Thursday, May 01, 2014
Treasure Chest Thursday: The Statue
I’ve owned this statue of the Virgin Mary representing Our Lady of Grace since I was a teenager. During my elementary school years (K-6), I attended St-Joseph and St-Charles, located on a large property in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, where I was born and raised.
One day in the 1970s (I’ve forgotten the actual year, but likely about 1976 or 1977), I learned that both schools were going to be demolished to make way for one new school on the same site. St-Joseph and St-Charles had been around since at least the 1930s, because my uncle Ray (Dad’s younger brother) attended school there when he was a child. In fact, when I started Grade 3, my teacher Mademoiselle Blanche Desjardins asked me if I was related to a Ray Belair. I said that he was my uncle, and she told me that she remembered him as a young student of hers.
After getting more information about the schools’ demolition, I found out that the public could have one last look inside the buildings. Having enjoyed, for the most part, my early school years, I decided to visit St-Charles one afternoon.
While walking through the halls and the empty classrooms, I noticed in the distance a small statue of the Virgin Mary. I recognized it from the days when every classroom in our school had such a statue that stood on a small wooden shelf attached to a wall. Although I couldn’t be sure that this particular statue had ever been part of the fixtures in one of my classrooms, I knew I wanted it. I asked the person in charge if I could take the statue as a souvenir. To my pleasant surprise, he said I could.
When I got home, I found a place for the statue on my bedroom dresser, and it’s been with me ever since that time.
Item: A statue depicting Our Lady of Grace. She is clothed in a white dress with gold sash, a blue mantle bordered in gold, and a white veil. With her serene face, downward gaze and open hands, she crushes a serpent in her bare feet as she stands on a globe or hemisphere.*
* “In Catholic devotion, a statue of the blessed mother, known as our lady of grace, shows our lady with hands open and feet crushing the serpent. The symbolism is derived from Genesis 3:15. The grace is God, and Mary’s obedience to His will. By her obedience she brought about the Fullness of Grace, Jesus Christ, who, by His complete obedience to the Father’s will, crushed the head of the ancient serpent.” 
Size: The statue measures 42.5 cm (17”) tall, 19 cm (7½”) wide and 10 cm (4”) deep.
Weight: It weighs 1.7 kg (about 3.8 lbs).
Material: It is made of chalkware. Chalkware, sometimes known as the “poor man’s porcelain”, were figurines that are sculpted or cast-molded from gypsum plaster and painted with watercolours or oil paints.  My statue was hand-painted with watercolours, which seem to have faded over the years. Ellis Antiques has an almost exact model as mine on eBay. Although that listing has ended, the image and details can still be seen here.
Condition: It has some damage, including broken and chipped sections (the octagonal base, the hands) and scuff or scratch marks (the veil front and back).
Manufacturer: No markings indicate a company or country of origin. It has a stamped 301 (possibly 501) on the base at the rear. I’ve compared my statue with similar examples found online, and it looks like it could have been made by a firm like Columbia Statuary Company of Italy. My statue was made between the 1930s and the mid-1970s, but more likely in the 1950s or 1960s.
Other features: There’s “No. 6” written on the bottom of the base. Did someone at the school scratch this number on the statue’s base to indicate it belonged in classroom no. 6? (St-Charles had 20 classrooms in its heyday: four in the basement, and eight each on the main and upper floors.)
I’ve never had Our Lady of Grace taken to a professional appraiser to see what its value might be. I don’t think it’s worth much due to its condition, but it means more to me for its religious and personal significance.
1. Kenneth D. Brighenti and John Trigilio, Jr., The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions (Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2007), Google Books (http://books.google.ca/books : accessed 13 March 2014), 99-100 (Question 68. Is baptism necessary for salvation?).
2. Sarah Callen, “Chalkware - A Fun Vintage Collectible With an Interesting Past”, Ezine @rticles (http://ezinearticles.com/?Chalkware---A-Fun-Vintage-Collectible-With-an-Interesting-Past&id=1160148 : accessed 15 March 2014).
Copyright © 2014, Yvonne Demoskoff.