H i s t o r y - The Grotto
Written By
Alice Reed Morrison 



I would like to thank Dee L. McEntire for his help with photography and interviewing Father Thad at the Providence Home, and for much useful discussion per religious folk art. I would also like to thank Joanne Stuttgen for references to shrines and grottoes in the field and David Gay for references in the literature.

I thank Father Thaddeus Sztuczko, former Director of the Providence Home, for his generous assistance with his time and knowledge and loan of historical documents and photographics.

Portions of Part One were previously published as "The Tradition of Geode Construction in Southern Indiana,"  in Robert E. Walls and George H. Schoemaker, eds., The Old Traditional Way of Life:  Essays
in Honor of Warren E. Roberts, pp. 96-107 (Bloomington,
Indiana.  Trickster Press. 1989).


Alice Reed Morrison 

Regional History

Dubois County, Indiana is located in the far south, just north of Spencer County, whose southern border is formed by a great bend in the Ohio River. The Anderson River and the Patoka River, an eastern tributary of the Wabash, meander through this landscape of rolling hills, creating a 19th Century farmer’s paradise: rich, flat river bottom land for crops and wooded hills for homesites which could be built of native lumber and catch the breezes in summer as well as avoid the pestilence of mosquitoes.

 The majority of the settlement of the old frontier in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries was by Upland Southerners moving north from Kentucky across the Ohio River into Indiana. Prior to 1816 most migration to the region had occurred along the Ohio River and the two streams that flow along Indiana’s western border—the White River and the Wabash, as far north as what are now Richmond and Terre Haute. But after the defeat of the Shawnee, Miami and their Indian and British allies in the War of 1812, settlers (including 7 year-old Abraham Lincoln and his family) began to flood the interior.

 While most of the first settlers in this area were “Englishmen,” as the ethnic Germans still refer to all people of non-German descent, in Dubois and northern Spencer Counties they were nearly all supplanted by German farmers by the 1880s, as a deliberate colonizing effort by the German priests brought a flood of immigrants from the Southern Germany to the area and, once settled, the Germans—always successful farmers—bought up neighboring farms in order to increase their acreage.  In 1834 Dubois County had received the first visit by a Catholic priest, searching for a suitable area to colonize with German Catholics; in 1836 the first sizable group of German immigrants arrived, twelve families from Baden, and by 1838 the Jasper, Dubois County area’s German Catholic population had grown to fifty families and by 1839 to ninety. By 1850 residents of German descent constituted over 50% of the population in this area. 

St. Joseph's Church, Jasper

Part of the reason for this increasing influx was the deliberate colonizing efforts of one Croatian priest, Father Joseph Kundek. A priest in the village of Gore in Croatia, Kundek had read reports published by the Leopoldine Mission Society of the North American missions and determined to join the missionary movement. In September 1838, he was installed as the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Jasper, Dubois County.  1  Father Kundek began systematically purchasing land from non-German settlers, using funds from the Leopoldine Mission Society, which he then advertised for sale in German weeklies. In 1840 he bought 1,360 acres in order to lay out a new town which he named Ferdinand in honor of Emperor Ferdinand of Austria, patron of the Leopoldine Mission Society. Three years later he founded the town of Celestine, 10 miles east of Jasper, then Fulda in Spencer County.


 So many Germans came in response to the efforts of Father Kundek and the early settler’s encouragement of friends and relatives that Matthaus Hassfurther, one of the German pioneer settlers, wrote in January 1842 that “the Germans are coming like snowflakes.”  By 1854 an abbey of Benedictine monks was founded at St. Meinrad in Spencer County, fifteen miles south of Jasper, which helped contribute to the expansion of the German Catholic settlement area, which tapers off about ten miles south of the Dubois/Spencer counties border.

 While elements of German folk tradition today are retained occasionally in the folk architecture of this region, such as the incised porch roofs of log houses and some barns and occasional instances of half-timber construction with wattle & daub infilling, and decorative elements such as cross and star shaped ventilation holes in the gable ends of barns, most of the buildings conform to the Anglo-American forms: English barns, hall & parlor or double-pen houses, I-houses. One of the most visible signs of this ethnic and religious region, apart from the numerous elaborate Catholic Churches constructed of local sandstone, is the proliferation of small shrines featuring the Virgin Mary in the yards and gardens of homes and churches. But the most elaborate monument to the Catholic faith in this area is a remarkable four block-wide grotto located behind St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Cemetery in Jasper.

 The Providence Home Geode Grotto

It was one man’s artistic vision and religious devotion, which fostered the creation of this magnificent shrine, constructed completely from one type of stone, the geode. The so-called geode belt in Indiana extends from Morgan County in the north southeast to the Kentucky border by Louisville, well east of Dubois and Spencer Counties. While in South-central Indiana along the Geode Belt geodes have been used as a decorative element in the construction landscaping objects and even homes, apparently since the 19th century. There is no such tradition outside of this Geode Belt.

 Father Philip Ottavi was the Director of the Providence Home for retarded men, which bought the Jasper College, a preparatory boarding school for boys run by the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad, in 1930. This college consisted of two large buildings, one a c. 1850 brick structure used as a dining room and kitchen, which still stands, though badly deteriorated, the other a large and exceptional brick 1890 building which was demolished in the early 1970s and a modern building erected in its place. When then Providence Home bought the school they no longer needed the handball courts in the back of it and Father Philip had the idea of creating something beautiful and spiritual to take its place, based on the Grotto of Lourdes, France, where a peasant girl was visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Father Philip wanted to recreate the peaceful, spiritual setting of Lourdes in Jasper, Indiana. But he also wanted the Providence Home Grotto to be unique. In the early 1960s, Father Thad Sztuczko, now retired Director of the Home, was given the job of picking the rocks. “Only the best would to. They had to be beautiful, special and unusual.”  2

 Father Thad explained how he had happened to discover the supply of geodes in a creek on a farm in Heltonville, near Bedford, Lawrence County, Indiana on his was back to Jasper from Indianapolis. The farmer who owned the creek allowed Father Thad to have the rocks but asked only that a small structure be built for him at the grotto with some of the rocks. Truckload after truckload of rocks were taken to Jasper.

 Apart from being unusual and decorative in themselves, geodes are suggestive of much pagan and Christian symbolism: earth-shaped when whole and unopened, sometimes egg shaped but in any case suggestive of such a fertility symbol having a cavity inside, and beautiful when opened (or penetrated; re: breaking of the hymen; the cavity itself vagina and womb-like). Such beauty equates to perfection and heaven (orgasm) The exterior ugliness of the geode symbolizes the outside world, and its interior beauty, the soul or god (the human being as a piece of God). Thus the choice to use geodes in the construction of the Providence Home Grotto seems felicitous. Folklorist Simon Bronner mentions the Providence Home Grotto briefly in his work Grasping Things: Folk Material Culture and Mass Society in America, in reference to the importance of textures used in religious symbolism, which “convey tactual and emotional feelings.” 3 Like geodes, grottoes themselves are rough on the outside and beautiful inside, “a symbol of man showing that physical appearances mean nothing, that it is the spiritual that matters.” 4

 Two major shrines were built within the large grotto area, one to the south called the Mother of God Shrine, the other to the north called the St. Joseph Shrine. There are also many smaller Mary, Jesus and Joseph shrines throughout the grotto and two fountains, a small one in the Mother of God Shrine area and a larger one next to the St. Joseph Shrine. In addition, the grotto contains numerous flower planters, lamp-posts, benches, birdbaths, and geode walls. Poured cement was used to make the concave forms for the shrines, posts, and other structural elements.

 Pieces of other minerals such as marble, slate, shale, granite, limestone, and sandstone were also decoratively embedded into the planters and posts and the sidewalk itself, as well as seashells, pictures, rosaries, and other symbols carved from limestone or sandstone or made from pieces of marble. For example, the anchor, symbol of home (anchor of the soul), steadfastness, stability; the peach, symbol of virtue and salvation (versus the apple of Eve). The triangle symbol of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and eternity. The star, symbol of the creator, celestial wonders, and the guide of wise men to Christ. The Cross. 5 And of course, rock itself—symbol of salvation, solidity, security, fortress. White Carrara marble statues for the Providence Home Grotto were shipped from Carrara, Italy. The grotto’s structural beauty is enhanced with gardens of flowers, symbolic of the Garden of Eden. A stone marker in the Providence Home Grotto reinforces this connection with it’s engraving: “One is Nearer God’s Heart In a Garden Than Anywhere Else on Earth.”

 The grotto took ten years to complete, from approximately 1960 to 1970. According to Father Thad, there were “No blueprints, just inspiration.” A local retired engineer helped with the foundation and a ten person crew of residents of the Providence Home provided the labor. Father Philip worked on them almost every day; Father Thad states that Father Philip fell in love with those rocks. “He didn’t know when to quite. He broke his leg when he fell off a platform while working on the Mother of God grotto.” 6 The next day he was back out there with a cast on, working some more. The Mother of God Shrine was built first, and its entrance is still the main entrance to the grotto today, just north of the Providence Home on Bartley Street. An elaborate geode wall, topped with six small Mary, Joseph, and Jesus shrines flanks the wide stone steps which provide entrance to the grotto. Two geode planters sit at the base of the steps and a pair of elaborate conical constructions at their top, providing the beginning of two low geode walls, each containing inserts for plaques which line a stone embedded path to the Mother of God shrine to the south. The shrine is fronted by a square grass courtyard—whose opening is marked by two large embedded stone crosses on geode bases—surrounded by a stone sidewalk and low geode walls topped with geode Stations of the Cross separated by rectangular planters. In the center of the courtyard stands a limestone tree stump tyle birdbath with geode base. The tree stump carving is a regional folk art form most often found on tombstones, for which the nearby Bedford limestone is ideally suited. The tree stump is symbolic of the tree of life, now cut short with death.

 The cave opening of the Mother of God Shrine is flanked by tall geode walls, scalloped at the top and comprised of three layers each embedded with rows of curved arched plaques. The interior of the shrine is completely encrusted with geodes, both whole and broken open. A row of small openings just below the ceiling admit light, and the ceiling itself is embedded with both round geodes and icicle shaped stones placed to resemble stalactites, making no doubts about the cave analogy. A white Carrara marble statue of Mary sits on an elaborately constructed geode base.

 According to Father Thad, Father Philip joked that there was something about him that was drawn to caves and rocks because when he was a small child living in a village in the hills of Italy, on Dec 28, 1908, an earthquake there struck, killing 100,000 people. Don Orione, the Founder of the Sons of Divine Providence (which is devoted to building homes for human rejects—sheltering the war-mutilated children, the old, neglected, senile and deranged, and the social misfits that society so often tends to forget), rescued six half-naked, half-frozen children on Mount Bova, one of whom was Philip Ottavi. This incident led to Father Philip becoming a priest himself, of the Order of the Sons of Divine Providence, and ultimately to his personal masterpiece and expression of faith, the Providence Home Geode Grotto.

 A stone path opposite the Mother of God Shrine courtyard leads through a garden area bordered on the south by a low geode wall fronted with benches and planters. The path passes an elaborate geode fountain to the west and several large geode planters to the east, including one embedded with a limestone anchor and another limestone peach. This path to the north leads to the c. 1850 dining hall of the forma Jasper Academy, which separates the St. Joseph Shrine from the Mother of God Shrine. The path continues to the west of the brick building into a second garden area, the entrance marked with two geode planters. This path intersects with another stone path leading from a second Bartley Street entrance toward the St. Joseph Shrine. Two rows of six hourglass shaped geode flower planters each flank the path, which passes underneath a grape arbor just before the reaching of the St. Joseph shrine. Two rows of six hourglass shaped geode flower planters each flank the path, which passes underneath a grape arbor just before reaching the St. Joseph shrine. Unlike the symbolically feminine cave of the Mother of God Shrine, the St. Joseph Shrine is a masculinely tall, erect, two-tiered, free-standing monument, symmetrically encircled with a smaller replica bases atop a low geode and concrete wall. A White marble statue of Saint Joseph holding the infant Jesus stands within a shallow geode shell, half encircled with a third tier of geode wall. The pair of circular geode structures forming the entrance to the shrine are fitted with electric lamps.

 Immediately to the east of the St. Joseph Shrine is a large, elaborate geode fountain of corresponding size, with a central circular fount of several tiers and a square geode wall forming the pool. The four corners of the concrete slab beneath the fountain area are marked with large circular planters. As in the Mother of God Shrine, there is an emphasis on repetition and symmetry in both the construction and detail of the work.

 Some of the geodes from the supply for the Providence Home Grotto were evidently given to neighboring parishes for use geodes in building Mary Shrines. A small geode Mary shrine sits next to the Mariah Hill, Carter Township, Spencer County Catholic church, and another outside the St. Meinrad parish church in Harrison Township. These were the only other geode constructions that I found in Dubois and Spencer Counties.

 Grottoes and Religious Folk Art

The etymological roots of the word “grotto” lie in the Latin crypta and Germanic krupte; meaning crypt. The feminine form kruptos refers to “hidden”. The meaning of “grotto” itself gives equal emphasis to the elements of earth and stone as well as to cavern, cave, opening.

 Caves have been involved in mythology and religion since prehistoric times, as discoveries of cave paintings suggestive of ritual content indicate. Early nature spirits such as water nymphs were believed to dwell in the cool caves of mountains, and had cults at such springs and caves. 7 Greek and Roman oracles spoke from caves, and Jesus was believed to have risen from a cave. Christian hermits and holy recluses, including St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order of monks, retreated to caves. 8 Legends of the death of the Virgin Mary tell of the apostles transporting her body to the innermost of three caves, 9 and the Apostle John received the vision, which inspired his writing of the Book of Revelation inside a cave. Thus the strong spiritual association with the very landscape of the grotto is immediate.

 The religious beliefs connected to water have been well documented in the literature, notable by Mircea Eliade: the deluge, baptism, ritual bathing, and aquatic symbolism. Eliade notes the “The Fathers of the Church did not fail to exploit some of the pre-Christian and universal values of Water-symbolism…” 10 such as the above-noted pagan cults of water spirits such as sea and stream nymphs. The birth of Venus, the ancient Italian goddess of gardens and springs and also associated by the Romans with the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, occurs from the sea. Here as well is an early example of the association of water with creation and birth, 11 and the cult of water nymphs for help in childbirth.” 12 Some religious scholars consider the Virgin Mary to be a reincarnation of the early water goddesses such as Aphrodite and Venus. 13

 The springs, which are commonly found in caves and incorporated into grottoes in the form of ponds or, as in the Providence Home Grotto, fountains are another manifestation of the spiritual associations with water. The belief in magical healing power of water at the Lourdes Grotto in France is a testament to this tenacious tradition as well.

 The use of other natural materials as well as rocks and minerals, such as shells bones, teeth, and their embellishment with and incorporation into the gardens again reflects religious roots. Shells also have a long history as important symbols in both paganism and Christianity. Eliade devotes a whole chapter to the symbolism of shells in his Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism:

 Belief in the magical virtues of oysters and of shells is to be found all over the world, from prehistoric until modern times…. We find oysters and shells in agricultural, nuptial or funerary rites…. The sea-shell and the oyster express the symbolism of birth and death. 14

 Venus, of course, is born from the sea arising on a scallop shell, and the resemblance between her famous representation by Botticelli and statuary images of Virgin Mary are apparent.

 One source for the shell’s symbolism in Christianity is the legend of St. James Compostela, telling that after his death in A.D. 44 his followers set sail in the Mediterranean with his body and were blown far off course to Spain. “As they landed on the storm-swept Spanish shore, a horse and a rider on the beach were drowned, but miraculously the pair rose out of the sea, alive and bedecked with scallop shells…. The image of the scallop shell was integral to the pilgrimage experience and Christianity during the Middle Ages.” 15 Contemporary religious rituals such as the decoration of graves with seashells attest to the enduring power of shell symbolism. 16

 Thus the grotto itself encompasses these three elemental religious symbols: caves, water and shells, as well as stone itself—the symbol of solidity and security, fortress and salvation. And as Elaide notes: “Man being homo symbolicus… every religious fact has necessarily a symbolic character…. Every religious act and every cult object has a meta-empirical purpose. The tree that becomes a cult object is not worshipped as a tree, but as a hierophany, a manifestation of the sacred.” 17 This statement could be a contemporary apologia to the iconoclasts throughout the history of Christianity who have decried the use of such icons in religious worship. The materials artifacts serve as a bridge between the sacred and the profane to the worshipper. Ernst Schlee, in his work on German folk art, states: “If Faith is to be given visible expression in communal or domestic worship or even in private prayer, it must strive for spatial order, obvious concreteness and pictorial form.” 18

 The folk religious tradition of grotto construction has a long history in continental Europe (Father Philip Ottavi’s inspiration, Lourdes, being the most well-known), and cave and grotto building became a fad in mid-18th century England amongst the aristocracy, and by the mid-19th century had moved to the middle class as well. 19 This fashion did not travel to the United States, perhaps because of its Protestant dominant population and culture. But isolated examples of elaborate Catholic grottos began to appear amongst immigrant communities in America in the late 19th century, including the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, built by Paul M. Dobberstein, who was born in 1872 in the Bavarian region of Germany and emigrated to America in 1893 to study for the priesthood at St. Francis Seminary in St. Francis (now Milwaukee), Wisconsin. 20 Dobberstein contracted pneumonia while a student and promised to erect a shrine in honor of the Virgin Mary should he survive the illness. After recovering and being ordained in 1989, he was assigned to St. Peter and Paul’s church in West Bend, Iowa, and soon began purchasing property adjacent to the church and collecting fieldstone, rocks, and boulders, enlisting the help of local farmers and children in order to begin construction in 1912 on a large and elaborate grotto, which he worked on for more than forty years. Dobberstein had studied geology during his seminary training and procured large quantities of fine minerals from all parts of the country for the project. He wrote about his creation and its meaning and function in publication about the grotto: “It is the aim of the Grotto to present, in palpable form, this reunion of man and God… because truth reaches the mind most easily by way of the senses.” 21 Thus there is an intimate connection between visual and tactile beauty and spirituality, and the context of such shrines and grottoes affords the communication of such spirituality to the visitor.

 Dobberstein, like Father Philip Ottavi, imported religious statuary of Cararra biancho chiaro from Italy. Both men demonstrated an attention to detail and insistence on the finest quality materials, which reflected the spiritual value to them of their creations. The success of Dobberstein’s Grotto of Redemption led to the commissions for him to supervise the building of several more grottoes throughout the Midwest: an elaborate fountain in Humbolt, Iowa in 1918; a grotto setting for the marble statuary of the Crucifixion Group in the cemetery of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Wesley, Iowa in 1926; the Immaculate Conception Grotto on the grounds of the St. Angela Academy in Carroll, Iowa from 1923-1929; three grottoes along both sides of the Mississippi River in Iowa and Wisconsin between 1925 and 1930; a grotto for the La Salette Fathers in Sioux City, Iowa, at the Sacred Heart Church in 1935; all the while still adding to the Grotto of the Redemption until Dobberstein’s death in 1954. His long-time assistant, Matt Szerensce, who had helped with chores as a boy before signing on full-time after graduating high school in 1912, continued to work on the Grotto of Redemption until his retirement in 1959. Father Dobberstein’s successor, Father Louis Greving, has also continued to expand the Grotto and continues to help maintain it though retired himself now. 22

 Dobberstein’s grotto work inspired other priest builders, including Father Matthias Wernerus (born in 1873 in the town of Kettenis, now in German-speaking Belgium) of Dickeyville, Wisconsin. Father Wernerus began the Dickeyville Grotto in 1921 as a War Memorial, writing that “the Crucifixion Group and Soldiers’ Memorial… would serve as ‘a constant reminder never to forget the good boys in our prayers’.” 23 Wernerus continued adding to the grotto for the next ten years, creating parks and gardens as well as individual shrines to “Christ the King and Mary his Mother,” the Sacred Heart, the Holy Eucharist, Stations of the Cross and a “Patriotism Shrine” featuring Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln. The Shrines are notable for their extensive use of colorful mosaics of tiles, shards of glass, stones, shells, pearl buttons, and other found objects.

 It is likely that Father Philip Ottavi was aware of these other Midwestern grottos, though his stated inspiration for the Providence Home Grotto was the grotto at Lourdes. Benedictine monks were responsible for two other noteworthy grottos in the Unites States: A shrine within a cave in Elk Creek Canyon near Bethlehem, South Dakota 24 and the famous Ave Maria Grotto of Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, created by Brother Joseph Zoettl (born in Bavaria in 1878). Brother Joseph had a hobby of making mechanical toys and miniature buildings, which eventually grew into his creation, on a former stone quarry, of a hillside of miniature panorama of Biblical Jerusalem, replicas of architectural wonder from Benedictine history and noted shrines in Christendom. These are interspersed with small pools and brooks of water, beds of flowers, and all surround a cave with ceiling and walls embedded with artificial stalactites and sheltering a statue of the Virgin Mary. The grotto was finished in 1934. 25

 Like Catholicism itself, these grottoes are a blend of folk and official liturgical elements. As demonstrated above, the cave, the garden, water, shells, and rocks all have pagan and Christian symbolic roots. The builder priests are also demonstrating a mix of both folk and elite culture in their work: as one scholar suggests,

…these visionary artists are in actuality folk artists, individuals experimenting with the community’s traditional forms and structures, if we view the community from a wider perspective….

 To go beyond the concept of an outsider artist working from his or her own intuitive vision, we must accept that backyard builders are working within cultural traditions and infer the sources. Like the bottle trees and shell grottoes, many other aspects of grassroots art probably can be traced to very old traditions. 26

 The folk artist works as a creative individual within an informal group tradition. Fathers Dobberstein, Wernerus, Zoettl, and Ottavi received no training in the planning and construction of grottoes while undertaking their formal seminary education. Their knowledge of such a tradition was acquired informally, by being raised in Old World Europe where such grottoes had been built. The individual grottoes are truly variations within a tradition, defining the attribute of folk art. Each is the personal expression of piety of an artist using shared sacred symbols. Both local and imported materials were deliberately selected and manipulated by the artists, yet their idiosyncratic tendencies were held in check by traditions both formal (the subject matter of the individual shrines) and informal (the patterns of paths, water sources, caves).

 Religious material culture scholar Colleen McDannell divides what she terms this “body of evidence,” materials culture into four categories: artifacts, landscapes, architecture, and art. 27 Grottos incorporate all four of these categories of material culture. Landscape is essential to their definition, including the cultivated gardens and paths and natural features such as hills, caves, ponds and other water sources, and the placement of artifacts and architectural structures such as walls, posts, constructed caves and shrines. The artwork—statuary, plaques and inlaid decorations—are integral to the religious essence of the grotto. McDannell emphasizes that analyzing the symbolic qualities of religious materials culture is not enough to interpret their meaning: one must also examine the historical and present context of the materials culture and its relationship to the people who use it as well as its creators. As folk art scholar Henry Glassie notes, “The result of artful action is a work that can be sensed by others. It becomes a communication” 28 An artistic creation such as the Providence Home Grotto, with its two separate shrines—the Mother of God Shrine and St. Joseph Shrine—reveals much about its creator and the cultural traditions which defined him and the communication and maintenance of his, and his community’s religious values. There is an interaction between artifact and belief, states McDannell: “…materials culture embodies and symbolizes patterns of beliefs, social needs and behavior…. Objects do not simply reflect an already existing reality but help bring about that reality.” 29 There can be no accurate analysis of their meaning without considering the use and the user.

 Henry Glassie, in his observation of an Irish Catholic community, notes that “religion is not one category of culture in Balleymenone, but culture’s base.”  30  This place of religion within the local culture characterizes the Catholic German communities in Southern Indiana as well, in the present 21st century as well as since their initial settlement in the mid-19th century. Domestic Mary shrines abound in the front yards of Dubois and Spencer Counties and much community social life is still connected to the local parish. The elaborate architecture of the convent on Ferdinand, Dubois County and the monastery in St. Meinrad, both situated atop hills overlooking the villages in a medieval European manner, symbolize the continuum from the official, elite liturgical tradition to the local (parish churches) and individual (home shrines).

 Folklorist Simon Bronner did much of his fieldwork for his study of woodcarvers, Chain Carvers: Old Men Crafting Meaning, in the German Catholic communities of Southern Indiana, and focused this behavioral study of folk art on the artists rather than the art objects themselves. He states: “I want to provoke thinking about … ways people insist on creativity to help them cope. …The humanist in all of us should seek the wellspring of this creativity, this striking, but often overlooked, enactment of skill and need or beauty in everyday lives.” 31 There is a parallel here between Bronner’s elderly, male woodcarvers and the priests who built these American grottoes, working from middle age until their deaths. While the grottoes would most likely be referred to by their creators as expressions of their faith, and that faith the impetus for such creative output, that is only the manifest meaning and function of such art. There are less obvious functions served for the artists by their artistic behavior and expressions of individuality, interpreted by Bronner in his analysis of elderly woodcarvers as a means of coping with loss—of youth, friends and spouses, one’s work identity, and the close social ties of the traditional small rural community. Each artist’s personality and values (individual and communal) are reflected in his creation: Father Dobberstein’s expertise in and love of minerals leading him on searches throughout the country for exquisite specimens Father Wernerus’s lavish use of color, shells, and other found objects; Brother Zoettl’s skills with miniature crafts; and Father Philip Ottavi’s search for the perfect stone and emphasis on symmetry and uniformity. All the grottoes are individual expressions meant for communal use. They encompass both the official church dictum as “liturgy as a personal-communal experience” 32 and the folk artist’s melding of individual and community expression and tradition.

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