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Finding inspiration from God's creation

"Compassionate Christ" by John Lajba
Photo courtesy of John Lajba
John Lajba molds a clay study of St. Joseph in his studio in downtown Omaha. The 48-year-old sculptor said it takes him about one year to complete a commissioned piece. First he develops the presentation project and creates several clay studies before encasting the piece in plaster. He then uses the plaster mold he has created to cast in bronze.
Photo by Lisa Schulte
Lajba smooths out the pages on the study of the bible, part of a project commissioned by Holy Name Parish in Omaha. It is just one of many commissioned pieces he is currently working on. Photo by Lisa Schulte
Lajba uses a pencil to create the facial features of his clay study of St. Joseph. Although detail is important, Lajba said he concentrates more on what the subject is feeling rather than what it looks like.
Photo by Lisa Schulte

Meet the Artist

Name: John Eugene Lajba

Birth date: May 19, 1957

Status: Married to wife, Bonnie, since 1988; two children, Harrison, 15, Hannah, 9

Parish: St. Cecilia, Omaha

Education: St. Joan of Arc School; Ryan High School, both in Omaha; University of Nebraska – Omaha and Creighton University; graduated from Bellevue University, Bellevue

Religious sculptures: St. Cecilia Cathedral, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, St. Leo Church, St. Wenceslaus Church, Servants of Mary Motherhouse and New Cassel Retirement Center, all in Omaha; St. Gerald Church, Ralston; St. Patrick Church, Fremont; St. Patrick Church, Gretna; Mount Michael Abbey Cemetery, Elkhorn; Benedictine Mission House, Schuyler; Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Secular sculptures: Heartland of America Park, Durham Western Heritage Museum, Central Police Headquarters, Rosenblatt Stadium, all in Omaha; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Denver, Colo.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fl.; Fort Walton Beach, Fl.; Arlington, Va.; Dallas, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; Montgomery, Ala.; Warsaw, Poland; Japan

Works in progress: Nebraska Health Systems; St. Cecilia Cathedral prayer garden; tabernacle for the Poor Clare Sisters; Holy Family Church and Holy Name Church, all in Omaha; studies for other churches out of Nebraska

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

His hands have touched the face of Christ.

They've felt the crevices around his eyes, the wave of his beard, and the wrinkle of his brow.

As a sculptor of religious art, John Lajba has molded clay into the features of Christ, as well as those of saints.

Recognized nationally for both his sacred and secular art, Lajba is drawn to religious art because of its power, passion and ability to draw people to holiness.

"Religious art has always been looked upon as the artist's opportunity to give himself to God through his work." he said. "I look at it as an opportunity for reflection."

A member of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, Lajba has spent the past 23 years creating bronze sculptures that are displayed in the Archdiocese of Omaha and across the country, including Florida, Washington, D.C. and Colorado.

Whether he's creating religious or non-religious art, the 48-year-old wants his works to inspire people to contemplate their life and grow as human beings.

When creating the "Compassionate Christ" in the Servant's of Mary Healing Garden, he didn't worry much about sculpting a particular feature or making Christ look like other images of Christ. Instead, he cared about capturing what Christ was thinking and feeling.

"That garden was set up for people who are physically and emotionally hurting," Lajba told The Catholic Voice. "I wanted to make Christ as approachable as possible, where you can sit with him and touch his hand and hold his hand if you wanted to."

In creating religious works, Lajba said he's able to show the trust humans have in God and the love of God more directly than non-religious works, which deal more with what the world is about with all its challenges.

Raised Catholic, Lajba said it's his faith that feeds his work, and, in turn, his work that feeds his faith.

"My faith is constantly reinforced every day through all of these commissions, through all the people, through all of our lives," he said.

He finds inspiration from the people he encounters, his surroundings and the beauty of God's creation, he said.

Creating religious work makes him dig deeper into an understanding of his own Catholic faith, he said, because each piece requires much research.

"I'm trying to use my Catholicism and understand my Catholicism and really get energy from that."

Sculpting art that portrays gifts from God and the people who've been inspired by God helps him stay focused and grounded as an artist, he said.

"We have very little time to reflect and to pray. But when I'm in my studio sculpting, I am able to have that time to reflect," he said. "If it wasn't for my ability to come and concentrate on God through my sculpture, through perhaps saints, I think I would be lost. I really do."

The Catholic Voice

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