Tim Schmalz's sculpture depicting a homeless Jesus sleeping under a blanket on a park bench was unveiled a week ago in downtown Buffalo, N.Y., and has already prompted people to leave money, food and other items.
The bronze statue was unveiled last Tuesday outside St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, which collects the items each day and donates them to a local organization that helps the homeless.
"When I first heard about this I thought, well, it's doing precisely what ... artwork at its best could possibly be doing," Schmalz said from St. Jacobs, Ont.
Schmalz said the sculpture has been installed in a number of cities including Toronto and Davidson, N.C., and others, such as Hamilton and Kitchener, Ont., are planned.
The artwork had its genesis a few years ago in downtown Toronto, Schmalz said.
"I saw a homeless person, and initially I had an experience where, from seeing this person, I felt that I saw Jesus and I wanted other people to make that connection that I did that day," he said.
The original model was blessed by the Pope and "to have him, right at the Vatican, reaching out to the sculpture as he is praying is a very powerful image," Schmalz said.
The sculpture is cast in heavy bronze with a small space at the feet of the reclining figure where a person can sit "uncomfortably," he said, adding the one in North Carolina "is already shiny where people sit and shiny on the feet where people are touching it."
Schmalz said the Davidson sculpture made the news a year ago "because someone called the police on it — they thought it was a real homeless person."
Many of the sculptures have been donated to cities by patrons, and Schmalz said one person, who wishes to remain anonymous, is seeking to sponsor installations in a dozen cities around the world.
"One of the nicest stories that I heard is the one that is in Austin, Texas, where the sculpture inspired a donation of $100,000 to the homeless," he said. "What more can I say — absolute happiness."