Aging Angels, Saints Get New Life

Michele Bowman-Dumey owns Restorations Plus in the 5400 block of Virginia in the Bellerive neighborhood. She repairs and restores sacred statues and also creates new ones.

By Theresa Tighe of the Post Dispatch – January 1, 2001

Statue Restoration - Post Dispatch Photo - 01/01/2001

Photo Courtesy or Wayne Crosslin/PostDispatch

Everyday, Michele Bowman-Dumey and Michael Dumey work with the angels and saints. The Dumey’s create, repair and restore statues for churches.

Using the techniques German craftsmen employed in the 19th century, Michele Dumey returns the tenderness to Mary’s smile, the fingers to Joseph’s hand and the rose to the infant Jesus’ cheek.

Using techniques of his own creating, Michael Dumey makes hands and feet, the most common parts missing from old statues. He also copies old statues and makes new statues that look old.

Their company is called Restorations Plus & Angels & Co. They work in a combined studio and store in the 5400 block of Virginia Ave. in the Bellerive neighborhood. The red-brick building is pushing a century. The couple thinks it once was a bakery because of the blue and white ceramic tile floor. The shop contains angel hangings, angel pictures, ceramic angels, holy-water fonts, statues of saints and other gift items of religious and angel themes.

Michele Dumey, 41, is as fine-featured and composed as one of the statues she paints. Michael Dumey, 41 is an athletically built man who spends a lot of time lifting heavy statues. They live eight blocks away from their business with their son, Christian, 7. “We are committed to the city,” Michele DuMey said.

The front workroom with the ceramic floor is where Michele Dumey practices her craft. She began this work 13 years ago as part of the restoration team on the Shrine of Joseph downtown at 11th and Biddle streets. She took fine- and commercial art courses in college. She wanted to be an artist but didn’t feel the call or competency to be a painter. She said of working with the statues, “When I startd doing this, it’s all I wanted to do.”

The couple has seen some tough times since Michele found her calling. Michael Dumey was injured in a forklift accident on his former job, and the bills piled up. But Michele Dumey prayed, and clients arrived with checks and commissions at critical times.

Michele Dumey applied 23-karat gold leaf to the statue of the angel Moroni at the top of the spire of the St. Louis Mormon Temple, visible from Highway 40 (interstate 64) at Madison Road in Town and Country. The job took her 80 hours stretched over three months. Most statues take 20 to 30 hours. Her prices range between $30 and $50 an hour.

Four years ago, Michael Dumey was able to join his wife full time in the shop.

About 50 statues fill Michele Dumey’s workroom in the shop. On a recent day, the couple was working on Christmas orders. The holidays are the busiest time of their year because churches take their creches out of storage.

Michele Dumey had refurbished four nativity scenes and had three to go. Gathered around her workbench were Joseph, Mary and a shepherd or two. The standing figures were 5 feet high. The kneeling figures were about 3 feet high.

She explained that she often removes three to four layers of paint to determine the figures original colors. Then she paints them by hand.

Statue Restoration - Post Dispatch Image - 01/01/01

Photo Courtesy of Wayne Crosslin/Post Dispatch

She said a group of statues from Shrine of St. Joseph was unusual because it had been made of pot metal rather than plaster. She said that about 10 percent of the statues made at the turn of the last century were made of cast metal, 20 percent were wood and the rest were plaster.

All of the statues standing and staring – they resemble a thicket of frozen people from a fairy tale – could unnerve a visitor. The Dumeys are used to them. Still, Michele Dumey said one of the shepherds, from St. Joseph’s creche seemed to be watching her every time she looked up, regardless of where she was in the room.

To the back of the building is the storeroom and Michael Dumey’s workroom. Included in the rows of sacred imags are statues the couple has taken from churches that are remodeling. The couple refinishes the statues and offers them for sale. Some of the statues are celery green or all white. Michele Dumey says that in the ’60s and ’70s, churches tried to tone down the prominence of statues by painting them netural colors.

Michele Dumey says that when she and her husband sell statues, they screen out anyone who mights desecrate them. She says she had telephone calls from peoplea who say they are from “the dark side” and want a statue.

In Michael Dumey’s workroom stands a statue of St. Louis, the French saint and king for who St. Louis was named. The statue is one of a kind from Fort Wayne, Ind.

Michael Dumey put a latex shell around the statue. Then, he used the latex impression as a mold and poured plaster, just a bit thicker than a Ted Drewes concrete, into the mold. This statue is out of the mold and drying now. Soon Michele Dumey will paint it. The new statue will be in a royal blue and brown tones with sterling silver and gold leaf.

It shows the king standing with a sword and a crown of thorns and will be on display opposite St. Joan of Arc in St. Mary’s High Scool chapel in St. Louis – a new commission for an old art.