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.
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.
The whole body surface was covered in gouged striations caused by amateur cleaning methods. (never use metal scouring pads!)
The usual breaks could be satisfactorily repaired given that it was to be used for display only, however this corpus was intended for "Veneration of the Cross".
It would be subjected to much physical interaction; which meant that it would not be fit for this purpose, and would have to be discarded.
(As a modeller of religious subjects myself) I appreciated the skill and the hours this Victorian artist had put into in producing such a beautiful representation of Our Lord.
I also considered (As a practising Catholic myself) the familiarity of parishioners with this figure.
I could only approximate that given its age, (suggested by the patina used and the quality of modelling) that one way forward in this case, was to replicate by re-casting the corpus. Fr. P agreed and gave his permission.
This took several days to do, and would be beyond budget for this restoration. So one could say that it was done as a " Labour of love!"
(N.B. Copyright for artists can last for the life of an artist plus 50, or even seventy years; so the undertaking was not considered lightly. See DACS website. )
David Refurbished the wood of the cross by removing the broken beading (parts were missing and had been cut away to accommodate the corpus.)
He then routed the edges to add similar interest (which would not trap dust and incense as did the previous configuration.) The wood was revived and the surfaces replenished.
The newly cast corpus was treated with a "Victorian style" patina; the result being one of age, but well preserved!
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!
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.
Thanks to " Duck Dynasty" Beards have become associated with "manliness" and lets face it, a lot of male Biblical figures and Catholic Saints have sported hair on their chins.
Beards in religious art tend to convey a sense of leadership and old- timey values.
Recently, we have been restoring a bearded shepherd, who'd had some optimistic but sadly un-salvageable amateur repairs applied to his arm: Amputation was in order.
A local church happened to have the exact same shepherd figure, (with similar catastrophic amateur repair works); so they kindly donated what was left of him, enabling us to practice the art of what my Grandma called:
"Waste not, want not."
With the one good arm from the less - fortunate statue, we were able to make the latter one whole again.
(Is this making sense?)
Good, then I'll continue...Back to those beards!
While the facial expression of the shepherd on the right shows that the artist has been thinking " in the moment" (when he sees the baby Jesus is seen for the first time); the shepherd on the left appears to have whipped out some lippy from his shepherd's purse to look his best for the occasion.
Both representations are o.k. but I think the guy on the right with his prophets beard and surprised expression tells us more about the moment of the Nativity.
That's why when restoring a statue, getting the details right does matter.
It gathered momentum after I had made some instructional films for a religious sister, these helped to extend virtually the one to one time I had with her. She encouraged me to continue with them.
Now I just film when I think there is something I am working on which may be of interest to others. I hope our short videos help familiarise with the idea of working with ones hands and rather than keep methods “secret"; (as the early "Masters" often did - they might encourage a future religious artist or two, to create something both pleasing and beautiful.
The importance of Seeing and Believing
Early artists had to invent ways of making paints; (and the difficulty of this didn't put them off) their knowledge of pigments was held somewhat in secret, and passed from Master to Apprentice.
They used all manner of materials and binders to make their paints; crushed petals, and powdered dirt for pigments, stabilised with binders from spittle to animal collagens.
No doubt they were spurred on by the desire to create something of beauty and have others to enjoy it.
This reminds me of the bible passage John 9:6
"Having said this he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle put this over the eyes of the blind man and said to him " go wash in the Pool of Siloam."
Jesus used what was just dirt and spittle, (the ingredients of artist pigment), to cure the man who had been blind form birth - he could see for the very first time.
To foster religious art within the church, I believe its important to de-mystify it somewhat, so that people find it accessible again. In this way, both clergy and laypeople (hopefully) can see how it fits in to our beliefs; that's the "raison de etre" of our short films.
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!
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.
A recent Sacred Heart restoration by Jeanette and David Lewis.
This statue was rescued from an antique shop by two ladies, (may God bless them!) it had been destined for a pub,
Above left I am taking some photos to record decorative features. Gold banding at the neck area was obscuring the alb - so I decided to reduce this.
The original decals had been placed rather rigidly; so on re- painting I re-positioned them slightly.
I also added a silvery- blue element into the damask motif, to give a little lift and add richness to the mantle.
Fr. "L" asked that I make the colour of the mantle " slightly redder" than the original. It took a little while to find the correct colour combination to get just the right shade of red.
The statue was delivered in plenty of time for the upcoming feast of the Sacred Heart on the 12th of June.
I'd always contributed artwork to my Parish of Holy Rosary; I'd used it to help the children understand their faith whenever needed. Along side this, I had restored small pieces of devotional statuary for those who sought me out.
New Arrivals - two sacred heart statues to be restored in time for the feast of the Sacred Heart in June...
Before beginning restoration, one of the first things I do take some photographs. I can then refer to these for reference should I need to replicate specific details.
Restoration of a 20 inch Nativity crib figure that was very near to becoming scrap.
This handsome figure is from a set of eleven; sadly they had been so very poorly repaired in the past, that three of them were not salvageable.
To make a good new repair, old repairs have first to be removed.
Photos above show leg has fragments have been misaligned and fixed with glue.
The head shows a thick wad of hard glue which has built up due to being repeatedly repaired.
Clearly the repair has been inadequate, and the head has fallen off several times.
The loose head has been damaged repeatedly as a result.
The photos below show that the plaster has perished revealing old air bubbles in the original casting. The poor surface is typical of damp storage conditions.
The eye socket had been poorly repaired resulting in a loss of definition to the eyes; (see below left) and the chin - (another poor old repair), decided to " jump ship", and fall off.
Below right shows the face as it is re-built using plaster.
Once the figure was re-assembled and the missing areas re-built, and repairs complete; the shepherd figure was prepared for painting. Because the figure of Saint Joseph was to have a green cloak, the shepherd was given a shift of warm terracotta and a creamy coloured sheepskin mantle. (Below)
While professional restoration of Nativity figures gives the best results; a lot of damage can be avoided by careful handling and storage. Its best to inspect Nativity figures after display to check their condition, and if needed, have them repaired. They do get a lot of wear and tear - especially if used in schools, but regular maintenance is better than finding they are no longer displayable. Christmas is a time of wonder for children; and the school nativity set is part of the legacy of faith which we pass on to them.
Colour schemes for statue restoration
I was in the middle of restoring this Wise man from a Nativity set (that had almost come to the end of its life,) when Mr. D, a friend of mine came to visit.
Of course the subject of colour arose, something which we like to discuss in relation to church interiors and related furnishings, including vestments.
A carved wooden statue which had been treated to look like plaster is restored...
Above left is the Sacred Heart statue as it arrived at my studio. Above right, is our completed restoration of the same.
Fr. H and I sat down to coffee and discussed if there were any particular changes which might improve the look of the statue. We both agreed that its expression was a bit severe. That pointed beard was reminiscent of some of the more intense faces I had seen depicted on Mandyllions of the Eastern Church.
Current photos of a carved wood Sacred Heart statue we are restoring for a London church; we found a surprise or two...
This statue of the Sacred Heart had long been a familiar presence at Mr. K's home. When an unruly breeze and a billowing curtain knocked it from the sill, the base and neck were snapped. Rather than discard this much loved piece, an attempt was made by a friend, to repair the head (1) but the glue had never set quite right.. and the base had been made stable with some (2) window putty - well, it is a type of modelling clay of sorts!
Mr. K. decided it was time to have the statue professionally restored; To do this successfully, first the head and the putty base had to be removed, and the areas of break cleaned up before the repairs could be done. (3)
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.
My other blogs:
Catholic statue repair by Lewis and Lewis: If sharing our information with others, please always include the following text: " (c) Lewis and Lewis 2008 - www.jlewisstatues.co.uk "
No permissions given for commercial useage: all images and information remain property of Jeanette Lewis.
See Website Terms & Conditions.