Biography

Joe O'Connell was a sculptor, print maker, photographer, and artist-in-residence and teacher at CSB/SJU, 1962-1995. See below for a Chronology of Principal Events in the Life and Work of Joseph O’Connell.

See also:

30-year retrospective list of Joe's works, 1981

Text of the book Divine Favor: The Art of Joseph O'Connell (1999), including essays by J. F. Powers, Garrison Keillor, and many other tributes.

"A Tribute to the Artist: The Life, Art and Influence of Joe O'Connell," from The Independent [CSB Newspaper], vol. 9, no. 3, October 19, 1995, p. 15.

"Artist Joseph O'Connell dies; was instructor at St. Cloud area colleges," from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 1995, p. C 5B.

"‘These Are Things That Are Required of Us Out of Love, Out of Humanity, And That’s What The Message Is’" by Stuart Goldschen, September 1995, reprinted from St. Cloud Unabridged

"Artist's Christ is king of the poor, the hungry, the homeless" by Joseph Young, St. Cloud Visitor, March 3, 1994, p. 10-11. Posted with permission.

"A Step Inside the World of an Artist," from The Independent [CSB Newspaper], vol. 7, no. 3, October 28, 1993, p. 14-15.

"Holy Carvings in Progress" by Louise McNamara, The Record, vol. 104, no. 3, March 7, 1991, p. 10.

"Petters' Oak Door on Loan at BAC," from The Cable [CSB Newspaper], vol. 2, no. 8, April 19, 1978, p. 8.

"Metal Sculpture and a Pipe . . O'Connell Joins Staff," from The Torch [CSB Newspaper], vol. 1, no. 1, p. 2, Feb. 5, 1965.

Cover Photo and "Statue Donated," The Benet, vol. 29, no. 02, December, 1963, cover and  p.8

Adventure in Architecture: Building the New Saint John's / text and pictures by Whitney S. Stoddard ; plans by Marcel Breuer.
Publisher: New York: Longmans, Green, 1958.
Description: 127 p. : ill., plans, ports. ; 29 cm.
Available in the SJU Library's General Collection: NA5235.C6 S8 1958 

Photo caption: "Centennial Gift of St. John's Abbey to the Church of the Holy Spirit in St. Cloud is this Baptismal Font being carved from a solid, two-ton slab of granite by Mr. Joseph O'Connell, St. John's sculptor. It was in the Holy Spirit parish that the Benedictines erected their first buildings on the banks of the Mississippi.First Award in the 13th annual exhibit of the Minnesota Sculpture Group for home-and-garden sculpture was given to this garden piece, 'Madonna and Child' by Mr. Joseph O'Connell St. John's sculptor. The exhibition, consisting of 69 works by 27 Minnesota artists, may be seen at the St. Paul Gallery, 476 Summit Ave., through May 2." The Record, vol. 69, no. 7, April 27, 1956, p. 4.

Photo caption: "Line Sculpture for the new Gough Vocational Building at Tech High in St. Cloud was designed by Joseph O'Connell, instructor in the art department here. Architect is Ray Hermanson, '38." The Record, vol. 68, no. 11, June 24, 1955, p. 4.

"Sculptors Move to New Hive" by Bill Mueller, The Record, vol. 67, no. 16, October 22, 1954, p. 2.


The following is reprinted with the permission of the Liturgical Press, the Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota, from Divine Favor: The Art of Joseph O'Connell. Editor, Colman O'Connell. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, c1999.  CSB, SJU and SJP Libraries Oversize N 6537.O265 D58 1999.


Chronology

of Principal Events in the Life and Work of Joseph O’Connell

1927

January 15: Joseph John O’Connell born in Chicago, Illinois.  Eldest son of Cecile DesMarais and Joseph O’Connell, diverse craftsman and head teacher at Hancock Vocational School. 

1941-1943

Attends Lane Technical High School; works as apprentice typesetter for Edward Muraski, his uncle. 

1944-1947

Enlists in U.S. Air Corps.  Uses G.I. Bill to take art courses at the University of Illinois, the American Academy of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.  Decides to abandon formal education. 

Is offered studio space in the apartment of Francis “Muggsy” Spanier and his wife, Ruth.  Begins personal and serious study of art with the support of the Spaniers and their stepson, Buddy Charles Gries, a jazz pianist.

Works as a typesetter, cab driver, and office worker while attending night school.

1951-1952

Influenced by the autobiography of Eric Gill, especially his sense of craftsmanship.  Decides that direct carving is his vocation. 

Travels in Mexico for one-half year and, while there, starts his first carving: Saint Francis, a gift for the Spaniers.  Meets his future wife, Joann “Jody” Wylie, an art student at the American Academy. 

1953

His first one-man show at Esquire Theater Gallery, Chicago, in July.  Exhibit contains the Saint Francis statue begun in Mexico and a number of paintings and water colors.  Reviewed by Copeland c. Burg in the Chicago Herald American:

One of the most satisfying shows of the younger artists we have seen in a long time.  It reflects a genuine talent and an earnest approach to many phases and facets of the environments to which this artist has been exposed:  war in the Pacific, peace in this country and in Mexico, and the timeless and placeless aspects of religion.

The exhibition and review bring commissions to do Three Pilasters carved in oak for the Swedish Club of Chicago, a Saint Joseph, and a carving of Aesculapius.  These in turn bring in other commissions. 

Marries Joann “Jody” Wylie, Glencoe, Illinois, in September.  Is apprenticed to J. Norbert Smith as a commercial artist.  Moves to Valparaiso and then to Chesterton, Indiana.  Commutes to Chicago with Smith.  At Smith’s urging, seeks sculptural commissions.  Contacts Monsignor Hillenbrand, architects, and others connected with the liturgical reform movement. 

1954-1955

Through architectural firm of Gaul and Vossen, gets first of several commissions: a life-size stone carving of Saint Francis of Assisi

Through the University of Notre Dame, meets Reverend Cloud Meinberg, O.S.B., and is offered a teaching position at Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.  Joins the faculty and rents an abbey-owned house in Collegeville.

First child, Thomas, born in August 1954. 

Executes twenty-one sculptures, nine of which are commissions.  Noteworthy are : Mary and Child, his first work in welded metal; Madonna and Child, which wins first prize in the Minnesota Sculptors Exhibition, Saint Paul Museum; and Baptismal Font, commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey for its centennial and presented as a gift to Holy Spirit Church, near the site of the first landing of the Benedictine monks in the Saint Cloud area. 

Second child, Lauren, born in October 1955. 

Meets J. F. and Betty Wahl Powers and Don Humphrey; learns from them the importance of commitment to art. 

Work at this time is influenced by Eric Gill and those associated with Liturgical Arts magazine. 

1956

Joins art faculty at Siena Heights College, Adrian, Michigan.  Visits regional museums.  At Cranbrook, encounters the sculptures of Henry Moore for the first time.  Is impressed by Moore’s organic, tactile forms and his treatment of materials. 

Receives three commissions and decides to leave formal teaching to devote full time to sculpture. 

1957

Returns to Collegeville, Minnesota; buys house and land from the abbey.  Builds plastic tent in yard and begins work on the Angel Guardian Group sculpture.  At one point large segment of stone breaks due to uneven temperatures in the tent.  Has to reproportion the parts and radically change the form of the angel.  The decision increases his desire for perfection. 

Third child, Eric, born in June 1957. 

Influenced by the ideals and dailiness of Benedictine community life in Collegeville and Saint Joseph. 

1958-1961

Completes Angel Guardian Group sculpture.  Sees it as a synthesis of work to date.  Conscious of Moore’s influences in voids and treatment of stone. 

Commutes to Mankato quarries, where he carves Sacred Heart Façade for the Quigley South Seminary, Chicago. 

Executes ten commissions.  Noteworthy are:  Crucifix, which he sees as more “human” in form while conveying the spiritual serenity that comes from victory over human nature; and Water Font and Bride, which evidence change and development of a personal mature style. 

Fourth child, Brian, born January 1960. 

Builds permanent studio/shop on secluded part of his land. 

1962-1969

Completes sixteen commissions.  Noteworthy are:  Mary and Child, commissioned for Mary Hall, College of Saint Benedict; and Saint Benedict, Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict, executed on campus while serving as artist-in-residence.  Does first woodcut print and first engraved print.  Sees both processes as extensions of carving. 

In late 1955 contacted by American Dental Association and Al Carrara of Chicago architectural firm Anderson, Prost, White to present sketches for a sculpture group.  Chooses the theme of family; executes model of Family Group, Benedicta Arts Center, College of Saint Benedict; receives commission.  In 1966-67, working with student assistants, executes 13’ plaster sculpture in Art Court at Benedicta Arts Center.  Work cast in bronze; installed in court of new American Dental Association Building, Chicago, 1969. 

Fifth child, Juliann, born April 1965. 

1970-1972

Completes fourteen sculptures, twelve of which are commissions.  Noteworthy is the commission for the Door for Petters Fabric and Fur Shop, Saint Cloud.  Sees the commission as one which allowed growth in the work itself and in the friendship and rapport between artist and patron. 

1973-1977

Engaged by Minnesota Department of Corrections as consultant/teacher at the Home School, Sauk Centre, Minnesota.  Works with children 13 to 17 years old, using basic tools for direct carving. 

Executes fourteen works, eight of which are in stone. 

Accepts commission from Saint Joseph Parish, Saint Joseph, Minnesota, to do Mary and Child.

Reflects on idea of commissions; realizes importance of making a sculpture which is wanted and will be used, especially in his own community.

Group show, Osborne Gallery, Saint Paul 1975. 

1978-1981

Executes ten sculptures, six of which are commissions.  Of these, two are collaborative: Sacred Heart Organ with K. C. Marrin, organ builder, and Judith Goetemann, batik artist; and Crucifix/Risen Christ with Jean Matske, weaver.  Sees communal traditional aspects of such projects as important in modern world.

See also: 30-year retrospective list of Joe's works, 1981

1981-1995

Three sculptures (Community, Prayer, and Work) for Saint Benedict’s Monastery, Saint Joseph, Minnesota; Eve in Baroque; Christ the King, triptych for Christ the King Catholic Community, Las Vegas, Nevada. 

1995

Joseph O’Connell dies at his home October 7, 1995, in Collegeville, Minnesota, at the age of 68.

 


Reprinted with the permission of the Liturgical Press, the Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota, from Divine Favor: The Art of Joseph O'Connell. Editor, Colman O'Connell. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, c1999.  CSB, SJU and SJP Libraries Oversize N 6537.O265 D58 1999.

Special thanks to Ruth Wentz '05 for text transcription.