Preface to Divine Favor, Colman O’Connell, OSB

Joseph O’Connell’s many friends have agreed that a book of photographs of the artist’s work should be made available to the widest possible audience.  Collaborating as writers, designers, photographers, and editors, these friends present the following pages as glimpses of the prodigious creativity of Joe, the master-artist:  printmaker and sculptor of wood, metal, and stone.

Those of us who live in Saint Joseph and Collegeville, Minnesota, where Joe produced most of his work, have watched these deeply moving sculptures and prints take shape in the studios where Joe labored among us for forty years.  We have been moved by Joe’s fearlessly exposing oppression and poverty in our affluent society.  We have been filled with hope as we share the wisdom of Joe’s insights into the glory and folly of the human condition.  We have laughed in surprise at Joe’s probing the human and humorous side of familiar religious themes.  His work has forced us to look unblinkingly at both the degradation and the splendor of our lives.

We realize that these experiences are vivid, not just because of the artist’s choice of subjects–moving as these are–but because of the magic of Joe’s art, grounded in a consummate craftsmanship.  Influenced as a young artist by Eric Gill’s liturgical art, O’Connell, too, produced many works inspired by religious themes.  He had an unsettling ability to put familiar scriptural images, like Christ the King or Judas Iscariot, into a contemporary scene where we prefer not to see them.  Working as sculptor and printmaker, O’Connell developed his own visual voice, a unique style–at once representational and stylized, simple and elegant–which distinguishes his work from that of other twentieth-century artists.  He honed his skills as a sculptor, using no power tools, but only chisels and hammers like those of the master-craftsmen who carved stone images on the great medieval cathedrals.

While the life of Joseph O’Connell ought to be written, we designed this book of photographs only to introduce the artist’s principal works to a broader public.  Readers, however, will find a brief sketch of O’Connell’s life and work in the “Chronology of the Principal Events in the Life and Work of Joseph O’Connell”; and affectionate introduction to the life of Joe as artist and friend in the Introduction, “Dear Joe,” by J. F. Powers; and a tribute to the man and artist in Garrison Keillor’s “He Was in the Arts, You Know.”  The other writers present reflections on their favorite works.  They represent the hundreds of viewers who admire a favorite print or sculpture.

Joseph O’Connell’s friends are confident that their ranks will swell as you view the photographs in Divine Favor.

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.