Mural rebirth a lengthy labor

Artist returns to Linthicum chapel to repair work he did in '70s


Michelangelo spent more than four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

In re-creating his own masterpiece in Linthicum, Ron Spencer might come close to matching that.

Since late last year, the 60-year-old Baltimore artist has been painstakingly restoring the hand-painted ceiling, walls and chancel of the Holly Run Chapel, a work he first completed in the late 1970s. After lightning struck the chapel in July 2004, causing severe fire and water damage that marred his original work, he promptly answered the call to reproduce his favorite accomplishment.

Glancing up at the ceiling of the chapel just after the fire, Spencer says, was devastating.

"When I came in, the whole center was out. I looked at it and I thought that right here was cut out of me," he says, gesturing to his heart. "I just felt so empty. I felt like something was missing. It was a funny feeling."

For Spencer, the restoration is clearly a labor of love, not to be rushed.

But the halting progress over the past year has somewhat concerned officials at Linthicum Heights United Methodist Church, which owns the chapel and uses it throughout the year.

As the church's lay leader, Dale Townsend has coordinated the restoration effort and served as a liaison between the board of trustees and Spencer.

"A year ago we thought we'd be a lot further along than we are now," he says with a laugh.

Over the past year, Spencer has brought Sandra Hohne, an artist from Westminster, and several others on board to help with the project, from local artisans to a son-in-law from upstate New York and an artist friend from San Francisco.

The chapel is filled with scores of paint cans, brushes and rollers. Scaffolding rises to the ceiling on both sides of the main entrance, with paint buckets dangling on rope at the edge of the frames. On the floor are piles of stencils, including some originals that Spencer kept from his previous work at the chapel and rediscovered in his studio last fall.

The pace may seem slow to some, but Spencer is determined to improve upon his earlier work.

"After we decided that Ron Spencer would redo it, someone asked me how long it was going to take," Townsend says. "I told them, `I guess you haven't worked with artists. They have their own timetable, and they can't really be rushed.'"

He pauses. "That's certainly been borne out."

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