Henninger's Religious Goods
Henninger's Religious Goods

Restored Statue an Inspiration for 9/11 Commemoration

St. Ann's Parish, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio dedicated a restored statue of the Sorrowful Mother for a 9/11 commemoration. The image of the Virgin Mary as the Sorrowful Mother served as a reminder of those lost on 9/11. The restoration process was accomplished with the help parishioner Tom Cousineau, owner of local Henninger's Religious Goods, and artist Debbie Knopf.

Cleveland, OH, September 16, 2005 --(PR.com)-- Like many churches, St. Ann Catholic Church of Cleveland Heights, Ohio is in the midst of long- and short-range planning. Pastor Fr. Jim Singler is looking for the best traditions of his church’s ninety year old history to take his congregation into the future, as well as establishing the strategic plan to implement change.

One aspect of his planning team’s considerations is to bring new life to some of the older liturgical pieces in the church’s possession. By restoring some of the church’s worn but important pieces, they figured that the community would be enjoying the best of both worlds.

One such piece is rumored to have been acquired some thirty years ago, a life-sized wood carving of Mary, the Sorrowful Mother. Markings on the base dated her to 1893, carved in Cincinnati. By 2005 however, the wood-carved statue showed cracks and splits from age. It had faded to a shadow of its former self. Yet, like most religious statuary owned by both churches and individuals, it held important sentimental value. Fr. Singler and his staff at St. Ann Church wished it to be restored. There was hope that the statue could be dedicated the weekend before the feast of the Sorrowful Mother. That Sunday is also the fourth anniversary of 9/11.

Coincidentally, one member of the parish, Tom Cousineau, owns a company, Henninger’s Religious Goods (http://www.henningers.com), that had just acquired the talents of local artist Debbie Knopf. Knopf is well known in the Cleveland art community for her work in stained glass. Cousineau had noted the growing need for statue repair and restoration in his visits to churches in the area. He approached Knopf with the offer to give her space in his building to work on these statues to bring them back to their original beauty. Originally a jeweler specializing in enameling, Knopf had become interested in the nuances of stained glass work while on a tour as a student teacher. She coupled her outstanding work in that medium with some statue repainting for a number of years. However, it was not until she teamed up with Cousineau that the two devised a technique for statue restoration that produced the kind of nuanced results that she had appreciated with stained glass.

The process begins with a repair of the statue: filling in cracks, repairing chips, painstakingly sanding the statue down to one consistent finish, cleaning and priming. For the Sorrowful Mother statue, as with all their statues under restoration, the team consults with the owners of the statues to determine color palate, shading, and emotion of the piece. With Fr. Singler and school principal Sr. Ann McGreevy, a soft blue, ivory, and white combination was selected. Knopf worked to transform through color and facial expression the work of art with a new paint technique that she has mastered for her work on statue restoration. The result has become a kind of curiosity: the Sorrowful Mother’s blue cloak looks so much like fabric that parisioners invariably touch it to check to see if it is velvet. They bend down to get a closer look at her touching expression of sorrow, and remark at the extraordinary depth of the piece.

“This painting technique, whether applied to wood, fiberglass or plaster statues, produces an ultra-smooth finish”, comments Knopf.

Cousineau adds that the cost of this custom restoration is generally less than that of replacing the piece. “More importantly”, he adds, “the process brings back to usefulness valuable pieces that are currently being stored simply because they have faded or don’t fit into a church’s renovated color scheme. These are pieces whose sentimental value is intimately tied into the life of a church. Quality pieces should not be languishing in storage, or if they are on display, should not detract from the overall beauty of a worship space.”

St Ann Church’s strategic plan was accomplished on September 11, four days before the feast of the Sorrowful Mother. The restored statue was transferred from its temporary home at Henninger’s to its permanent home in the front entranceway of St. Ann Church for a dedication. The dedication recognized members of the parish with family members serving their country overseas and remembered those lost four years ago on 9/11. Carved one hundred and twelve years ago, the statue will continue to inspire for growth well into the twenty-first century.

Henninger's Religious Goods
Mark Cousineau