After a long summer of freedom, "Back to School" signs smothered shop windows, sending a small shiver down my spine. September daylight glanced crisply across the horizon. New school mackintoshes, dangled sleeves with room to "grow", and colder days were on their way,
The busyness of the school year led us seamlessly into the season of Advent, marked by Carols sung at morning assemblies.
My convent school, ( since demolished - oh does admitting that make one feel old!) was a modern building. The chapel, sandwiched between school and convent, was quite devoid of ornament. A lone painted crucifix suspended over the altar, marked the separation of school and convent life.
The sisters were good women, who took good care of us girls. They instructed us dutifully in the receipt of holy communion in the hand. They strummed Guitars as a pupil or two fought for the chance to rattle a tambourine during services.
Innocently, I reasoned that the poor sisters could not afford a church organ. The high unemployment and power cuts of the 70's were all part of a society that couldn't afford "better stuff".
My working class family were used to "putting up" with temporary cheaper alternatives until Dad found work; we all hoped for better days when all would return to normal.
Now when my own children started school, I realised that the modern art I had once thought was cheap rubbish, was actually expensive rubbish. The guitars and tambourines had been an "alternative choice" rather than a prudent one, Thusly, a mini reformation took place in my lifetime.
Even though the church has changed a lot since I was at school, the Christmas Nativity scene is a staple of the Church's year. People on the edges of the faith, will draw near to the church at Christmas time.
If the building block of society is the family, we need to draw it closer to the Holy family of the crib. its a reason to keep the statues looking as good as the virtues they teach.
Link: Why good Catholic art is a gift for our children.
With a short deadline to meet, I worked quickly with the team, exchanging ideas and layouts for the figures, legends and symbols they elicited.My sketches had all been completed and approved, and I was on the starting blocks, (so to speak) with paintbrush in hand, motivated and eager to make a start.
However, when there was a sudden change of plan… I was informed that the icons were now to resemble something closer to photographic portraits.
I felt for the team, as a setback like this can dent motivation when work is going well. They understood that the sketches had to be re- adjusted to suit, and the deadline would have to be set further forward than desired. The new September term was looming...
I recalled that it was Abraham Lincoln who warned on the dangers of "changing horses’ midstream..." And although sudden change can be unsettling, I have come to accept that it is usually part of God’s plan.
I’d been troubled by the unusual depiction of St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) in particular, but one morning before mass, things became clear; I imagined her holding up the brown scapular. This is something the school children may never have encountered had she been portrayed in her Carmelite habit.
After this I found myself able to jump the hurdles set before me like a Grand National equine; obstacles were overcome and the icons completed with a few days to spare!
I hope the children will learn not only about the life of St. Teresa Benedicta, as a victim of the holocaust, but also of that important event in their English Catholic heritage; when the Blessed Virgin favoured St. Simon Stock with the brown scapular of Carmel.
"St. Simon was an Englishman, a man of great holiness and devotion, who always in his prayers asked the Virgin to favour his Order with some singular privilege. The Virgin appeared to him holding the Scapular in her hand. In its original context, the meaning of this promise was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved. Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the brown scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article.
The blog result is a white background with white text; which means that the blog content is present, but could not be seen!
I have almost completed the task of changing all the blog text to BLACK again...and legibility. So I beg your patience if you find a post has " disappeared". and in the meantime I will continue to post more new stuff!
Restored in time for her feast. 15th August...more images of this beautiful statue can be found on our facebook page.
The head teacher of St.Patrick's catholic school asked if we could restore the crumbling statue which had once stood outside the building.
It wasn't until all the old paint had been removed that we could determine what it was made of. What remained of the statue was very heavy, and for the most part, it appeared to be a finely cast cementitious substrate.
(Too many Guinness, and the words "finely cast cementitious substrate" can be quite a tongue twister - not that I have tried it of course!)
The statue had been repaired so many times, that he was no longer able to withstand the rigours of the outdoors.
I remembered the days of school masses at my Parish, when we would sing on the feast of St. Patrick,
"Hail glorious saint Patrick dear saint of our isle, On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile...on Erin's green valleys look down in thy love!"
Even though Liverpool is many miles away from Erin, it didn't seem to matter. The Irish priests who had served the people of Liverpool for centuries, and those of Irish descent sang with such gusto, as to shake the rafters.
It made me feel like St. Patrick was very "Glorious" saint-wise indeed.
With those happy memories in mind, I hoped to pass on some of that enthusiasm to the children of St. Patrick's in Thornaby.
David re-assembled the statue, and repaired it, then he carved the new crosier head, (whilst I created a replica head for one of the snakes.)
Finally, I got to paint him, shamrocks and all - well if you are going to teach the children about the trinity, these details are significant - (even though we decided against putting one in the centre of the crosier.)
It was exciting to see the face which had been hidden for so many years; St. Patrick is looking is "glorious" once again.
Archbishop Bernard Longley had now blessed the outdoor statue of Our Lady of Fatima which we restored for the children of Our Lady & St. Werburgh's school this April, as featured in the local news " The Sentinel".
(You may wish to read our previous post on this statue.)
As promised, photos of the finished Gothic statues, which had been awaiting restoration in our previous post, "Lenten Challenge".
The surfaces were restored to their original colours and decoration, which had been altered by a previous restorer; likewise the face and flesh areas were repainted to present a natural look...(rather than heavily applied make - up!)
Our next project consists of two lovely antique statues from Mayers of Munich.
The decorative surfaces have some damage, and they need cleaning up.
Needless to say, the face of the virgin has suffered a poor make over at some point.
One of the more difficult aspects of restoring statues like these is addressing the areas of gold which have been "touched up" over the years with mismatched foils and paints.
We observed that the gemstones have been painted with something resembling plasticote, and (horror of horrors), it appears an indelible marker used to fill in part of the design. The original detail in the top right hand corner has been poorly observed ( see below.)
We will post the results . so come back soon!
This statue of Our Lady of Fatima belongs to a school who want to foster in their pupils a respect for Our Lady and the Rosary. The brief was to make the statue look as lovely as possible for the children ~I've completed the painting, except for the gold details.
I have scaled up the gold embroidered details this morning, though it will be a few days before I can hand paint them.
I will post my usual "before and after" restoration pictures to my face book page, and here on the blog. so do call back to see how she turned out!
Pope St. John Paul II understood that if artists are not supported and encouraged by the church, they would earn their keep by secular pursuits, filling the world's demands for Godless imagery. He exhorted artists to create works which would inspire the faithful, and to pursue excellence in their task.
Yet many artists flood the internet, wondering why the church is not responding, to their eagerness to glorify God. They conclude that "false economy" has overtaken the virtue of thrift, where the drive is to think short term.
Recognising God as Artist...
Fr. Ian Petit OSB in his book "How can I pray?" describes how, as a child, he first perceived an encounter with God:
"The fields and hills filled me with awe and reverence, excitement and wonder...
He ponders on the artist, and God as divine artist :
"I have often seen some work of art and felt a desire to meet the person who could create such beauty... that within them something of that beauty must reside.....
After the now famous "Ecce Homo" fresco was defaced in an Italian church by an amateur artist some years ago, I hoped such a mistake might not be repeated.
Then I read of the amateur "artist" who had attempted to restore a Madonna statue in Canada. Ms. Wise had offered her services "for free", and as she was not Catholic, the results were fated to be somewhat dysfunctional.
The Parish Priest responsible for allowing the artistic faux-pas, excused it by admitting that he had not been taught at Seminary about "these things". (Thankfully, people will always forgive a good priest some of their more silly mistakes. )
When Ms. Wise met Lisa.
Considering the words of Fr. Petit, one asks what kind of encounter with God should we expect when viewing Catholic Art? When the amateur artist Ms. Wise met "Christ", it seems she thought of Lisa Simpson.
That is the danger of the church no longer leading culture but reflecting it. The world needs Catholic artists, and Catholic Artists need the support of their church.
As St. Theresa of Calcutta said; "together we can do great things for God."
On my flickr feed, I've got a whole album dedicated to the statues of St.Anthony I've restored. One popular model of the saint, depicts him holding a book, with the infant Christ standing on the pages, about to hug him.
The artist has some styling quirks, and after a while one spots these traits and says " Ah, its "Him" again. ( or "Her" if you please...)
The habit of making one foot larger than the other, and hands too large for the head are just two which have been applied to shepherds, kings and saints alike by this artist.
Whereas I used to find this anatomical incorrectness annoying, I now view it rather like recognising an old freind and meeting them again.
As sculptors in large studios seldom get to paint their works (that task is often passed on to others) the difficulties of squeezing a brush filled with paint into the gaps between books, crooks and beads formed by the sculptor is none of his concern.
The painter just has to adapt, contorting his brushes and face to reach the recesses.
One of St. Anthony's religious brothers who was in formation "borrowed" his book of sermons without his permission. St. Anthony prayed for the return of the brother, and the book.
The return of said book (and the brother who purloined it) gave rise to the practice of praying for St. Anthony's help, in the return of Lost objects.
I can't help wondering though, when I see what usually represents the writings of St. Anthony on his statues, ( top left) if the brother returned his book because he couldn't decipher his writing!
I have had a number of suggestions made to me of what one should or could write in St. Anthony's book (when statue - painting):
"Return to us what we do not know we have lost..." or " Make me a channel of your peace..." But my favourite is from the Our Father - "Give us this day our daily bread."
Anthony's preaching of the time emphasised the "Hypostatic union"; that is the uniqueness of Jesus being both fully divine and fully human. He did so to refute the eroneous beleifs of Catharism. The acceptance of Jesus as a whole divine person, (body, blood, soul and divinity), is key if one is to recognise the true and whole presence of Christ in the Catholic Eucharist...He is our "Bread of life."
I think St. Anthony would be happy with the little statue of Jesus standing on his book, painted with the words " Give us this day our daily bread."
Clients often travel some distance to bring their treasured statues for my attention.
Its always a pleasure to sit down to a "cuppa" and discuss their statues with them.
This small sacred heart statue is around sixty or seventy years old; As a "family devotional piece", the owner wanted it restored to its original appearance.
"Ms. M's" statue was made of a soft grade plaster. It was spray-painted and finished with a coating of glossy lacquer. The few hand painted details were sparsely done.
Soft plaster figures combined with lacquered surfaces, are tricky to repair, and this one was just "On the Edge" of being salvageable.
This statue had once belonged to a favourite aunt; it had been thought that the missing colour on the hair, and sparse detail were due to seventy years of wear and tear.
However, this actually was how the statue had looked when it was first purchased
( Less the chipping of course!).
This presented a bit of a dilemma, as the original paintwork was not as attractive as one had hoped.
Rather than restore exactly to the original, it was agreed that a higher standard of finish was preferrable. Keeping in mind the simplicity of the originals, I kept the face details restrained, but more natural - looking.
"Ms. M" also brought her "Immaculate Heart" statue for rejuvenation. As this statue had similar faults to those of the Sacred Heart, I restored it with the same approach.
I am not sure Saint Louis ever attempted the sculpting process himself, but I do know that sculpting figures requires discipline, and hard work – as can praying the rosary sometimes!While the physical efforts of producing a sculpture result in a temporary reward - the work put into praying the rosary with devotion will be "Eternal!"
The following quotes are from” The Secret of Mary" By St. Louis De Monteforte.
"....Mary is the great mould of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a man who is God by the hypostatic union, and to fashion through grace men who are like to God.
It was a cold wet morning in early March when we drove into the city greyness of the car park.
Passing under the archway to find the orderly beauty of the courtyard was an unexpected delight.
The warm greeting we received from Brothers "P" and "I" helped us to shrug off the weather (which had felt all the colder for the early start we'd made from Liverpool that morning.)
We all know that water can wear away rock; and rain finding its way into a statue via these "waterways" has the same effect. It can erode a figure from the inside, making it unstable.
These breaks in the structure can adversely effect weight -bearing areas, creating an undesirable "land slide" effect if the movement is not arrested.
It was evident that the ankles of the corpus were about to slide if not remedied soon.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation...
It was a warm day in August, just right for outdoor projects when David began the first stages of restoring the courtyard crucifix. First on our "to do list" was to make the whole structure stable again.
Following that, David prepared the corpus and wood of the cross ready to receive preservation treatments. (Good preparation is essential to restoration work, in order to achieve desireable results.)
Restoring the canopy pelmet
We found that the canopy above the crucifix, is made from a combination of metals and wood.
Several of the pendants which form the pelmet, had been replaced, and the fleur de lys painted free hand. They were executed in a way that was a little "out of keeping" with the standard of artwork enjoyed at the Oratory.
David dismantled the pelmet piece by piece, along with the INRI plaque, and further restoration was carried out at our studio.
The Body of Christ - polychroming the Corpus
In recent times many of "us" have lamented the sup-plantation of traditional art skills for something "less meaningful" within our churches.
Extending the life of a religious artwork by way of restoration is important, as it helps to preserve the memory of past traditions, and so carry them into the present. They give us a sense of continuity, and are an important aspect of keeping faith alive.
I approach work like this; I see that God is beauty, and the essence of beauty is to be drawn by it, and to it.
Brothers "I" and "P" chose a mid blue for the underside of the canopy, and requested the addition of a "star ceiling" effect.
David and I worked as a team to get those stars in place, and finally our work came to an end with the re-attachment of the gilded pelmet.
For David and I, one of the blessings of our work, is that we are both never too far from the Blessed Sacrament. We meet some of the most dedicated priests, religious and parishioners. (Peter we must thank, for the much appreciated cup of tea!)
Working at the Birmingham Oratory supplied us with an extra spiritual blessing, that of kneeling at the altar rail to receive holy communion.
We hope before too long we can visit once again, and share that experience with our children.
As we left the courtyard for the last time, the sun shone brightly on the water flowing from the central fountain.
A lovely statue of the Divine Infant, ( El Divinio Nino) came to us for restoration recently. Below are some photos of the results.
As promised, the results of our most recent restoration; a Madonna statue which was missing a hand, and the cross for the Christ child's orb.
She now holds Rosary beads rather than a sceptre, as the statue will be installed in a prayer room dedicated to the Rosary.
It is not professional restoration practice to repair in this way, because the results can be discordant, and even comical.
When parts of a statue are missing, I always sculpt a new replacement part to ensure that it is modelled to the correct style and proportions of the statue.
In this way the the figure retains its dignity and original aesthetic.
So, this week I have been preparing a clay model for the replacement - (Photos below) and hope to make the mould and cast it by the weekend.
As we will be making the sceptre too, the statue should be complete within a couple of weeks, when I will post the results of the completed restoration.
Above: Three views of the clay hand, to the right it holds a modelling tool which is the correct diameter for the sceptre.
Since writing this post, we visited the area where the statue was to be displayed, and it was decided that the statue would hold a rosary rather than a sceptre.
So I have since made some adjustments to the model of the hand, and it will soon be ready to cast.
Research showed that hangman's noose at the neck, and a dagger in the chest was the usual motif.With twenty characters to depict, the dagger and rope may have got a bit "samey". Variety was needed to pay tribute to each individual Saint.
Putting Faces to Names
I though it best to follow convention where "portraits" of the Martyrs were concerned, working from historic images of them.
Unable to find any portraits of Blessed Thomas Maxfield, I had to decide on his appearance, and what symbols I could use to identify him;
and so here is what I chose:
The flowers he holds signify more than just the fact that both the Gallows and his path to them were strewn with wild flowers; I chose species which represent the blood of the martyrs and their association with the passion of Christ.
The butterfly is a nod to his having suffered biting insects when imprisoned; though I have used here the symbol of "Eternal Life".
Balancing act with colours
The composition of the mural was to echo the paintings of Giotto and Fra Angelico.
As both had distinct styles, I chose elements from both to achieve the desired marriage between the two!
These artists did not use perspective as a contemporary artist would, and they favoured large discs of halos, and layering of their figures.
"I purchased the statue 55 years ago, on my 16th birthday, at the Catholic Repository shop on Moor Lane in Bolton.
Since then, it has travelled all over the country with me. I was upset when it got damaged but you did a splendid job in repairing it!"
Last year we restored a Marian Retable for a church in Accrington.
The original shrine statue was long gone, and the replacement didn't quite fit.
To accommodate her size, some carved swags had been removed.
Despite her pretty face, stylistically the figure was rather stiffly posed; the overall impression was one of tension,
Our Lady under this title is traditionally portrayed in a shade of Royal blue, with a red gown.
As I painted the wine (precious blood of Christ) within the chalice, it felt right to continue this colour onto Mary's gown; (mindful that Jesus is of Mary's blood line.)
I decorated the hem of Mary's gown with orpherys of gold, similar to the ornament found on ornate tabernacles, for both are places which house Our Lord Jesus.
In making the statue, I felt it was important to have the Christ child assimilating the same gesture as the priest. (Who during the celebration of the Mass, serves in persona Christi, that is, in the very person of Christ, who is truly present.)
The new statue of Our Lady had to fit exactly into the existing aperture, and this was one reason Fr. S had problems finding a replacement. The apse was chamfered on both sides, so measurements had to be exact.
" Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation, developing, in this gradual assumption of Christ's will, in prayer, in "being heart to heart" with him. Therefore this is the indispensable condition for every proclamation, which entails participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church." - Pope Benedict XVI 24 June 2009
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