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Something Wondrous This Way Comes

In early August 2011, the parish members of St. Pius X rose to the rumblings of a motorcade arriving in Moberly, Mo. The one-ton Ford trucks pulled two flatbeds loaded with scaffolding, a 16-foot cargo trailer filled with supplies and a 5th. wheel RV. Even from the blocked view inside, one imagined great men steering the power of a chariot of change.

The procession came to a halt, and out stepped the crew of the family-owned church restoration and decorative painting company, Ecclesiastical Studios & Sons. That was not owners Don Wendt's first visit to the church. Ecclesiastical Studios keeps its schedule pretty full just from referrals. The 100-year old church, St. Pius X in Moberly, Mo., found its way onto the schedule in the very same way. Two former parishioners stumbled onto their handiwork at St. Joseph in Leavenworth, Kan., (TOP JOB Honorable Mention From 2007) and made the referral based on the bold restoration they saw.

When Wendt got the call about St. Pius X, he went for a first visit. "When I first go into a church I like to spend a little time in there by myself before I talk to anyone," said Wendt. He had learned that there were two other contractors making bids on the project, including one that had worked on the church's last three renovations. However, the parish was not looking for the run-of-the-mill renovation but something completely new. " They were looking for a completely new color scheme and design. We relish the challenge of working up a whole new interior design with bold colors, bringing out all the lost architecture." Wendt spent some time studying the stained glass windows and various other permanent elements and began sketching out a rough color scheme. Once he checked the colors throughout the changes of the day, he made some adjustments and was ready to unveil his masterpiece. Wendt presented a full-colored rendition of what the finished product would look like with a set bid and won over the parish council......unanimously.

The agreement was sent in April for an August start date. The crew prepared for a 12-week stint in their home away from home. With the 5th. wheel, the crew was able to stay on site nearby so that they could focus all of their energy on the renovation. After years of working together on large jobs, the three-man crew, including Wendt's youngest son, Alex, are very efficient on projects like St. Pius X. One of the most important time-savers is owning and erecting their own scaffolding. Inside the 40-foot ceilings of the church, more than 100 planks were required for staging. Once scaffolding was locked into place, light fixtures and ceiling fans were taken down and placed in safe keeping and work lighting erected.

The first order of business was repair, loose, cracked, or damaged plaster was removed and replaced or repaired. New plaster was hand-troweled and leveled to match all of the edges. The window frames were sanded and cracks with filled with elastomeric caulk and cleaned. Existing wood trim cornice on the upper sanctuary wall was removed to make room for a new Reredos that was created by the crew using flexible molding and Sheetrock. Some of the going around the Nave of the church was so badly damaged that it had disintegrated. Recreating the curvature was one of biggest obstacles. "A lot of time we'll use prefabricated molding or we'll use flexible polyurethane molding if it matches, but in this case we had to mold it by hand using our putty knives." After all the repairs, a whopping 65 gallons of Zinsser 123 was applied to the walls. The ceiling were sprayed and the walls were rolled and brushed.

After four weeks on the job, the church had been repaired, cleaned and primed and the crew was looking at a clean palette for their new creation. Now the creative work could begin. Starting with a place in the church that had a good view of the wall and ceiling together, they began work on a final color mock-up and their largest sample yet for final approval. The sample was met with unanimous approval. It was time to carry out the color scheme throughout the church and add each little detail that would make the vision a full scale reality. In all, 45 gallons of Promar 200 paint by Sherwin-Williams in eggshell finish was used to complete the masterpiece. The Sherwin-Williams store lent a hand by bringing paint to the crew whenever they needed it despite being 40 miles away.

Arches received a three-way stencil design using an airbrush for the outline and hand-painting-painting for the overlays on top. Two different patterns were used. The windows frames around the stained glass windows were wood grained to match the existing oak trim. Deciding what to put around the stained glass windows was a bit of a stumper. Wendt wanted something that would accentuate the windows but not overwhelm the stained glass. After sitting outside one afternoon looking at the stone block architecture, he decided the faux stone blocking would be a perfect fit. Not only would it create a subtle frame for the windows, but it would bring together the exterior and the interior. Four large (8 feet by 9 feet) fleur de lis were created of the double arch truss ceiling.

The patterns were drawn on Mylar and then projected on the ceiling and hand-painted. Wendt learned the technique at an auto show while perusing van art. He noticed that one of the vans had an identical mural on both sides of the van. When he inquired about the uncanny likeness, the artist told him about the projector technique. while it's effective, it has some obstacles.The crew has to work on one scaffold and place the projector on another. He's been using the technique for years, so it comes a little easier now, but he remembers the days in the beginning where finding the perfect position for the projector was no easy task. A center medallion was painted in the sanctuary apse ceiling. Originally there were painted hands in the space, but the parish wanted something completely new.

Wendt recommended a combination of a stencil and medallion. First an ornate polyurethane center piece was installed, painted, and highlighted with gold. Then a stencil pattern was added around it to make it large enough to fill the space. That was supposed to be it, but as the weeks went by Wendt couldn't help but think on new additions - each one increasing in detail and size. After 1,700 man-hours, Ecclesiastical Studios packed up their fleet and left the church parish happier than when they arrived. Dave Patton and Russ Kennison, both parish council members, wrote recommendation letters. Among the praises sung were those for a job done well, on time, and on budget. "It is apparent that you love what you do what you love," said Patton. "We hit the jackpot, so to speak, when we found you," said Kennison.


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