The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Clem’s carvings inspiring Blackwood parish


Hawthorndene woodcarver Clem Colla has realised a boyhood dream by handcrafting a wooden set of the Stations of the Cross which now adorn the walls of his local church.

Comments Print article

Since being installed in February, the 14 stations have provided a talking point for parishioners at Our Lady of the Way Church in Glenalta. Not only do they provide an inspirational representation of the path Jesus bore on his way to the crucifixion, but the remarkably intricate stations also reflect Clem’s superb woodcarving skills and the hundreds of hours he devoted to making them.

A retired cabinet maker, Clem, 72, used the Intarsia woodworking technique to create the stations. This involves fitting together different shapes, sizes and species of timber to produce a mosaic-like picture with an illusion of depth.

Many of the 30 timbers he used in the project had a real ‘local’ flavour, with some being offcuts from jobs he had undertaken for parishioners. For example the Australian oak used for the characters’ skin came from Peter Van Leeuwen’s laundry, the beech for Mary’s clothing was from Geoff Sugar’s old rocking chair, the teak was brought from Indonesia by Chris Wright, while the European oak for the soldiers’ uniforms was from Peter and Ytte Smaile’s backyard tree.

Fittingly, a branch from a local Blackwood tree was carved to form the base of each station.

For Clem, the many hours he spent crafting the stations was a “labour of love” as it was a project he had been planning to complete for most of his life.

“Making the stations was something on my bucket list from the age of 16,” he admitted. He recalled how as a young apprentice he had helped to mount a set of stations in a church in Belmont, in Geelong, Victoria.

“It was then I thought that when I am old and can only sit on a stool, this is what I am going to do,” he said.

The stations Clem made are based on that initial set in Belmont. Planning for the project began a few years ago when he started to dry wood offcuts in his workshop and embarked on the process of design and composition of the timber to be used in each station.

Looking at the finished set you can see how in his depiction of the crucifixion story Clem used the gravelly appearance of huon pine to replicate the ground, while he opted for the wild grained burl from a myrtle tree to convey the dark confusion and despair that the followers of Jesus may have felt at the time he was in the tomb.

The 11th station where the soldier stands over Jesus and drives in the nails took the most time to complete as Clem painstakingly tried to recreate the recoil of the hand. In the 6th station where Veronica comes forward to wipe the brow of Jesus, Clem depicts her with some of her hair escaping from her headpiece as he believed she would have been an “outgoing” person.

Reflecting on the year-long project, Clem admitted he got completely absorbed in the process.

“I am sure it deepened my faith. When you think about putting the nail here in Jesus’ hand, you think about how much it must have hurt. Because I was retired I guess I had more time for reflection.”

Parish priest Fr Tony Telford-Sharp was delighted to have the completed set installed and the feedback from fellow parishioners has been very positive.

Clem said the first time he went to pray in front of the new stations it was “very special”.

Born in Holland, Clem and his 10 siblings and parents emigrated to Australia when he was seven years old.

The staunch Catholic family settled on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria and Clem eventually followed his heart to Adelaide, marrying Barbara in 1973.

The Collas have been active members of the Blackwood parish since 1976, with Clem serving as a minister of the Eucharist, as a former member of the Parish Pastoral Council and unsurprisingly, on the maintenance committee.

He has used his woodworking skills to make other items in the parish including the baptismal font (dedicated to his late mum), a bookshelf and screen holder for the overhead projector at Glenalta, and the main altar at St Paul of the Cross Church, Blackwood.

Those attending St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral will see Clem’s handiwork in the candle holders at the front and rear of the church.

Not ones to sit idle, the Collas ticked off another bucket list item when they went to Cambodia two years ago.

Over the six week period Clem helped to build five houses while Barbara, who is a retired teacher, volunteered at the local school.

With the stations project now complete, undoubtedly there will be other bucket list items to fulfil. However, none are likely to provide as much inspiration and prayerful reflection as the 14 pieces of art that are Clem’s heartfelt contribution to his church community.


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More People stories

Loading next article