Restoration Raises Ascension Painting To New Heights

Project Is Partof Church's 125th Anniversary Fete

April 01, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — For the first time in years, parishioners can see the blues in the painting of Christ's Ascension hanging over Grace Lutheran Church's altar.

And that's no easy observation -- some members had no idea that the painting depicting Jesus' rise to heaven even had blue in it at all.

The congregation is having the 70-year-old canvas painting -- which has been glued to the wall -- restored by Othmar Carlii of York, Pa., and his daughter, Marianne.

"It's the first time it's been cleaned up appropriately," said the Rev. Frederick Eckard, pastor at Grace Lutheran. "It's the focal point of worship, so this will really enhance worship."

The restoration project is part of the church's 125th anniversary.

Carlii, a native of Austria, has been working in restoration for the past 35 years. A teacher as well as an artist, his experience includes restoring paintings in New York's Grand CentralStation and Count Basie Theatre, and projects in India and in Austria.

His education under specialists at the National Styrian Museumsin Graz, Austria, included studies in chemical technology, conservation and restoration, sculpture, anatomy and fresco painting.

"Where I lived, you got your art education just walking down the street," the 59-year-old artist said. "But then it all began to jell into something where I could apply my science knowledge to the business of painting."

But for this project, as well as many others these days, Carlii is advising and guiding his 29-year-old daughter with the work.

"I like her to get the recognition," he said, adding that he insists she get into the news photos end of the business, since it is difficult for a woman to be recognized for work in restoration. "My health has not been so good and it is her time to take over."

In fact,Marianne -- who began accompanying her father on projects when she was 2 years old -- said she didn't have much choice in going into the family business.

"I have an interesting news clipping of me working on one of my paintings and she working beside me with her little easel," Othmar Carlii said. "She has always been a part of the businessand she inherited some of the knowledge with the bottle."

The $7,500 Grace Lutheran project consists of cleaning old varnish off the canvas to reveal the original colors. A protective varnish is added, then missing parts of the portrait are painted. The canvas is then coated with another layer of protective varnish.

Each new layer is separated by a coating in case future generations wish to remove the added layers of paint, Marianne said.

"At this point, aesthetics arevery important and the general public very much likes to see things replaced," she said. "But in the future, people might like to leave missing things missing. Each different layer has a different chemical solvent so it will not loosen or soften what is under it."

The painting, which church folklore says was originally donated by the Sunday school children, will be re-dedicated on Palm Sunday, said Linda Kjelgaard, church office manager.

Church member John Sellman is donating $5,000 to the project in memory of his wife, Hilda. The rest of the money is coming from undesignated memorial funds, Kjelgaard said.

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