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!
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."
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.)
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.
Last week, Mr. Denis Madden, (a talented photographer) sent me an email with this lovely photo he had taken. It is of his 17 inch Sacred Heart of Jesus statue which I restored for him last year.
Denis told me why his statue is special to him;
"I purchased the statue 55 years ago, on my 16th birthday, at the Catholic Repository shop on Moor Lane in Bolton.
A big thank you to Denis for taking the time to send such a lovely photo of the restored statue. We love it!
Having seen the Marian shrine of my childhood church in Liverpool relegated to a meeting room, (during re-ordering in the 70's) I am grateful to Fr. S for having considered me for this work, and to have been part of re-instating devotion to her. It helped to heal that former sense of loss, to know that devotion to Mary would be shared again.
With all the parts for our statue of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament now cast, we will wait for them to dry out, and then smooth out any fins.
"Fins" are the seamline areas of the mould, which appear on all cast works.
Once this has been completed the parts of the statue can be assembled and painted.
There were some unavoidable delays in the progress of this figure, but we are now back on track and hope to have it ready for May.
I am looking forward to seeing it painted up and installed for the place it was intended.
I hope to post again soon with images of the completed statue.
Above: Original decorative alb of the Christ child is revealed as old paint layers are removed; here the glass eyes are cleaned of overlapped paint and debris.
When restoring church statuary, I occasionally find at the base, the name of the studio which produced it.
I like finding those; because so many have been erased over the years and their origins lost to the mists of time.
People will often tell me how old their statues are, and which of their ancestors owned them, which churches they belong to and their country of origin.
One Studio which I encounter fairly often, is that of "Maison Raffl" also known as " La statue Religeuse" or "Raffle et Cie." (depending who the owner was at the time of production.)
The studio had many owners, and operated in between 1857 and 1920, and possibly up to 1946 (though I need to confirm the latter.)
Originally French, they later acquired a second studio in Ireland. They dominated religious statuary for Churches during the nineteenth century, and enjoyed a heyday in commercial religious art production, usually produced in plaster, which allowed a much lower cost than those of the traditional statuary carved in stone or wood. For this reason they were favoured by parish priests; particularly the order of Saint Sulpice who recognised this as a positive way to assist the faithful in encouraging their prayer lives in the home, and it seems that for this reason, the art which came from "Maison Raffl" is sometimes known as being modelled in the " Sulpicienne style." Its a term used to describe figures which are appealing, easily comprehended and finely modelled.
Sales were mainly through their catalogues, illustrated with engravings and early photographs; and although they specialized in the religious sector, their products included furniture, consoles, pedestals, and other items.
The House of Raffl manufactured in tens of thousands (over 62,000 for the period from 1871 to end 1877), installed in churches throughout France and also exporting worldwide.
A Madonna statue from Studio Raffl, (if memory serves it was dated 1918.) The statue was returned to its original decorative scheme, the colours chosen were those preferred by the owner.
Alas, its difficult at present to find good resources for this particular apparition,(as the story has been somewhat hi-jacked by the Pious X society to further their opinions.) None the less, the sufferings of Sister Mariana were in expiation for the Church and peoples of the 20th century.
The reasons for the statue were given thus:
“First so that men in the future might realize how powerful I am in placating Divine Justice and obtaining mercy and pardon for every sinner who comes to me with a contrite heart. For I am the Mother of Mercy and in me there is only goodness and love.
Our Lady's stated to Mariana, that she would be prioress of the convent until the end of time.!
This story is about two people being in the right place at the right time; what St. John Paul the Great would call a "God- incidence" rather than a "co- incidence".
Commissioning a statue of Our Blessed Mother isn't just a matter of commerce or duty; according to St. Louis de Montforte they are vehicles which encourage us to holiness.
In his famous treatise, St. Louis lists twelve interior practices which indicate "True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin" (Article 115)
Here are three which concern religious statues:
9) Taking charge of her confraternities, decorating her altars, crowning and adorning her statues.
(I will post further progress on this sculpture as time allows.)
In art, the infant Jesus is often portrayed with an "older" face, to indicate that He is "The Word".
This is to indicate to you and I, that Jesus is the wisdom of God the Father - made flesh.
Sometimes this results in a kind of uncomfortable compromise, and I am often asked why it is that the baby "looks like a little old man."
When the latest crib set was brought for restoration, my client complained..." He looks more like one of the three kings!"
So I thought about how I feel about my own bambinos, and made this one as sweet and loveable as I could!
I hope now when he is processed to the crib, he will be handled more tenderly because he looks a bit more, well - cuddly!
Yep, there was definitely fourteen and not fifteen figures when last I counted.
Well I suppose there may have been a sheep dog at the Nativity...(The waggy tail gave it away...)
Occasionally, someone will bring me a statue known as " the Sacred Heart" because of their love for Jesus, or perhaps it has been handed down to them by a relative.
They don't always know the reason for the heart , so the following quotes, taken from the Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque; provide some explanation of why Catholicism sometimes depicts Jesus with a fiery and pierced heart:
Saint Margaret Mary here describes the vision upon which the imagery of the Sacred Heart is based:
We've been restoring a pair of statues for a Lourdes Grotto - Spot the difference? (the daisies I mean.)
If St. Bernadette were my little girl, I would have embroidered the yoke of her blouse for sure!
I am told that the children from the local school stop to say a prayer at this Grotto each morning. I think they would appreciate the daisies....
On this Statue we found a little label which said " A. STROBE "Artistic Decorator". Inscribed on the base in a fancy scrawl was the date (1930).
I had first thought, that "A. Strobe" was the sculptor, or at least the name of the studio; but the term " Artistic Decorator" suggests the possibility, that this label referred to the person who had poly chromed the statue.
This is our next project - the restoration of a 1930's plaster Pieta. Images below show the repair made to the index finger of Jesus' left hand.
Lewis and Lewis
is a Catholic family run business: specialising in statue restoration, and church interior projects.
Jeanette is a professional sculptor/fine artist and designer; husband David is a traditional upholsterer/technician.
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