The Basics of Statue Restoration (And When to Call the Experts)
A statue is as much of a glorious reflection of a church’s history and traditions as its decorative paintings, altars, gold gilding, and color rendering.
Maintaining all physical aspects of a church’s history is a way of keeping its story alive and relevant to the present day. This applies whether the building and its contents are old or new.
Statues help to tell a story to the church's congregation and visitors, forming a part of our heritage.
Tempting as it is, statue restoration isn’t always straightforward. However, there are a few surefire dos and don’ts that ensure the statues in your church continue to bring joy and reflect the “spirit” of a church and its community.
Let's dive in!
Get Your Camera Out
Take photos of the statue from all angles, including close up shots, particularly of the areas that need more significant work. Ensure you have enough light when you’re photographing and that there's no shadow.
Doing this helps you see all the areas that need restoration. You'll also get a better feel for the overall condition of the statue and whether, as time marches on, it's deteriorated.
Photographing your statues prompts a more considered and critical look at what needs doing and whether the necessary repairs are superficial enough that you don’t need to bring in the experts.
Use your photographs to plan the work you have to carry out systematically. If you think you'll need to hire a team of pros, there are a few things to consider. Going through the factors below helps to ensure you hire the right contractor to return your statues to their former glory.
Before any statue restoration, you need as much of a blank canvas as possible. You can achieve this by gently dusting and wiping the statue with a soft, non-abrasive cloth to remove any residual dust and dirt.
However, don't use any chemicals or cleaning products that may harm its outer layers and erode paintwork. Aim for the smoothest possible surface before beginning repairs.
If you’ve identified small areas on the statue where the plaster has eroded, you may want to restore it. Your best bet is using Plaster of Paris rather than any DIY store fillers. It’s inexpensive and can be bought from most craft stores, including online.
Remember that a little goes a long way. Follow the instructions on the pack and apply it sparingly in thin layers by painting it on the affected area, using a paintbrush. Allow each coat of plaster to dry before reapplying until you have a smooth surface.
Don’t use your hands when applying the Plaster of Paris. You may end up with bumps on the statue that are subsequently difficult to remove, and they will alter the statue’s overall appearance.
Sanding and Painting
Once the plaster has dried, use fine-grain sandpaper to smooth out any unevenness. This is particularly important if you're going to paint over the plaster.
When sanding, avoid being heavy-handed. A light touch is recommended to prevent eroding any of the original plasterwork.
Depending on the age of your statue, it might be wise to consult the experts where the painting is concerned. You may risk damaging or changing the appearance of the paintwork or failing to match the colors identically.
Needless to say, this could cause further, costlier damage.
For really basic repairs, you can use strong glue such as Loctite to fix pieces together. You only need a small amount and simply hold the two pieces together for around half a minute after adding the glue.
However, repairing broken pieces of church statues is not always for novices. The older and more historic a statue is, the more ambitious and complex the statue restoration potentially is.
We recommend speaking to the experts and at least get an estimate for the repair and color restoration work. It may be less expensive and risky in the long term.
Always Check Your Ambition
You may be full of good intention and ambition, but be sure that the task in hand is in line with your particular skills. The last thing you want to do is recreate history when restoring the work in your church!
There are some legendary examples of statue restoration projects that didn’t entirely turn out how they should. Remember when parts of the Great Wall of China were restored concrete when restorers worked to repair parts of the 780-meter-long-wall?
Then there’s the statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus in Sudbury Canada. The baby’s head was stolen, and a new head was made, provoking unhappiness among locals. Luckily, the thief had a conscience and returned the head, and peace was restored.
Take a look at some positive examples of statuary restoration before going ahead.
Ready to Get Started with Statue Restoration?
We hope you've found these tips helpful. We're proud to say we're experts in all aspects of statue restoration.
Ecclesiastical Studios & Sons have been restoring, redecorating, and creating church interiors of historical significance throughout the Dioceses of the entire Midwest since 1989.
We've restored statuary, color schemes, architectural and decorative paintings, and plaster. We've also refinished and modified altars and created ecclesiastical designs.
For more information about our work and an informal no-obligation chat about any restoration work for your church, get in touch. We are happy to help.