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Hatteberg's People - Francis Hilger

By: Larry Hattebrg Email
By: Larry Hattebrg Email

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July 25, 2010

On Hatteberg's People, one man can do just so much in a lifetime. But what a lifetime of creating Wichitian Francis Hilger has had. With an eighth grade education he spent 45 years of his life creating art to serve the religion he loves so much. His mind is a cathedral of creativity. His art a tribute to a God he loves.

"My goal is heaven. That's what my goal is," Hilger said

Each day Francis Hilger makes the short trek from his home to St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Wichita for Mass.
He's comfortable here....in a monument to God made by craftsmen and artists.

"A church embodies all the arts," Hilger said.

And here is St. Mary's on a smaller scale but with the same breathtaking effect. Cathedrals of the world, built from scratch. It only took him nearly 50 years to do it. Eight years on this one alone.

"It's a drudgery and anxiety, but it's a joy," Hilger said.

He builds the cathedrals, to honor the original designers, and to give something back to his faith.
"At my age now, it's everything that I've got," Hilger said
They are made out of plaster of paris, Elmer's glue and infinite patience. They take on the average five years to complete and the detail is remarkable. This is the Reims Cathedral in Paris. As this picture shows, he finished it in 1974.
"I've had people from halfway around the world at my place, looking at these churches. It's amazing," Hilger said.
Using drawings to plan each step - there are thousands of separate pieces to each church.
"It's still a mystery to me how I got all this done," Hilger said
This is the church of the Holy Family in Barcelona, Spain.
"Anyone of them is a lot of work. It takes a little gumption to start a new one....whew!" Hilger said.
Francis's father was a photographer and took this picture of he and his brother...even then he was making something with his hands. Today his hands made this.
The Cathedral of Zacatecas in Zacatecas, Mexico.
"Intellectually, I think I did pretty good to get all that finished in a lifetime," Hilger said.
His first project was in the '60's, when his daughter asked him to build her a dollhouse. You know her as television personality Dana Fleming.
"So we walked down to the local grocery store to get a cardboard box, took it home and three and half years later he built this, and I was never allowed to touch it," Hilger said. "It means a lot to me, but yet I'm ready to give it all up. I'm through with them."
With memories to savor, Cathedrals weren't the only things he built.....he did this, Cinderella's Castle from Disney's Magic Kingdom....
"They keep driving you on till the end and the goal is the end," Hilger said
He estimates his creations took 500 pounds of plaster and a conservative estimate of 25,000 hours to create.
"All the acclaim I got out of it. It was all worth it," Hilger said.


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