Much of Bosworth’s work is secular. He focuses on Texas borderland life, culture and imagery. His large, colorfully painted carvings depict Southwestern landscapes, marijuana farms and mariachis. One series includes carved tequila bottles, machine guns and a briefcase full of money in a narcotraficante exhibit.
Bosworth has, however, worked with religious institutions in the past. He was commissioned to create several large decorative coats of arms for Chicago’s Loyola University. When a church in Dallas burned down after being struck by lightning, Bosworth carved a new cross for the congregation from a more than 20-foot-tall oak tree on the church’s yard.
For Cardinal Cupich’s crozier, Bosworth said he initially submitted very ornate, elaborate designs he based on historic images he found of the ceremonial staffs.
“Croziers date back to the tenth century,” he said. “I think they’re symbolic of the shepherd’s staff. The cardinal will lead his flock with it.”
But over the course of several exchanges with the cardinal’s representatives, Bosworth’s designs became pared down, modest to suit Cardinal Cupich’s simple, humble taste and attitude. The final design includes a San Damiano cross, the cardinal’s coat of arms and Pope Francis’ coat of arms. There is also a Virgin of Guadalupe, an homage to Cardinal Cupich’s affinity for the Latin American Catholic communities in Chicago.
Lower on the staff is an American Indian pattern representing God’s eye and the mountains, added for Cardinal Cupich’s reverence for Native American spirituality.
The crozier is carved from a decidedly regional material: mesquite wood from Central Texas.
“It’s a durable and dense wood,” Bosworth. “I like it for its down-homeness. It’s traditional and rustic, not exotic like mahogany.”
The staff’s three pieces are held together by three custom brass fittings made in Midland. This allows the Cardinal to easily pack the crozier for traveling.
Between all his research and exchanges of designs with the cardinal’s representatives, Bosworth estimates he spent two and a half months on the commission. Although Bosworth is not religious, he said he has a great respect for religions.
“On any project, I try to do the best I can. On this one, they told me he might be buried with it,” Bosworth said. “I really like the Pope and this cardinal. He’s progressive. He came out against [U.S. President Donald Trump’s] Muslim ban.”