New original look of historic St. John's Church's nearly completed

August 16, 1992|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Historic St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City is going back to the future.

Built in the late 1800s, the stone church at 9120 Frederick Road is having its 40-foot ceiling repainted and having its altar arches restenciled to resemble their original look.

Friday morning, artists were busy painting and stenciling on and underneath the tall scaffolding as a paint bucket was pulled on a rope to the top.

Suzanne Ravgiala, a sign painter, said the experience has taken her to new heights.

"I'm used to the height now," she said. "When I first got here, my knees were shaking."

The artists were able to copy the 1800s look by using old photographs of the church.

"I think everyone's happy about it," said Sue Whittle, a 17-year parishioner, who worked on the church's interior restoration committee. "It certainly is going to enhance the beauty of the church."

Ms. Ravgiala and a team of five sign painters are using deep rose and touches of blue and cream and gold colors to restore the look.

On the ceiling, two gold sections flank a central medallion surrounding a light. Sunlight shines through a round, glorious stained-glass window underneath.

When light hits the gold, the walls will shimmer, said Ms. Ravgiala, owner of Custom Signs Co. in Hagerstown.

The painting and stenciling should be completed next week in time for a wedding Saturday.

The stenciling and painting are the last parts of the restoration.

Because its membership was outgrowing its space, church officers lengthened the church in the 1970s by removing the back wall. That nearly doubled the seating of the church, which had grown from "a small country church to a suburban parish," Ms. Whittle said.

Modern pews were added, too.

Last year, the 650-family church had another seating problem, Ms. Whittle said. The church officers decided to return what was removed in the 1970s and restore the original architectural design, she said.

The church hired a restoration architect, James Thomas Wollon Jr. of Havre de Grace.

On Dec. 26, Mr. Wollon began restoring the original Italianate look of the church's interior, designed by N.G. Starkweather, who was a well-known architect in the Baltimore-Washington area in the late 1800s. Italianate "is a romanticized interpretation of Italian architecture," Ms. Wollon said.

The modern pews were replaced with pews of the 1800s.

During Wollon's work from late December to Easter, the church was closed and services were held in the nearby parish house instead.

Parishioners donated the estimated $120,000 in restoration costs, Ms. Whittle said, adding that the changes will take the church into the year 2000.

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