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Felix Lucero, Garden of Gethsemane; now known as Felix Lucero Park

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About the Artist/Site

Felix Lucero was a self-taught Native American artist born in Trinidad, Colorado in 1895. Lucero was drafted into the army and fought in WWI in the trenches of France. As the story goes, he lay wounded and dying on the battle field when 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 Depression Lucero became homeless and in 1938 he found himself in Tuscon, Arizona seeking shelter along the Santa Cruz riverbed under the Congress Street Bridge. During this time he was living in a makeshift shack and molding statues from the surrounding elements. Lucero’s original sculptures were created from plaster mixed with sand from the riverbed, supported by various materials that drifted his way, such as bed frames and old rebar.

After Felix Lucero passed away in 1951, his sculptures were repeatedly vandalized and damaged by floods. A member of Tuscon’s Salvador Foundation took note of the damage and brought the matter up with the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic service organization that had been tending the small park where the sculptures were installed. The Knights of Columbus obtained a $51,000 grant for a restoration project and, with the help of the Salvador Foundation, by 2012 they were able to commission artist Greg Schoon to repair Lucero’s sculptures.

Schoon attempted to recreate Lucero’s sculptures with as much accuracy as possible based on historic photographs, but changed the medium to a cement mortar so that they would better withstand the test of time. Schoon also 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, for example, and the casting of the baby Jesus is based on a local child from the area.

In addition to these, other sculptures include depictions of the Crucifixion, Jesus in his Tomb, Joseph and Mary, and a bust of Felix Lucero; there is also a small shrine where visitors leave tokens of their faith.

The park is currently maintained by the City of Tucson, the State of Arizona, and the Downtown Development Corporation, and is protected from vandalism by a high wall and a gate. The park is located beside the Congress Street Bridge at 602 W. Congress in downtown Tucson and the gates are open daily from 6:00 am – 10:30 pm.

For admirers of Lucero’s work, there is a another Lucero sculpture installation located in nearby Yarnell, Arizona on Highway 89. Lucero received a commission in 1939 from a group of Catholics in Phoenix to create the Stations of the Cross for the Shrine of Saint Joseph in the Weaver Mountains. Lucero’s Stations of the Cross were created in a similar fashion as the Garden of Gethsemane and reside along a beautiful trail of boulders and oak trees.

~Irene Rible





Map and site information

602 West Congress Street
Tucson, Arizona, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 32.22077 / -110.981009

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