Searching for statues that have souls
A young Italian man has flown to Malta to look for statues that five generations of his family created over the past 140 years.
The Ferdinand Stuflesser company is known mainly for its works in the Vatican, St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, the high altars in Kula Maui in Hawaii, Lodz in Poland, Burleson in Texas and Vukovar in Croatia.
But when Robert Stuflesser, 31, set foot in Malta, where he thinks there are some 50 commissioned pieces, he was taken aback by the “special bond” the Maltese have with their statues.
“I got goosebumps when I stood there with the cheering crowd as the St Dominic statue was being brought back to church a few weeks ago.
“In Żurrieq, they even brought flowers for Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” he said.
“The Maltese seem to treat statues like superstars, and our work gets a soul. A statue is a statue, and it usually remains like that. But with the Maltese, a statue becomes a statue with a soul,” he said.
Mr Stuflesser’s family has always been Catholic and since 1875 relatives have carved altars, statues and other church furnishings and restoration work.
In Malta, it has left a series of statues including Marsa’s Holy Trinity statue, St Peter in Birżebbuġa, The Assumption of Our Lady in Mġarr, the Via Crucis for the St Francis church in Valletta, St Joseph with Baby Jesus in Manikata, the Senglea wooden baldacchino, the Floriana pulpit and the Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary choir.
The legacy all started when his great-great-grandfather, Ferdinand Stuflesser, set up a studio in Ortisei after studying in Munich.
Although at that time Ortisei, in Sudtirol (South Tyrol) was part of Austria, it was gifted to Italy in the early 20th century. Mr Stuflesser registered the studio as a business in 1875 and at one point had 100 sculptors working for him.
With the help of his multi-linguist wife Anna Maria, he made some 40 wooden high altars every year until 1910.
Ms Stuflesser could communicate with interested commissioners from across the globe, and in 1897, the family furnished an entire church in Hawaii.
Robert thinks the Maltese heard about his family’s business through its work at the Vatican.
In fact, most of the Stuflessers’ work in Malta dates from the 1950s and 1960s.
Today, he manages the company with his brother Filip and mother Marlene, and the Stuflessers create different works in wood, bronze, marble and mosaic.
In 2010, he received a call from Malta requesting three seven-foot statues – one of St Paul and two of St Ġorġ Preca – for a private chapel.
When a year later he was told his family had left a trail of work in Malta, he set off on a trip to reconnect with the islands, to see “what the Stuflessers had done for the country, and what the country had done for the Stuflessers”.
His dream, he adds, is to restart working for Malta and he welcomes any requests for new work.
Mr Stuflesser believes working for the Maltese instils a sense of satisfaction that is difficult to find in other countries.
“The people here connect with the statue. They feel the statue from inside,”he says, pointing with both hands towards his chest.
During his stay he visited various localities and those who come across any wooden furnishing or statues that they think were carved by the Stuflessers can contact him on [email protected].