At the height of the Bosnian War in the mid-1990s, artist Thomas Sayre found himself reflecting just before Holy Week on the violence that people inflict upon other people. His meditation on that theme became a trio of crosses, each four feet square, and each—sawn, burned, or shot—distressed through a different means of violence. The pieces were displayed during Holy Week at his home parish in Raleigh, N.C., St. Mark’s, where they remain on permanent exhibit. A few years later, for Lent 1999, all three pieces traveled to the National Cathedral for an exhibition in Resurrection Chapel. Sayre later made a number of smaller, 20 by 20–inch crosses that St. Mark’s uses for its Stations of the Cross each year.
The son of the Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre, Jr., fifth dean of Washington National Cathedral, Thomas grew up on the grounds of the Cathedral in what was then merely called the Deanery but now is known as Sayre House. He credits attending St. Albans School, attending services with his mother and siblings, and absorbing the skills and creativity of artisans and builders who were constructing the Cathedral itself among his influences when maturing from a young boy to a college-bound man. A faculty member at St. Albans introduced him to welding to create art, for instance, and in a basement workshop at home Thomas’s father showed him woodworking. He also remembers sitting on the living room sofa with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at lunch on Sunday afternoon (just days before King’s assassination) and Dean Sayre’s trip to Alabama to march across the bridge with Ralph Abernathy and other civil-rights leaders.
Thomas today is best known for his technique of “earthcasting,” creating monumental sculptures from poured concrete using molds fashioned deep into the ground. This art aligns in many ways with the current “green consciousness,” which it predates, but more importantly it creates places where people can find themselves in relation to the natural world and can discover new spiritual dimension in their lives. Standing prominently on public land and in major cities across the country, this work clearly reflects the creation of vast and holy space at the Cathedral: another place where a powerful mixture of craft and stories (even when unfamiliar) combine to point beyond themselves, lending inspiration and new perspective to all who enter.
A closer look at the cross featured on the cover, steel mounted on a wood panel, can be an arresting experience: the bullets that passed through had all been pointed at the viewer. The art demands that you consider the violence of someone shooting—at you. “You have to own human violence in order to beat it,” Sayre explains.
To see more of his work, visit www.thomassayre.com.