Artists restore historic church

By Tom Vogt The Columbian
Published in The Seattle Times


Artists restore historic church
A renovation project at the downtown Vancouver landmark has restored century-old artwork and maybe even saved some parts of the historic building.


The Columbian

St. James Catholic Church in Vancouver, Wash., will celebrate its renovation Sunday. 

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Mother Joseph designed the pews.  The oak altar piece was crafted in Belgium in 1884 and shipped to Vancouver around the tip of South America. 

And now a new generation of artists and craftsmen have left their mark on St. James Catholic Church. 

A renovation project at the downtown Vancouver landmark has restored century-old artwork and maybe even saved some parts of the historic building. 

The parish will celebrate the church’s renovation Sunday; Archbishop Alexander Brunett, leader of the Seattle archdiocese, will rededicate the church at 11 a.m.

The most visible aspect of the million-dollar makeover is the church’s interior.  Worshippers can glance up at the ceiling dome of gold stars twinkling in a deep blue sky. 

Several representations of saints and evangelists – art that had been locked away for decades – have been restored to their original settings in the ceiling above the altar. 

For some of the interior renovation, the parish went back to the company that did the work: Conrad Schmitt Studios, of New Berlin, Wis.

“They did the artwork in 1929, and that job was $24,000,” said the Rev. Dominic Hahn, the church’s pastor. 

“We asked if we could get the same price, and they said no,” he said with a smile.  “This one was about $650,000.”

The crew filled the church’s interior with a maze of scaffolding that gave the artists a perch from which to paint and apply gold-leaf accents to the ceiling. 

“There was a sway in the choir loft, and engineers had to take a look to make sure it was safe,” Hahn said.

All the church pews – the creations of pioneering nun Mother Joseph – were removed and shipped to a company in Independence, Ore., for refinishing.  “They took a lot of gum off,” added church volunteer Lesa Langer.  St. James was the first masonry cathedral in Washington when it was finished in 1885. 

And another bit of budgetary whiplash: “It was originally built for $40,000,” said Robert Kunselman, project manager.

The parish, which includes about 900 families, paid for the project with a capital campaign.  Altogether, fundraising brought in $1.4 million, Hahn said.  That will pay for the work that remains to be done, including renovation of 19 stained-glass windows; 11 already have been restored and reinstalled, Kunselman said.

-St. James Catholic Church in Vancouver, Wash., will celebrate its renovation Sunday.

Artists restore historic church (PDF 39 Kb)



Tell us about your next Project