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Scrolling Along To Heavenly Work

Older buildings are demanding projects, particularly when the owners are passionate about and devoted to the building and its historical significance. Nowhere else does that get kicked up a notch as when the structure is also home to an active church community.

But Don Wendt, president of Ecclesiastical Studios & Sons, Greenwood, Mo., has made a business out of tackling such projects. That's why the Pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Leavenworth, Ks., asked Wendt's company to renovate the church in time for it's 150th. Jubilee celebration, set for September 2007. The church had not seen new paint in 20 years, and the old pastel colors did not enhance the Gothic architecture. Wendt came up with a new color scheme that would better highlight the church's architectural details, presented an on-site sample, and received the go ahead. "it's a real plus to be able to select the colors and decorating scheme and then execute the actual work," Wendt said. However, the parish could only allot a four-month window to complete the project, the final deadline was just days away from the official kickoff of the Jubilee. There was no wiggle room.

In addition, a new terrazzo floor had already been completed, and it had to be protected while the work was under way. Wendt's crew began preparing for the job by setting up scaffolding. The company owns its own scaffolding, but it was a challenge to rig it so that all surfaces of the church would be accessible, Wendt noted. For the main nave, they built two tower and bridged them together by using putlogs. They then built up the center on the putlogs using saddle pins, creating a stair-step effect that followed the contour of the Gothic ceiling.

These towers were built on castors, allowing The crew to move them from the front to the of the main nave. Side towers also were built to roll between columns. Lastly, stationary towers were built in the choir loft and sanctuary of the church. Building all the scaffolding at once in several areas of the church meant the crew could "prep the entire church at once," Wendt said. "With a three-man crew, including myself, this is a time-saver." The most time-consuming part of the job was the actual prep work. The crew wendt over every square inch of the walls and ceiling; opening cracks, hand scraping and removing loose paint and plaster.

"The ceiling had many hairline fractures that were not visible from the floor," Wendt said. New plaster was hand troweled, then sponged troweled to blend in the edges of the repair work. Wall-to-ceiling cracks next to ribs were filled Sher Max Elastomeric Caulking. All water stains were sealed with Zinsser White Shellac. All other surfaces were cleaned and sanded before priming. The crew blanked out the entire church with an oil-based primer for good color hideout and to create a fresh pallet on which to work. As part of the prep, the company also cleaned the stained glass windows and light fixtures. "This is a service most painting contractors do not offer [and] that we perform on every project," Wendt said.

Scaffolding rigging, prep work, repairs, priming and cleanup consumed seven weeks of the project, leaving just nine weeks for actual painting and decorating and final cleanup. To meet the deadline, the three-man crew worked 45-hour workweeks, plus a few Saturdays . In the end, they racked up more then 2,300 man hours. The crew used their paint of choice, Sherwin-Williams Pro Mar 200, on all walls and ceilings. The church nave ceiling had a very thin arch ribs so a panel was created on each side of the rib using handmade scribes. A deep blue was used on the inner main ceiling panels with eight-point stars on a 3-foot spacing. All flat ceiling arches received an inlay stencil design using gold, burgundy and white.

"This created a dramatic color contrast, bringing out the church's Gothic architecture," Wendt said. The crew gave the massive columns a two-tone effect by using a sponge rolled on the large half rounds and a deeper accent on the smaller ones. A semi-gloss clear coat was then applied. Capitals received a new burgundy background with gold highlights. Gold stripping was done across the entire ceiling along the blue panels. The walls were finished in a sandstone ivory. The windows and wainscoting received a block stone effect using two deeper accent colors with a grout joint. Wendt's son, Alex was in charge of painting all the blocks around the 25- foot windows, alternating the two accent colors.

Wendt's longtime associate, Cliff Foth, was tasked with laying out the star patterns. This was difficult to do, Wendt noted, because the ceiling vaults were not only hard to reach but had several different sizes to measure out. The focal point of the church, the front sanctuary, had to be special, Wendt Said. A scroll design was chosen. Wendt drew the pattern on a sheet of Mylar and then transferred it to the ceiling by using a projector. "With different size panels, this system worked quite well,"he said. Once the pattern was in place, a gold scroll was painted with a 1-inch brush highlighted with a white vein in the center, then clear coated for protection. Inset panels were created on the lower walls with two hand-painted medallions, using an outline design from the stained glass windows.

All woodwork was cleaned and refinished with Zinsser amber shellac. Much of the finished wood was wood grain in an oak to match existing oak wood, Wendt said. The main altar was completely refinished in amber shellac using a brush. Plaster statues were re-shaded by airbrush, and then highlighted in gold. The crew installed two murals, hand painted by a local artist on canvas. Gothic inset panels with blocking were created below the paintings. It "turned out to be one of our favorite churches," Wendt concluded. The church community was pleased too. Wendt "approached the painting of our church with creativity and respect for the uniqueness of our church," Rev. David McEvoy, the church's pastor. "I was impressed with his dedication to his work." McEvoy noted that Wendt saw the "big picture" of the endeavor and was meticulous in executing the project.


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