Joseph F. Vogelsang, 66, artist of religious themes


Joseph F. Vogelsang, a Catonsville painter and sculptor known for his religious artwork, died of bone cancer at his home Saturday. He was 66.

Mr. Vogelsang, who was born in Baltimore and raised in Little Italy and Irvington, became interested in art as a child.

"When Joe was a student at St. Joseph Monastery Parish School, he began drawing things that interested him, and the priests and nuns noticed his work," said a brother, Ronald P. Vogelsang of Randallstown. "Then they got him working restoring faded statues."

While attending Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington, from which he graduated in 1958, Mr. Vogelsang studied with Baltimore artists William Thomas Rowe and Earl Hoffman.

One of his works, a portrait of an Xavierian brother and a student looking out a window at the landmark Mount St. Joseph school tower, is on display in the school's library.

Another work, a 3-by-5-foot painting of the Last Supper, completed while he was in high school, has been since 1958 in the dining room of the St. Joseph Passionist Roman Catholic Church rectory on Morley Street in Southwest Baltimore.

After serving in the Maryland National Guard, Mr. Vogelsang boarded an eastbound ore carrier in 1962 that took him to Italy, where he lived and studied painting for several years in Rome and Florence.

He returned to Baltimore, opened a studio on Hollins Street near Hollins Market, and after earning enough money, returned to Florence for several more years. He spent most of the 1960s studying and painting in Italy, Scotland and England before coming back to Baltimore during the 1980s.

"He was an incredible artist," said John P. Hein, a high school classmate and friend of nearly 50 years. "I remember when he took a couple of marble steps from a demolished rowhouse and chiseled them into statues. He'd work in oils, watercolors or charcoal and was always trying a lot of different things."

Mr. Vogelsang converted an old barber shop near St. Agnes Lane into a studio and worked there for many years and more recently at another at his Forest Park Avenue home.

"Joe was very spiritual man who was close to the church," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, former pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Southwest Baltimore and now at St. Bartholomew in Manchester. "He was also a gifted artist who had no ego and whose work is found in churches all over Southwest Baltimore. He even made bases for our statues at St. Peter the Apostle. He could do anything.

"And with his sculptures, he could take a pedestrian site and make it magnificent. He had an incredible eye and his paintings always had a certain haunting quality about them.".

Two recognizable sculptures would be the large bronze St. Joseph the Worker, completed in 1998, which stands on the grounds of Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville.

The other, also of cast bronze, is of St. John Baptist de la Salle, the patron saint of teachers and founder of the Christian Brothers. It was completed and installed outside Russo Stadium at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson in 2000.

"When there was no money, he'd then go and paint or remodel houses with a brother," Father Roach said.

In 1994, Mr. Vogelsang began a yearlong project regilding the dome of St. Bernardine Roman Catholic Church on Edmondson Avenue.

"He designed special scaffolding, had it welded together, and then lowered in place by a crane," said his companion of 12 years, Lenore Williford, a registered nurse. "The work, which was all done by hand, took months and months."

In later years, Mr. Vogelsang's work became more impressionistic in the plein-air style, where light is painted through the use of color.

Mr. Vogelsang volunteered with the Little Sisters of the Poor and also worked with AIDS patients.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, 5422 Old Frederick Road, Catonsville.

Surviving are two sons, Ben Vogelsang and Josh Vogelsang, both of Catonsville; two daughters, Gabrielle Murphy of York, England, and Kate O'Neal of Atlanta; another brother, Eugene W. Vogelsang of Littlestown, Pa.; a sister, Evelyn Frank of Randallstown; and five grandchildren. His two marriages ended in divorce.

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