In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

Tucson statues inspired by WWI veteran’s near-death vision

Tucson statues inspired by WWI veteran's near-death vision.

In the shadow of downtown Tucson sits one of the city’s little-known wonders. A garden of statues stemming from one veteran’s near-death visions on the battlefield, named the Garden of Gethsemane.

Felix Lucero was a self-taught Native American artist who was drafted into the army and fought in the trenches of France during World War 1. felix

On his own retelling, as he lay wounded and dying on the battle field, he started to pray and the Virgin Mary appeared to him. He pleaded with Mary to let him live and promised that as thanks for his life he would spend the rest of his days creating art devoted to the life of Christ.

During The Great Depression, Lucero became homeless and found himself in Tucson, living under the Congress Street Bridge.

He lived in a makeshift shack and molded statues from plaster mixed with sand from the riverbed — supported by various materials that drifted his way, such as rebarb and old bed springs.

After Lucero passed away in 1951, his sculptures were repeatedly vandalized and damaged by floods. The city was able to commission several artists to repair Lucero’s sculptures though, using cement and other materials.

One artist, Greg Schoon, attempted to recreate Lucero’s sculptures with as much accuracy as possible based on historic photographs.  He used local people as models for the sculptures.

Castings for the hands of the disciples in “The Last Supper” were created from neighbors near the park and the casting of baby Jesus is based on a local child from the area.

Despite repair, the sculptures have little defense from the elements and vandalism.

While Lucero’s story has survived the test of time, it’s unclear if his work will be able to do the same.

Visit the Garden of Gethsemane:

Address: 602 W Congress St, Tucson, AZ 85745

Admission: Free