Err of Grace

Err of Grace

In Hosanna exhibit, Mankato woodcarver displays art with no ego

By Tanner Kent (Mankato Free Press)

Sister Mary Ann Osborne’s “The Embrace” is among the most powerful examples of the veteran woodcarver’s 1,300 creations.

The large image of Christ on the cross contradicts more traditional and tortured interpretations by portraying the crucified figure with soft, rounded limbs and unpierced hands spread in invitation to the viewer. An almost childlike countenance is made all the more tranquil with a tilted posture that the artist believes is crucial to the overall representation of the work.

And to think: That tilted posture was borne from an apparent mistake.

“The head is slanted because I made a mistake with the chainsaw,” said Osborne, a School Sister of Notre Dame for almost 40 years who is currently exhibiting a selection of her works, including “The Embrace,” at the art gallery located within Hosanna Lutheran Church in Mankato. “I don’t often use a chainsaw, but I was in a hurry to get the outline done.”

Early in her career, Osborne might have struggled to fix her mistake, or abandoned the piece entirely. But in 1994, during a six-month residency with Franciscan sister and respected woodcarver Sister Sigmunda May, Osborne learned to let the characteristics of the wood guide her process. Osborne credits her mentor for unmooring her style from conventional ways of carving and “loosening my umbrella of rules.”

So this time, noticing her errant swipe of the chainsaw, Osborne stepped back and reconsidered her approach. Soon, a new visage revealed itself to her and the artist never gave the mistake a second thought.

“The trick is to let go of yourself and get out of your own ego,” Osborne said. “I’ve learned that if something breaks, that’s good. It means you need to change.”

The vast majority of Osborne’s works (and all of those on display at Hosanna) are in the sacred tradition, derived largely from biblical scripture and New Testament theology.

Her pieces exude humility and serenity. The eyes of her subjects are almost always closed in prayerful reflection or holy gratitude, their palms upturned in the traditional gesture of grace and goodwill.

Furthermore, her carvings are ornately detailed, hewn with an attentive eye toward the treatment of light, shadow, depth and texture. In “Paths of Peace,” Osborne embellishes her narrative about renewing the call of God in the world with inlaid glass and gold leaf accents. In “Wound Sanctifier,” Osborne pressed nickel-sized bits of silver into the palms of her subjects to represent the healing of wounds.

All tallied, Osborne is displaying 19 pieces at Hosanna’s gallery, which hosts a handful of exhibits each year and is open to the public during regular church hours.

“Art is a porthole for others to step into,” Osborne said. “This is really how I pray, I think.”

Osborne’s work will remain on display through Nov. 6.

For more information about the artist, visit: For more information about Hosanna, visit:

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