Ernest-bloch-with-crucifix

Ernest Bloch is pictured in the late 1950s in his home at Agate Beach, next to the wooden sculpture of Jesus on the cross.

A wooden sculpture of Jesus on the cross is on its way to Newport, where one day it likely will become part of an exhibit honoring the late composer Ernest Bloch.

It’s been years since Bloch lived in Agate Beach, but Frank Geltner, a member of the Ernest Bloch Legacy Project, said the sculpture is being sent by the Juilliard School of Music to the Lincoln County Historical Society, where it will be placed in storage before eventually becoming part of an exhibit about the composer.

The Ernest Bloch Legacy Project is now part of the Lincoln County Historical Society, which has established a Legacy Committee to plan the 2030 Sesquicentennial of Bloch’s birth. Several years ago, the project was involved in dedicating Northwest Gilbert Way as Ernest Bloch Place, at what is now the Ernest Bloch Memorial Wayside.

If Bloch’s former home in Agate Beach, where he lived from 1941 until his death in 1959, were to become an historical site, the sculpture would be returned to its former dwelling. The house is currently owned by the Salem Baptist Church and is used as a retreat center.

Meanwhile, the Legacy Project is gearing up for the 150th anniversary of Bloch’s birth, nine years from now. Geltner said the project hopes to work up a display about the composer within the next year or so.

“For some years we have been working on bringing an important part of the Ernest Bloch legacy back to Newport,” Geltner said. “Significant in that respect was the decision by Juilliard to return Bloch’s Renaissance Christ.” The local group paid for shipping, crating and insurance.

Meanwhile, the committee, under the auspices of the historical society, is at work on preserving the legacy of Bloch during his years in residence in Newport, and hopes to include the sculpture in any exhibits about his time at the coast.

Bud Shoemake, president of the Lincoln County Historical Society board and a member of the Legacy Committee, already had plans to visit New York City, and was planning to include a stop at Juilliard to check out the sculpture. He said he was impressed by the school’s care for the piece, and noted Juilliard helped out with shipping.

“We’re pretty excited — we were treated like royalty,” Shoemake said of his visit to Juilliard. “They took the sculpture out of storage so we could take photos.” The sculpture is about 5 feet tall, he noted, with arms that are meant to be removable, making transport of the piece somewhat easier.

Shoemake credited fellow Legacy Committee member Geltner with putting all the pieces together for the transport to Newport. “We have some ideas, and we’d like to create an exhibit that could be loaned out, like a traveling exhibit,” Shoemake said of the historical society’s involvement. “It’s definitely within the mission of the Lincoln County Historical Society to help out with any planning for the sculpture. And right now, having the historical society helping out is very important.”

Bloch was best known as a composer whose work reflects Jewish cultural and liturgical themes, yet always visible on a wall in whatever house Bloch lived in was the almost life-sized wooden carving of Christ on the cross. It dominated the living room of his home in Agate Beach.

Geltner noted that in 1976, Bloch’s daughter Suzanne and a colleague produced “Creative Spirit,” a resource book for those wanting to celebrate the centennial of Bloch’s 1880 birth. In that book, she included a story about her father and his purchase of the Renaissance Christ, with emphasis that it was not a religious symbol to him, but was “a profound expression of all times, all races, all beliefs.”

As Suzanne Bloch wrote, Bloch encountered Robert Godet, a Swiss journalist and translator who had praised his compositions, and their ensuing friendship gave him encouragement to express his Jewish heritage in his music. In 1906, Godet persuaded Bloch to buy the statue, although Bloch said he did not understand why Godet insisted he own the crucifix.

Godet later told Bloch he had been translating Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s “The Genesis of the XIXth Century,” which preached the superiority of the Aryan race and was later read by Hitler. Bloch questioned whether Godet had been observing him in the context of Chamberlain’s theories, and ended their relationship, calling it the “great tragedy” of his life. To Bloch it symbolized a betrayal, just as Jesus was betrayed, and he kept the statue on display as a reminder.

Shoemake noted the historical society has received a grant to produce a video about Bloch. “The historical society wants to hold events in our theater at the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center around the periods that are important in Bloch’s history, so we will have smaller exhibits as well,” Shoemake said. “Bloch was an incredible person.”

Also involved in the legacy project will be the International Ernest Bloch Society, based in London, England. An international event to commemorate Bloch is anticipated for 2030.

Geltner said the committee welcomes any donations to the legacy project, which can be made payable to the Lincoln County Historical Society.

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