Limestone cardinal commemorates Agnese’s 25th anniversary

By Rudy Arispe, ’98 BA

Most people know that while admiring a work of art at a museum or art show, there’s a general rule to abide: Please don’t touch.

Jackson Kennett ’91 BA, however, wants you to break that rule while viewing his 100-pound limestone cardinal on display at the entrance of the J.E. & L.E. Mabee Library.

“I encourage people to touch it,” Kennett said, “because it gives it a nice patina and protective coating from the oils on your fingers.”

Kennett was commissioned by Dick McCracken, alumni dean emeritus, to carve the work in commemoration of the 25th presidential anniversary of Dr. Louis Agnese Jr.

“I suggested a cardinal since that’s our mascot,” McCracken said. “When he said ‘What about limestone?’ I thought it would be appropriate because we sit on limestone. There’s plenty of live cardinals around here and plenty of mascots running around in feathers, so this is the first limestone cardinal.”

Kennett said he preferred to sculpt a limestone cardinal instead of painting a portrait of one because stone lasts for centuries and is a symbol of endurance, strength and power. While admiring the sculpture with its strong form and detailed feathers, it’s hard to believe it once was a 300-pound block he purchased from a local stone supplier. It required three people to lift it onto the back of his truck.

The project was more than just a prestigious commission for the artist who spends his days as a North East Independent School District teacher. It was a journey.

“As I was sculpting the stone, I was thinking about my time here and getting my education,” he said. “I’m a teacher, and I reflected back when my teachers (at Incarnate Word) would work with me one-on-one.”

The artist began working on the sculpture June 11 in his backyard and completed it in mid-September. “I used a hammer and chisel just like the Old Masters,” he said. “It’s arduous work, but very rewarding.”

Kennett began stone sculpting 12 years ago and said he has honed his skills by traveling to Italy and England to study the works of the Old Masters. “Stone is much less forgiving,” he said, “and makes you more attentive to detail.”

He credits his parents, as well as his wife, Marcy Lynch, and his high school art teacher and Incarnate Word alumna Carole Callsen ’72 BA for inspiring him to become an artist.

After visiting the library to view the sculpture resting in its new home on a 4-foot-tall black stand, Kennett reflected on the feeling of having his work on display for the public to admire in such important surroundings.

“It’s exhilarating,” he said after pondering a moment. “It validates what I’ve worked so hard to achieve all these years. It’s my hope everyone will appreciate what I’ve contributed to Incarnate Word and what it symbolizes, which is honor, integrity and responsibility.”