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Saturday, January 24, 2015

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Jewish artist designs a cross for the Pope

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Judd Shemesh has been working hard for the past three years to perfect a glass cross to present to Pope Benedict.

Judd Shemesh [Cara Stern photo]

“It is, no question, my best work ever,” he said, proudly holding the artwork.

Although he is a Jewish man and most often makes glass mezuzot, chanukiyot, candelabras and candleholders, this is the second cross that he made for a pope.

It all started when he met Miami’s Archbishop John Favarola at an art show in Florida, who asked him to create a cross. He did, and the archbishop was so pleased with his work, he asked Shemesh to design another to be presented to Pope John Paul II during his visit to Bethlehem for the millennium celebration in 2000.

Favarola introduced Shemesh to the late Rev. Robert Clune, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Toronto, who helped him to organize the presentation.

Former Thornhill MPP Tina Molinari called Shemesh a “gifted artist” as she congratulated and recognized him formally to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 2000.

Then, a few years ago, Rev. Clune asked him to make a similar cross for Pope Benedict, who was elected pope in 2005. The result is a colourful standing cross that depicts the crucifixion. Shemesh doesn’t know yet when he’s going to present the cross to the Pope.

Although he received some criticism from the Jewish community, Shemesh said he felt it was appropriate for him to design a cross from the standpoint of an artist.

“I thought that I’m an artist, and I do a lot of donations for Jewish causes,” he said, so he could not refuse the project on the basis of religion.

The reason his piece is unique, he added, is because he went into the project with the intention of creating a work of art, rather than a religious symbol.

He described the second cross as being much improved from the first one.

“Like everything else in life, whatever you do, the second time is easier,” he said. “I was less nervous, and things worked for me better.”

The cross is made up of six pieces, each one bevelled separately and glued together using ultraviolet glue, he said, adding that this glue dries completely clear.

“I took the principle that dentists use and I thought, ‘Why can’t I use the same?’ So I tried it, and it works,” he said, adding that he hasn’t seen any other people use this technique.

The image of Jesus on the cross shows him while he is still alive and suffering, depicted through facial expression.

The body is carved in the glass and painted with liquid gold, which Shemesh said means that the design will remain identical to the day he made it for at least 2,000 years. The rest of the colours are a special type of acrylic paint that does not require baking to dry.

He described the process as reverse drawing, meaning he carves the design through the back of the glass. Then, when it is finished, the image shows a three-dimensional illusion.

He said he has always been good at drawing in the reverse, able to visualize how it will look like after he is finished.

However, he did not draw the original image. Instead, he collaborated with another artist, and they carved their work into the glass.

He said he works with glass because it’s the only material that time cannot touch.

“You can leave a piece of glass outside and 100 years from now, it’s going to look the same,” he said.

Although he used to sell his Judaic art in stores, it is now solely available for purchase directly from him.

His studio is located at his home in Thornhill, and he can be reached at 905-764-7337.

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