Meet the Creator: “Homeless Jesus” Sculptor Timothy Schmalz Comes to Town

Timothy Schmalz, artist for the ages

On Tuesday, January 17th, Community West Foundation welcomed world-renowned artist and creator of the Matthew 25 Collection, Timothy Schmalz, to Cleveland.

Over 80 people attended a program held at Cleveland Clinic Lutheran Hospital’s Castele Learning Center to hear him talk about his journey as an artist and his inspiration for the sculpture collection. The attendees were Community West board members, supporters and fans of Schmalz’ artwork. One woman even drove in from Pittsburgh for the opportunity.

“It has been two years since we signed on to bring the Matthew 25 sculptures to Cleveland,” commented Community West Foundation President and CEO, Marty Uhle.

With the installation of the final piece last June, Cleveland became only the second city in the world next to Rome, Italy to host the entire collection. “We are thrilled to be able to share this experience with everyone that has supported this project,” he said.

“When I look at a piece of artwork, I’m looking at scripture. The artwork is just a way of getting people to see that scripture. That’s the challenge of an artwork: to make the artwork disappear and make the scripture come out. Take the ‘Homeless Jesus.’ You really see line-for-line that scripture.”

For over 30 years, Timothy Schmalz has been creating large-scale sculptures. He is a figurative artist with some of his most reputed pieces installed in historical churches in Rome and at the Vatican.

Schmalz describes his most important work as visual prayers and translations of the Bible. Although most of his work is based upon a spiritual theme, he also creates large, complex public sculptures in bronze including monuments that honor veterans and firefighters.

Schmalz started sculpting when he was only 16 years old. He explained that a traumatic life event in his early 20’s was the catalyst for conversion. Since then he has devoted himself to Christianity and this comes through in his artwork.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40

“When I look at a piece of artwork, I’m looking at scripture,” he explains. “The artwork is just a way of getting people to see that scripture. That’s the challenge of an artwork: to make the artwork disappear and make the scripture come out. Take the Homeless Jesus (sculpture, for example,) you really see line-for-line that scripture.”

Timothy Schmalz with Community West Foundation President and CEO, Marty Uhle, and Marketing and Communications Director, Maria Estes. Both spearheaded the Matthew 25 Collection project which took 2 years to complete.

When Schmalz started out, he slept on a wood plank inside his 700 square-foot studio in Toronto because he could not afford a separate apartment. Today his sculptures can be viewed in cities world-wide including Rome, London, Dublin, Madrid, Mexico City, Toronto and hundreds of cities across the United States.

During his presentation, Timothy Schmalz talked about his inspiration for each of the pieces in the Matthew 25 Collection. Several years ago, Schmalz saw a homeless person in Toronto. It was a figure shrouded in a blanket, it stopped him in his tracks and moved him spiritually. He returned to his studio inspired because he had felt he saw something sacred and he wanted other people to see it.

His initial thought about seeing that homeless person was “I just saw Jesus”. He reflected that maybe it was because it was the middle of the day, or that it was close to Christmas on one of the busiest streets in one of the busiest cities in Canada. There was a contrast between the city and this human figure that was silent and shrouded. Being a Christian, he thought “that was Jesus”.

Schmalz wanted to create that scene so others could experience it. He dropped all his other projects and started sculpting the exact scene he experienced that day. He did purposefully move the blanket up so the feet would be exposed revealing the wounds which would serve as the only identification it was Christ.

At first, Schmalz had the face exposed on the sculpture but he felt it was too much and didn’t conform to Matthew 25. In Matthew 25, there is that mystery and ambiguity where the identification of Jesus comes afterwards. The Jesus figure is identifying with the least of those in our society. Schmalz wanted to emphasize that the least of us could be any of us.

Small replicas of The Matthew 25 Collection

When reflecting on his purpose, Schmalz said, “Michaelangelo said that what is required is to release the sculpture from the stone. I believe that the most perfect sculptures exist in a platonic heaven that are so powerful that, if they were brought here to earth, they would have, instantly, the power to convert. My job as an artist is to try to pull them down from that heavenly plane to earth. If they do not have the power to convert, it’s on me, it’s my fault because I do believe that it’s possible to express visually the ideas that are so eternal…”

In 2019, Timothy Schmalz installed a 20-foot long sculpture in St. Peter’s Square in Rome – the first permanent sculpture to be installed there in 400 years.

The piece, entitled Angels Unawares, depicts a group of migrants and refugees on a boat wearing clothes that show they originate from diverse cultures and historical moments. The inspiration of the work arises from a passage from Hebrews 13:2 found in the New Testament: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.

Schmalz has met three (YES, THREE) Popes: Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. Schmalz has projects in the works that will soon be displayed in Orlando and San Francisco and even more in the pipeline for cities abroad.

Timothy Schmalz (center) with Community West Foundation President and CEO Marty Uhle and Laura Uhle

Despite his fame, his true mission is to help people see God through his artwork.

“I think that’s a massive struggle for all Christians – the idea of trying to get people to see the truth, to see Christianity in a way that they can understand it pure and undistilled,” Schmalz explained.

“I look at a lot of the artwork out there and I see a lot of ornamentation. I believe that artwork, the text, should be so authentically represented that the artwork is just a skin that is covering them. The thinner that skin is, the more transparent, the more see-though it will be to that scriptural text.”

At the conclusion of the program, attendees could receive a small replica of the Homeless Jesus sculpture signed by the artist for a donation to Community West Foundation.

“We are so inspired by his work because it reflects our mission to help our brothers and sisters in need,” Uhle said. “We couldn’t think of a better visual representation of the work we do in the community!”

To find out more about the Matthew 25 Collection, visit:

– by Maria Estes

Visit The Timothy Schmalz website at

Angels Unawares

Pope Francis visits Timothy Schmalz Angels Unawares sculpture in St. Paul’s Basilica, Rome.

On September, 2019, the large bronze version was installed in St. Peters Square Rome and the smaller bronze was installed in St. Paul’s Basilica, Rome.

On the 26th of April 2017, the original small model was blessed by Pope Francis in St. Peters Square and the larger version of the work was confirmed to be permanently installed in St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome.

The inspiration of the work arises from a passage from Hebrew 13:2 found in the New Testament: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.

The sculptural work interprets this belief that there is to be found the sacred in the stranger, in terms of the refugee and migrant people. The work depicts migrants and refugees from all cultural and racial backgrounds and from all historic periods of time together – shoulder to shoulder on a raft or boat. Within this diverse crowd of people, angel wings are visible in the center, suggesting that within the migrant and refugee is the sacred.

Through the use of ancient scripture, contemporary and historical figures, and a universally held symbol of spirituality, the work truly is relevant to the Vatican as well as cities around the world that strive to emphasize that all life is sacred and should be treated as such.

Click here to view more photos from the Timothy Schmalz Luncheon


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