Religious Figures Get New Look

Rigali will bless Holy Family Church Shrine by Glen Sparks – Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 22, 1998

Statue Restoration - Image - 07/22/98

Photo Courtesy of Dennis Caldwell

Michele Bowman-Dumey figures the statues are about 100 years old. They’re probably from Germany, most likely sculpted by Sebastian Ostereider, a Munich artst. She guesses a priest brought them from Europe to St. Louis. “Noone can tell me how they got to the church,” Bowman-Dumey says.

For several years, the elegant figures of Joseph, Mary and Jesus stood in a basement shrine at Holy Family Church, 4125 Humphrey St. in the Grand-Oak Hill neighborhood. Over time, though, the statues began to peel and fade. Decades ago, the basement shrine was removed. The three figures had been collecting dust before Bowman-Dumey brought them to her shop.

She is the owner of Restorations Plus, 6020 South Grand Blvd., and restores about a dozen religious pieces a month.

Statues of Christian figures fill her south side studio. She also does restoration work on gold and metal leaf frames, photographs and porcelain and other pottery.

Churches and parishioners of various denominations from across eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois call Bowman-Dumey to restore their statues.

After restoring other figures at Holy Family, she was asked to rehab the pieces of Mary, Joseph and Jesus as part of the church’s upcoming centennial celebration.

The project is one of the most important she has done in her career, she says.

“I just saw them and thought they’re so awesome,” says Bowman-Dumey, who began restoring religious figures after a career in social work and then photographic restoration.

“I’ve never seen statues with this kind of movement.” The figure of Mary is weaving some fabric, while Joseph is chopping a log. “Usually, Joseph just has his hand on Jesus’ head.” Bowman-Dumey says. “He’s really not doing anything. This is exciting and unusual.” The unusual poses and the fine details are a good sign that Ostereider created the original statues. Bowman-Dumey says it would be an honor to restore some of his pieces.

“In my opinion, he was the best at what he did,” she says. The statues are made of a light wood, maybe bass wood, but probably lindenwood.

Each is chipped, battered and in need of a fresh coat of paint to restore the luster. The project figures to take about six weeks. After sanding each figure, Bowman-Dumey will fill in the chipped pieces. Old statues often come to her minus and arm or foot.

As soon as she reattaches any missing parts, she’ll need to sand the statues a second time. Three coats of paint and an application of glaze later, the figures should look original again. With a couple of exceptions. The original artist decided gold paint should highlight the wardrobe details of the figures.

“We’re trying to cut down on the gold to make it more authentic to the times”, she says. “They’re going to have more of a fabric look. It’ll be extremely dramatic looking.” Also, she is repainting the statue of the Christ Child to give it a more youthful appearance.

“It’ll give Him a softer face, she says. “He’ll look more like a boy and less manly.” The statues should be ready for the August 30 services at Holy Family. They will be standing in a prominent spot in the church near an old confessional.

Sterling Interior Decorators of St. Peters is handling construction of the shrine’s housing.

St. Louis Archbisoop Justin Rigali will bless the shrine during a 4 p.m. Mass Nov. 8 at the church.

“This is an important part of the church,” said the Rev. Robert Leibrecht. “It hasn’t been used for a long time, but it’s a reminder of what we had here a long time ago.”