As the copper likeness of the Holy Family rattled off in the back of a pickup Tuesday, its creator, Sister Paula M. Turnbull, was ready to see it go.
The 500-pound sculpture was the result of 10 months of Turnbull’s labor. Not exactly a sentimental person, Turnbull barely glanced up as the truck rolled away from the Holy Names Art Studio, nestled next to the convent on Fort Wright Drive.
“You create something, you want to see it get to its destination,” said Turnbull, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. “I’m glad to have the space for other things.”
Turnbull’s work is well-known in both religious and art circles throughout the country.
She has created sculptures of Mary, St. Cecilia and Our Lady of Fatima for churches across the country. In the secular world, she made the garbage-eating goat in Riverfront Park, the Sasquatch at Spokane Community College and the abstract sculpture in front of the Pullman Library.
Dozens of private collectors have Turnbull’s work inside and outside their homes and offices, including former House Speaker Tom Foley.
Her latest sculpture, of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, is at its new home at Holy Family Catholic Church in Yakima. It will be the centerpiece of a garden, surrounded by stone walkways and benches.
“Hopefully, it will be inspirational to a lot of people,” said Myrlin Ackerman, chairman of the church finance committee. “It will greatly improve the adoration of God from outside the church.”
The sculpture was the dream of the Rev. Fred Bremmer, a parish priest who died unexpectedly seven years ago.
Ackerman was a close friend.
“After we built the church office, he said he would like to see a statue outside,” Ackerman said. “After he died so unexpectedly, it seemed like we should follow through.”
The priest’s estate provided seed money for the project. The church finance committee contacted Turnbull, who sketched several possibilities.
Turnbull would not say what she charged for the sculpture.
There isn’t much she won’t discuss publicly. The price of her work is one and her age is another.
“I tell my students I’m at least a thousand years old,” she said.
Turnbull splits her time between teaching classes at the Holy Names Art Studio and working on commissioned pieces.
“That way, I can bring in a little bit of income,” she said.
The former head of the art department at the old Fort Wright College, Turnbull has taught all her adult life.
She has studied art even longer. She has a master’s of fine arts degree and has worked under dozens of accomplished sculptors.
Being a member of a religious order is a big part of her success.
“When you’re in a religious order, your family doesn’t interfere with the work you are trying to do,” she said. “I don’t have to cook for some husband.”
Although the modern image of Catholic sisters is one of teachers, nurses and counselors, Turnbull said the church has a long heritage of artists.
“The modern image of a sister is different from what it used to be,” she said. “But even that is changing. There are a lot of artists and writers among religious communities. It’s a very supportive community.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter