Jesus crucified near the utility tower.

Garden of Gethsemane

Field review by the editors.

Tucson, Arizona

As Felix Lucero lay dying on a World War I battlefield, he reportedly proposed a deal with the Virgin Mary: let me live, and I'll spend the rest of my life creating Christian art. Mary agreed, Felix survived, and when he returned to America he eventually got to work.

Twenty years later, Lucero finally started to make good on his promise. He found himself in hard times Tucson in 1938, living under the Congress Street Bridge in a cardboard and plywood shack. He began sculpting Christian statues: molded from damp sand, reinforced with debris recovered from the Santa Cruz riverbed, covered with plaster.

Felix Lucero bust.

The statues acquired the name Garden of Gethsemane and suffered "the ravages of time, floods, and many acts of vandalism," according to a plaque at the site. "Heartbreak and pain walked with the artist during his sacred efforts."

Felix Lucero died in 1951, but his sculptures have survived, thanks to sweat and cash from the residents of Tucson. The statues have been moved several times to save them, and frequently repaired after vandalism (in one incident, a total decapitation at the Last Supper). They now stand in a roadside park shaded by palm, pepper, and mesquite trees -- close to where Lucero lived under the bridge. Overhead are power lines and a hulking utility tower.

Lucero's technique was not devised for longevity, and all the pieces are damaged or in distress. The skin of crucified Jesus is flaking, and the noses and fingers of Jesus and several of his Last Supper meal-mates have been smashed. An apparently self-sculpted bust of Felix Lucero shows a middle-aged, mustached man whose face appears blistered ("Living Under Power Lines -- The Jury's Still Out!").

The Garden of Gethsemane is a popular spot for intimate weddings, and for people who want to pray and to light candles. We visited in the '90s, and there were a couple of homeless people sleeping in the bushes around the gates (budding folk art sculptors?). They were gone in 2007, leaving behind no discernible sculptural legacy....

Last Supper sculpture.

One imagines the people of Tucson wouldn't have been so keen to preserve homeless Felix's folk art if he had sculpted, say, Bigfoot instead of Jesus.

Garden of Gethsemane

Felix Lucero Park

Address:
602 W. Congress St., Tucson, AZ
Directions:
I-10 exit 258. West on Congress St. one block. On the western bank of the Santa Cruz riverbed, at the corner of Congress St. and Bonita Ave in a gated park.
Phone:
520-791-4873
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Pancho Villa, U.S. InvaderPancho Villa, U.S. Invader, Tucson, AZ - < 1 mi.
Wishing Shrine of El TiraditoWishing Shrine of El Tiradito, Tucson, AZ - < 1 mi.
25-Ton Tiki Head25-Ton Tiki Head, Tucson, AZ - 1 mi.
In the region:
Avatar 9/11 Memorial, Tucson, AZ - 5 mi.

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November 25, 2017

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