George Raymond Hoelzeman is a liturgical artist who has gained national acclaim for his creation of church furniture, statues, and relief woodcarvings, particularly those depicting the Stations of the Cross (also known as the Way for the Cross) for Catholic churches throughout the United States.
George Hoelzeman was born on April 24, 1963, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the eldest of four sons born to Aloys Joseph (A. J.) Hoelzeman, who was a carpenter, and Therese Huber Hoelzeman, a nurse and music teacher. He grew up in Morrilton (Conway County) and received his primary and secondary education at Sacred Heart School there.
After graduating from high school, Hoelzeman entered St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, Louisiana, graduating in 1985 with a BA in history and religion. His intention was to enter Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco (Logan County) as a Benedictine monk and ultimately be ordained a Catholic priest. His plans for a life in religious vocations later changed, but he gained a lasting appreciation for Catholic doctrine as expressed through art. Following seminary, he pursued graduate studies in early modern history at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County) and medieval art history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).
Hoelzeman’s first major commission came in 1989: a set of carved plaques for St. Augustine Catholic Church in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). In step with the predominantly African-American congregation there, he portrayed in mahogany an Afro-centric interpretation of Christ’s walk to Calvary; the work was completed in 1990.
More than just portraying the central figures of the crucifixion with African features, Hoelzeman’s art for St. Augustine bore another stylistic touch that would become his trademark. Unlike traditional stations, which typically show a literal portrayal of events composed of several characters, Hoelzeman’s stations magnified one representative detail of each scene, such as a stern workman with hammer upraised about to strike a nail. The work was immediately recognized as groundbreaking, earning the 1992 BENE Award Ministry & Liturgy magazine.
On the strength of the St. Augustine project, Hoelzeman became highly sought-after for similar work, and he established G. R. Hoelzeman Studios in Hattieville (Conway County). There, he expanded his artistic offerings to liturgical furnishings including altars, ambos, baptismal fonts, and celebrants’ chairs.
One his most acclaimed pieces, the altar at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, marries Craftsman clean lines and contrasting wood inlays with the organic element of a massive stone top. He received his second BENE Award in 2001 for this work. Hoelzeman also gained a reputation for his carved wood statuary. Of particular interest is a statue of Christ created for Marienstatt Abbey in Germany, once home to the Holy Ghost Fathers. This order established a number of Catholic parishes in Arkansas in the late nineteenth century, including Hoelzeman’s childhood parish in Morrilton. Carved in Arkansas cherry, the heart of Christ was cut from a piece of the original 1891 altar at Sacred Heart, which Hoelzeman’s father had helped maintain. The piece was hand-delivered to Marientstatt Abbey in 2004 on the occasion of Sacred Heart’s 125th anniversary of foundation.
In 2014, Hoelzeman began collaborating with fellow Arkansas artist Pam Hawkins, founder of Inner Light Glass Studios in Solgohachia (Conway County), to produce carved wood crosses featuring fused glass inlays. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock carries at formal events a carved wooden crozier given to him by the artist.
Catholic churches and institutions across the state displaying Hoelzeman’s work include Holy Redeemer Church in El Dorado (Union County), Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hot Springs Village (Garland and Saline counties), Hispanic Charismatic Conference in Little Rock, St. Francis of Assisi Church in Fairfield Bay (Van Buren and Cleburne counties), Christ the King Church and St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, St. Mary Church in St. Vincent (Conway County), St. John the Baptist Church in Hot Springs (Garland County), Arkansas State University Catholic Campus Ministry in Jonesboro (Craighead County), St. Albert Church in Heber Springs (Cleburne County), Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton, and St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro. His work is also featured in houses of worship of various faiths in Texas, Colorado, Michigan, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and West Virginia. The heavy reliance on native materials, tying the universality of religious rites to the specific locale in which they are celebrated, is a noted trademark of his work.
Hoelzeman married Cheryl Moix on December 19, 1992. The couple has two daughters.
For additional information:
“Artwork Can Provide a Healing Touch, Hospital Says.” Arkansas Catholic, January 10, 2004.
Clark, Brenda. “New Panels Tell Story of the Life and Times of Christ.” Arkansas Catholic, March 22, 2014. Online at http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/3809/New-panels-tell-story-of-the-life-and-times-of-Christ (accessed May 19, 2015).
G. R. Hoelzeman Studios. http://grhstudios.com/ (accessed May 19, 2015).
Hebda, Dwain. “Hoelzeman’s Reputation Growing in Liturgical Art.” Arkansas Catholic, November 15, 2014. Online at http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/4054/Hoelzemans-reputation-growing-in-liturgical-art (accessed May 19, 2015).
Hoelzeman, George. “Liturgical Art and Space More Than They Appear.” Arkansas Catholic, September 3, 2005.
“Works by Arkansas Artists Furnish, Enhance El Dorado Chapel.” Arkansas Catholic, November 29, 2003.
Little Rock, Arkansas