By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Patients and visitors to the new Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital will likely be touched by the playful, yet powerfully spiritual elements in the relief sculptures created by local artist Deborah Luke located on the first floor.  


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Three relief sculptures created by local artist Deborah Luke adorn the hallway near the future chapel at the new Our Lady of the Lake Children’s  Hospital. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator


The artwork selection committee for the Children’s Hospital interviewed Luke in the summer of 2018 about creating reliefs of a spiritual nature for the hospital, and she submitted drawings of proposed ideas for the pieces of artwork.  

“Religious art is sometimes serious and heavy and things have a certain gravitas,” said Luke. “But working with a children’s hospital allowed me to follow a more whimsical pursuit.”  

Luke was told each floor had a different theme tied to Louisiana, with the first being the Mississippi River.  

“So I immediately pictured St. Francis in a pirogue on a Louisiana river surrounded by typical Louisiana creatures: the alligator, the egret, the pelican,” she said.  

The committee loved the idea and asked her to broaden the composition to include Jesus and children of different ethnicities.  

Luke revised her artwork to include a panel of St. Francis, a panel of Christ with the children and a panel of Mary on top of a cypress tree.  

The original drawings for the panel featuring Mary featured a guardian angel on top of a cypress tree looking down at Christ and the children. But the art committee requested the panel include a female presence instead.  

Drawing upon the name Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady, Luke noted that in sacred artwork Mary is depicted on top of the tree of life. So Mary replaced the guardian angel.  

But the focus of all three panels is on Christ, noted Luke.  

“St. Francis is looking up and stepping out of the boat, which to me is a symbol of his willingness to follow Christ,” said Luke.  

St. Francis, Mary, the children and even the birds are looking at Christ in the reliefs, she said.  

After the drawings were approved, Luke’s husband, Barry, built an easel large enough to hold the 7 ½- x 3-foot life-size panels of plywood for Luke to begin her sculpting work.  

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St. Francis of Assisi is featured on one of the panels of the relief sculptures on the first floor of the new Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.    


“I started with (St. Francis) because he was the inspiration of the work,” Luke said. “When I actually started building up the clay I very quickly established his face and his gestures – his face has such joy and lightness and his gaze is up at Christ.”  

The sculpting of Mary also flowed easily.  

“The one I labored with most was Christ and the children,” said Luke.  

Her grandchildren, Molly, 6, and Molly’s little brother, William, 18 months, were the models for the children in Christ’s arms. Each child is wearing shrimp boots.  

“Molly is shy and attached to her stuffed rabbit, Ma, so in the relief (the young girl) is resting in Christ and clutching her rabbit. It captures the fear of children entering the hospital,” she said.  

She struggled with the infant, because the child originally looking at the viewer “competed with Christ” since so many people are also used to seeing Christ depicted as an infant.  

One day Barry came in and asked Luke, “Why don’t you turn the baby’s head (to look at Christ)?”  

“I did that and it clicked,” said Luke. “Christ had the most prominent, direct and engaging presence in the composition.”  

Luke said she had to get Christ’s face “just right.”  

“His posture is embracing the children. Of course the whole purpose of the hospital is a loving embrace of children. His face is kind, a loving face,” she said.  

Luke finished the clay models in about six weeks, an average of two weeks per panel. Committee members visited her studio and were pleased.  

The next phase was the relief mold.  

“(The mold making process) requires the use of the left side of the brain. It’s more analytical basically, a technical process,” Luke said.  

Once the molds were complete, the delicate process of transporting the molds began. Barry built a framework in the back of his truck and five separate trips were required to bring the relief work to the hospital.  

“There was a little nail-biting but we got it done,” said Luke.  

The pieces are now nestled in the alcoves in the hallway next to the hospital chapel, which is under construction.  

Luke said the artwork is fulfilling because it combines her passion for art with the convictions of her faith.  

“My initial impulse that it be a comforting image, that people looking at the artwork will get a sense that the children who are going to be patients in the hospital will be in the loving arms of God in the form of the doctors and nurses and people who work there,” she said.  

Her wish is the artwork will bring peace to the families in difficult situations.  

“My hope is that it brings joy,” Luke said. “The child will look at the alligator, the crawfish nipping at St. Francis’ heel, the bullfrog and smile, and the parents will look at the face of Jesus and feel comfort in a situation that is anything but comfortable, having a child in the hospital.”  

Luke is working on another piece that is being cast in bronze and will be displayed in the baby’s garden in front of the hospital. It features two young children, Emily, 3, and Jacob Saucier, 2, who died in a house fire in 2010 in the Pierre Part area. The children are sitting together on a swing within a circle, which represents eternity.  

Luke said her prayer as an artist is those who view her work will see the presence of God in all situations.

“Art is a form of communication, and I hope this speaks volumes about God’s love and care for all of us,” Luke said.