The art of Fred Graham, the sculptor of tabernacle, is deeply rooted in Maori carving tradition. However, a free spirit, fueled by his lively imagination has enabled him to develop his individual contemporary style. Having been exposed to the culture of the European community among whom he has lived, Fred himself would acknowledge that European art has played a part in his development as artist and art teacher.By the same token we can gain much from contact with Maori spirituality which found expression in the design of our tabernacle.
Criticism of his radical departure from the traditional decorated box, or gilded container, usually prominently displayed, did not faze Fred. His comment would be that he works intuitively and not to prescriptions.From conversations during the design stage, I gathered that he was searching for a way to express the mystery of Christ present in the tabernacle. The remoteness: Jesus wants to be found by us: “Strive to enter through the narrow door”, (Luke 13), so we can be found by Him after our first tentative steps”.To confine the most sacred symbol of the risen Christ is a small box is not for him. Mary Thorne comments: “His tabernacle represents the all encompassing love and presence of Christ in the whole universe which is enfolded in the small consecrated host inviting us into relationship”.In utilising the whole space, Fred made the slanting curtains create the double dynamic of drawing the eye to the sacred presence as well as radiating outwards.
His all-encompassing love. It is much like the human gesture we make with our outstretched arms, so familiar at mass.A brief example of his sure artistic genius. When I viewed in his workshop the Rimu planks he had bought, still in their raw state, I pointed to a major flaw in one of them. “Never mind”, he said with a chuckle, “I can still use it”. So he did. A closer look at the tabernacle door will reveal that the discolored bit has been made to represent a flame, almost three-dimensional because the flaw at the back had been further hollowed out to form a grip for the door. Not bad, but then Michelangelo had visualised the whole of the Pieta inside a block of marble before he put chisel to it.