Their Work Is Statuesque

Couple brings back old religious icons by William Flannery of the Post Dispatch – Monday, August 17, 1998

Statue Restoration - Post-Dispatch - 08/17/98

Photo Courtesy Larry Williams/Post-Dispatch

It’s something of a lost art, and Michele Bowman-Dumey and Michael Dumey freely admit it. Their business is the repair and restoration of ecclesiastical statuary.

I’ve been doing restoration for eleven yars and Mike has been working with me for two years, said Bowman-Dumey. “I started doing photographic restorations with Sater Restorations and then moved into the restoration of statues.

I always wanted to do somethiing spiritual,” Bowman-Dumey said. “I was originally going to be a social worker, but I wasn’t cut out for it, and this just sort of fell into my lap.”

The Dumey’s main shop, Restorations Plus/So. Grand Antique & Angel Co., is at 6020 South Grand Boulevard.

The Dumey’s do restoration work for all denominations, but given the large number of Roman Catholic churches in the area, most of their work is for Catholic parishes.

About 25 percent of the statues, are made of wood and the rest plaster. Many of the statue are 100 years old.

Most modern church statuary is made from resins, said Dumey

Statue Restoration - Post-Dispatch - 08/17/98“But with resins you don’t get the same facial features and detail,” Dumey said. “We have bought some resin statues and were unhappy with the quality.” Plaster is much better., he said.

“We want to go with the Old World material and do what they did,” Bowman-Dumey said.

“We will also get plaster mixed with sawdust. it looks like wood, but it’s a mixture, “Dumey said.

“Many of the religious wood statues that were done in the early part of this century…have a coat of gesso, or a layer of plaster over the wood.” said Bowman-Dumey.

She said those types of statues can be hard to work with because once the paint is removed, so too, is much of the detail.

The plaster statues can come in sizes from small desktop to larger than life. They also come in all sorts of conditions, said Bowman-Dumey.

“Alot of churches have budgetary restrictions and they can’t afford a complete repainting of the statuary, so they will want only a simple touch-up,” said Bowman-Dumey.

But others require major restoration. The damage done to old chuch statuary often comes from people touching the statues or the statue being stored under the wrong condition, said Bowman-Dumey.

Most common is missing fingers, hands or feet. Those must be reconstructed from scratch, said Dumey.

Statue Restoration - Post-Dispatch - 08/08/98

Photo Courtesy Larry Williams/Post-Dispatch

“Over-painting is another common problem…that will often cover up the details of the face and clothing,” Bowman-Dumey said.

With an over-painted figure, Bowman-Dumey must painstakingly remove it down to the plaster to discover original colors and then repaint accordingly.

“The cost of restoring a statue is generally $150 to $200 a foot,” said Dumey. “But if you have a statue that needs to be filled and sanded, the cost could be $250.00.

A single restoration job can take several days. Some of the Dumey’s work involves other statuary equivalent of plastic surgery, like changing one saint into another.

“This statue of St. Mark – we are changing him to St. John,” Bowman-Dumey said. “So Mike is going to take the lion’s face off (the base) because St. John is usually represented by an eagle.”

Many of the statues are brought in by the priest or minister, often placed in the back of a car, said Dumey. But the delivery of a restored piece is something else.

“We do our own delivery. We can’t take a chance,” said Mike Dumey. “to crate up a statue properly is $300 to $00. So just to be on the safe side, we use our own truck.”

Statue Restoration - Post Dispatch - 08/08/98The statuary restoration business is surprisingly seasonal. “Right now, in the summer — this is our slow period,” Dumey said. “But starting in September and running through Christmas is a busy time. That’s when we start doing creches. And we will stay busy through about a month after Easter.”

The Dumeys are expanding their business and are now making plaster statues. Frequently, when a church remodels, said Dumey, it will want additional statuary, either new ones or copies of existing statues, said Dumey.

But that is not easy, because few artists are making traditional plaster statues. “What we are finding is that churches can’t find angel statuary and the old Gothic gypsum-style plaster pedestals,” said Bowman-Dumey. “So Mike is making models of the old statues so we can make these available for churches and individuals.”

The old molds are long gone, so Dumey has to make his own, using original plaster statues. “We make a latex shell around the statue, Dumey said. the molds are then removed in two halves. “I then pour plaster into the mold, shaping the plaster by hand into the (folds) of the molds,” Dumey said. “I sometimes use burlap to strengthen the plaster.”

The two halves are then joined. Once removed from the molds., the raw plaster statuary must be trimmed along the mold lines. then the statues are dried. “We dry the statues for two weeks to a month,” said Dumey. “We don’t want to rush it because we must get all the moisture out of it before we can paint.

“The gypsum plaster we use is a little harder, heavier, it’s a special statuary plaster,” Dumey said.

The statues are hollow. “If this was solid, it would probably weigh couple of hundred pounds,” said Dumey, pointing to a 3-foot-tall figure.

To improve production, the Dumey’s are in the process of custom building one or more machines that would spin the plaster molds. This would allow for faster produciton.

“You turn the mold and the gravity will push the plaster into the folds of the mold.” Dumey said.

Dumey said saving weight is critical. “I make statues that weight about 80 pounds and I’m trying to get them down to 50 to 60 pounds, since I’m hanging them about 30 feet up in the church, above people’s heads.” he said.

“Not taking any chances,” Dumey said, he will anchor the statuary with metal bars.