A PARISH priest is branching out to create wooden sculptures to decorate his church.
Father Michael Hickey uses 6,000-year-old bog wood for his artwork.
The sculptures of the 71-year-old priest include an angel, a fox and a Madonna and child.
They are about to go on display in St Teresa’s Church on Heaton Road, Newcastle, as part of the Heaton Arts Festival.
Fr Hickey, who has been at St Teresa’s since last year, spends four days a year on the “meditative” art of sculpture.
He said: “For me art is religion and these four days of hard work are my retreat, my time to relax and create.”
Fr Hickey’s interest in art dates back to his childhood and was largely influenced by his family, with his grandfather being a painter, his mother a woodcarver and his uncles both cabinet makers.
However, it was not until a decade ago, during a retreat in Ireland, that he finally saw an opportunity to create his own sculptures.
Together with his sister Mary, who is a nun and doctor, he joined the course of Irish sculptor and painter Pieter Koning who guided them in the art of sculpting bog woods.
Fr Hickey said: “When you are working, it’s like a prayer. In the course of the work some things go right, some wrong, just like in life.
“Sometimes you start with no certain idea, just to see it develop in front of you while you are working.”
In four days Fr Hickey is able to create one or two sculptures, which he then displays in the presbytery in St Teresa’s.
One of his most striking pieces is of a woman in pain, with angel wings emerging from her back.
Fr Hickey, originally from County Durham, said: “The moment you come to terms with your pain you become an angel, because only then you are able to help others.”
Some parishioners know about his talent and appreciate it.
“But if it leaves some of them cold, it’s also fine,” he said.
According to Pieter Koning’s website, this very special wood is found in Irish bogs where it has been preserved for at least 5,000 years. There are three types: oak, yew and pine, all once part of the great forests which covered the central plains of Ireland.
Bog wood sculptures are characterised by fluidity and an impression of movement, qualities to be found within the wood.
The Heaton Arts Festival will run from July 19-29 across 22 venues.