Heritage Treasures (Number 87)

By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer

In 1966, the Hobart Polish community marked the millennium of Christianity in Poland by commissioning a new baptismal font replete with wood carvings by the talented Launceston artist Alex Szolomiak (+1986).

Alex had come to Tasmania in 1948 with a two-year contract to work for the Hydro-Electric Commission at Waddamana in the Central Highlands, a site which at that time was seeing an influx of migrant workers, particularly from Poland.

Subsequently, he went on to teach art and sculpture at Brooks High School in Launceston for over 32 years.

The baptismal font’s carved elements afford an appreciation of the quality of Szolomiak’s work.

The overall form of the font is characteristic of a short-lived trend in church furnishings during the 1960s, the four flat sides being in the shape of inverted truncated triangles, as was happening in the design of altars, lecterns and so on at that time.

To these sides Alex applied bas-relief carvings of four Polish saints, namely St Adalbert (956–997), St Stanislaus (1010–1079), St Casimir (1458–1484) and St Stanislaus Kostka (1550–1568).

St Casimir, here depicted, is dressed as a soldier who at the age of thirteen was sent with a large army in a failed attempt by his father, the king of Poland, to put the boy on the throne of Hungary.

The surface of the font’s hinged square top is carved in bas-relief with St Adalbert, bishop, along with the Polish crest and several male figures in medieval dress.

Adalbert, the first Polish martyr and missionary, was killed during the conversion of the heathen Prussians of Pomerania to the Christian faith, and is one of the patron saints of Poland.

Around the periphery of the lid is incised the reason for the font’s creation, ‘SACRUM POLONIAE MILLENNIUM HOBART – 1966’ (Poland’s sacred millennium 1966), with ‘ALEX SZOLOMIAK’ incised in the lower right-hand corner.

Tags: Heritage Conservation