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Retired dentist’s tiny sculptures depict key moments in biblical history

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This time of year, a lot of people meditate on key moments in biblical history. But when you’re a retired dentist with time, talent and the right tools, those Scripture meditations may take the form of tiny sculpted treasures made of recycled gold and silver.

Long before he retired from his Falls Church dental practice in 2006, Dr. Dick Spagna began his hobby of creating miniature biblical sculptures, using the techniques for making gold crowns and fillings he learned in dental school.

“I try to pick pivotal moments when God interacts with people and changes history,” he said.

The latest in his series is a miniaturized sculpture of the Annunciation, the scene described in Luke 1:26-38, in which the angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit to be called Jesus. Mary replies “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

The title of the sculpture, Just One Yes, was inspired by the diocese’s “Just One Yes” social media campaign, said Dr. Spagna, a parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.

The 1 1/2-inch-tall figure of Mary is made of hollow gold alloy. Mary is kneeling on a floor of blue lapis lazuli tiles, made of small square jewelry beads embedded in a wooden base. The silver outline of the angel looms over her at about 4 1/4 inches high.

“A lot of the gold I’ve used at one point in time was in someone’s mouth,” said Dr. Spagna. Whenever he had to remove an old gold crown or filling or bridge from a patient’s mouth, he said, he would ask if they wanted to keep it, but “the vast majority of people didn’t want it, so I would throw them into a box that I saved, ultimately for making something.”

The silver he uses in his sculptures is likewise repurposed, mostly from old silverware given to him by friends. Gabriel is a recycled salad fork. Because of the angel’s relatively large size, it had to be made in three pieces and soldered together, he said.

Past sculptures in his series — he’s created six over the past 30 years — include a Nativity scene with gold figures and a silver star, and a resurrection scene with Christ emerging from  the tomb. Three sculptures are based on Old Testament scenes: Eve reaching up for the apple, with a serpent below her foot; Moses parting the Red Sea, and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.

Each sculpture begins with a shape created out of wax, made using a dental centrifuge and lost wax casting technique used to make gold crowns. The centrifuge in his basement art studio is from his father’s old dental practice in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dr. Spagna said he’s never had a public art show of his sculptures, but displays them in a glass case at home, where they are admired by friends and family, including his dentist son Christopher, who now runs the practice in Falls Church.  “I end up making things I hope will ultimately be passed down to our grandchildren,” he said.

“Staying active and being involved in something meaningful is the key to a happy retirement,” added Dr. Spagna, who is on the board of directors of the Northern Virginia Dental Society, which provides dental care for low-income patients. He said he and his wife, Marianne, a retired dental hygienist, have volunteered there for 25 years. 

Dr. Spagna hopes to continue the tiny sculpture series, but  “as of now, I don't know what my next sculpture may be. I'm waiting for God to let me know,” he said.

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020