BOWLING GREEN — Careful restoration work at St. Aloysius Catholic Church has reinvigorated a massive and majestic mural lost beneath layers of paint and decades of faded memories.
The religious art in the sanctuary’s dome — partially obscured by temporary scaffolding that stretches to the ceiling — depicts angels and saints amid a starry sky.
In February, work began to uncover and refresh the mural, which officials believe was painted over sometime in the early 1960s.
Five layers of paint hid bold, geometric patterns and a host of winged angels in a heavenly realm. The intricate designs and original figures are being uncovered and reinstated using precise brushstrokes and an authentic color palette of deep blue, red, and yellow.
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Aloysius Catholic Church restoration
The mural is part of a larger building project, including the installation of air conditioning and an expanded narthex, for which the Bowling Green congregation raised about $1.9 million.
Painters and conservation experts from the New York-based EverGreene Architectural Arts expect to finish the mural in the next couple weeks.
For some of the church’s older members, the art was a distant memory — beloved but unseen. For the Rev. Mark Davis, returning the sanctuary to its original look is a way to improve the worship space and grow the church’s faith.
It’s not about creating a museum, but instead “a place that looks incredibly sacred and that lends itself to prayer,” he said.
The church was built in 1924, and featured murals by Felix Lieftuchter, an artist born in Cincinnati in the 1880s who also worked on Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, according to diocese history.
He painted Toledo cathedral murals after working in Bowling Green, Father Davis believes. The artist completed other Byzantine-style church projects in Utah, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and several other locations.
The Bowling Green mural shows angels arranged around the crucifix. They hold symbols such as a crown of thorns, spear, and ladder.
Father Davis thinks the mural was painted over before the major reforms brought by the Second Vatican Council. But, the movement to simplify worship practice and the church environment may have contributed to the decision to remove the busy and bold mural with its touches of gold. It’s also possible the aging art needed repair and covering it up with a coat of paint was deemed a good solution.
“This was so plain,” Father Davis said, as he looked at the sanctuary walls that had been a solid, pale color until the work began.
Restoration workers removed layers of latex and oil paint that revealed the durable, silicate paint used by the muralist. Once the key portions of the mural were uncovered, experts began to apply new paint to create a more vivid appearance.
Jill Eide, a painter from Wisconsin, said the aim is to make sure Mr. Lieftuchter’s refreshed figures are painted “exactly like he had them.”
The workers looked closely at his artwork at the Toledo cathedral and consulted historic, black and white photographs of the Bowling Green sanctuary.
On a recent day, Maine painter Stephan Giannini worked on the mural while standing on a scaffold platform below Ms. Eide. The project inspired him to research the muralist’s life, and he scoured census records and the Internet to compile a biography.
Mr. Giannini discovered the colorful, chevron designs that appear in the Bowling Green church are a repeating pattern used by the artist in other projects.
About 1,200 families belong to the parish, and services continue to be held in the church while the crew works. The mural project is estimated to cost about $190,000, plus the expense of bringing in the scaffolding to allow painters to reach the tall ceiling.
“We’re all going to remember when it was painted, when the scaffolding was up,” Father Davis said.
Parishioners have enjoyed seeing it slowly emerge.
“When they first started taking the paint off it was unbelievable,” said Denise Foos, parish business manager. “You still wondered if it really was back there.”
But like faith — the evidence of things not seen — the long-hidden original art is now revealed.