Local woodcarver created the wooden copy of future saint

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera

Foto: Besides in front of City Hall Father Junipero Serra hangs out in the atrium at City Hall

When Pope Francis’ announced that Father Junipero Serra, would be canonized it was welcomed by some and condemned by local Chumash leaders. Serra personally founded nine of the 21 missions that exist along the California coast, the first, Mission Basilica San Diego in 1769 and the last, Mission San Buenaventura, in 1782, by decree of the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish government.

Local Chumash Ceremonial Elder Mati Waiya of the Wishtoyo Foundation stated that the Chumash people were made to work on building the missions, and if they refused, they were beaten. And the Spaniards brought with them diseases that nearly wiped out the native peoples.

You have all seen his bronze statue across from City Hall but perhaps not the wood carving that the statue was formed from.

The 9”-4” wooden statue was carved by volunteers from the Channel Islands Carvers under the direction of W.L. Rubottom, a master woodcarver before he was a cabinet manufacturer.  Throughout 1950s and 1960s he put his carving on hold to focus on growing the fine cabinet business (Still active in Ventura the W.L. Rubottom Co. in West Ventura is run by his sons and son-in-law.), but in the 1970s he picked it up again.

Around this time one of Ventura’s most important landmarks, the concrete statue of Father Junipero Serra in front of City Hall, was disintegrating.  The statue had been commissioned in 1935 during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

The sculptor, John Palo Kangas, was commissioned by the WPA and Ventura County to create a statue of the Franciscan missionary, Father Junipero Serra.  The Finnish-born sculptor used concrete  to create the statue.  However, over the decades the combination of the materials used for the statue, the salty ocean, and some minor vandalism inevitable decline and disintegration.

In the 1980s the city of Ventura, led by Councilman Russell Burns, set on a course to recreate the statue.  Because of the frailty of the original, there was no way to remove it or create a cast of it and so, in the creativity characteristic of their generation, it was decided that an exact wooden copy would be carved and then used to create a bronze casting.  Keep in mind, the status is over 9′ tall!  As you might guess, Wilbur Rubottom was tasked with leading the team of volunteer woodcarvers to complete the project.

Carving on the Father Serra statue began in February of 1987 and was completed on July 21, 1988.  Wilbur recorded almost 10,000 hours of work by all carvers involved.

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