It’s a labor of love for Tucson man who graces Catholic churches with his tile art

TUCSON, Ariz. (The New Vision) – Peter Donaldson was “a problem child,” a seminarian and a school teacher before he retired and moved to Tucson, where he’s spending his time now adding beautiful touches to churches.
A self-described handyman who built his own house on Long Island and said he knows “all the trades,” Donaldson is focused today on transforming religious pictures into magnificently painted tile scenes, eight of which are mounted on and around the courtyard walls of Santa Cruz Parish at 6th Avenue and 22nd Street in Tucson.
At his own expense, Donaldson seeks and finds requests for the tile illustrations and takes them to a shop in Rocky Point, Mexico. That shop sends the photos provided by Donaldson “further south into Mexico,” where a “phenomenal artist” transforms the image onto tiles that are then assembled into a work of art, he said.

“I don’t know his name or where he is,” Donaldson said of the artist.

What Donaldson does know is where the artist’s works are being displayed, because he personally adds a tile border in complementary colors and mounts the pieces at various churches in Tucson.

During an interview, Donaldson, a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, told the stories behind each of the tiles mounted at Santa Cruz.

In one instance, he said, Father John Williamson wanted a tile rendition of the Sacred Heart.

“He had a blond, blue-eyed Jesus and he said, ‘Peter, can you take the head of this and put like a Middle Eastern one on it?’ And I did,” Donaldson said.

When the illustration was returned, it was found to have a crack in the tile upon which the heart had been painted, so a replacement tile was ordered, Donaldson said. In return, he received an identically painted tile, as well as one painted to show the heart half-covered by Christ’s garment, “so I had three tiles – the cracked one, the re-done one, and the one with the heart half-hidden,” Donaldson noted.

One of the tiles was given by Father Williamson to a young woman whose husband had died of Cancer, Donaldson said.

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