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Liturgical artist crafts customized wooden Easter eggs

George Hoelzeman shapes wood on a lathe, emblazons images of saints on his creations

Published: April 4, 2022   
Courtesy George Hoelzeman
Liturgical artist George Hoelzeman crafted this wooden egg, photographed Feb. 4 in his home library/drafting room, with the image of St. Pope Callistus I. The customizable eggs are available for order.

What started with an extra pile of wood and an affinity for the saints has turned into liturgical artist George Hoelzeman offering customized wooden Easter eggs with a burned image. 

“It’s a lot of fun to work on the lathe,” a machine used for shaping wood, Hoelzeman said. “I do enjoy turning (wood on a lathe), and one of the grand adventures for me is seeing what the wood is going to look like. Once it’s turned, it can be pretty spectacular at times and seeing what saints people are attracted to.” 

Hoelzeman, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton, where he grew up, is an award-winning liturgical artist, with art displayed throughout Catholic churches in Arkansas and around the country. He once discerned a monastic life, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history and religion from St. Joseph Seminary in 1985. Hoelzeman, who is married with two daughters, completed graduate studies in early modern history and medieval art history. 

He is skilled in various artistic mediums, creating an array of religious art, including altars, statues, crosses, glass windows and icons. Some of his most well-known work includes the Afro-centric Stations of the Cross at St. Augustine Church in North Little Rock, carved on mahogany plaques, and a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue created for Marienstatt Abbey in Germany. 

“I’ll give people an opportunity to pick their saint, so that way it’s a lot more personal and it would connect to something they’d have an actual devotion to or interest in.”

“I just love icons. I’ve got a background in medieval art history, and the Church fathers and the monastic fathers have always been a real inspiration,” Hoelzeman said. 

He has created decorative eggs in the past, including one for the Sacred Heart School bazaar using wood from a dying oak tree on campus that predated the Civil War. He raffled off an egg this year during the annual Southwest Liturgy Conference, held virtually in January, something he’s attended for almost 20 years. A priest from Denver chose to have the image of St. Pope Callistus I (218-222). Because he had no preference on the particular image used, Hoelzeman based it on the papal portrait displayed at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

“Wow, I didn’t think anyone knew who Pope Callistus I was anymore,” he admitted, adding it was “pretty cool” for the priest to pick a lesser-known saint. It’s what has him particularly excited to see what other people choose. He’s promoting these eggs for Easter but said they are available year-round. 

“I’ll give people an opportunity to pick their saint, so that way it’s a lot more personal and it would connect to something they’d have an actual devotion to or interest in,” Hoelzeman said, but added he’ll also put most other images on it. In the past, he’s created ones with a cross and with the image of a favorite tree or bird.

The eggs can range from the typical “chicken-sized” egg to about 6 to 7 inches tall, which is the size of the egg he made for the priest and the other two he has crafted, waiting to be customized. They come with a wooden base, so there’s no chance of them falling off, though they are “pretty indestructible,” he said. 

A customer can choose the wood for their egg, depending on what he has available, including cherry wood, wood from a red tip bush and aromatic cedar. 

“All told, it will take a few hours,” Hoelzeman said of creating the egg, not including preparing the wood for carving, which can take a few days. They are finished with a rubbed wax or polyurethane, giving it a smooth finish. 

Customers can send him an image, or he can find one to sketch free-hand in pencil on the egg before using a pyrography tool to burn the image on it. 

Hoelzeman is charging $75 per egg, explaining he’s seen similar work “online go for hundreds of dollars.” For him, it’s all about creating a piece of art that can have a real spiritual impact on a person. 

“That’s what liturgical art and devotional sacramental art is supposed to do — it’s supposed to connect you with the divine and the transcendence through beauty and form in all of this. When it does, it’s what gives life to people’s faith,” he said. 

To order, email or text (501) 416-0514.

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