Treasures on the Walls
Work on the interior walls of the museum began in late December of 2002 and is on-going. Zinc coated tin panels painted in beige with a fleur-de-lis design were installed over the original plastered and painted walls in the 1920s. They covered the cracking plaster, which was a result of a poorly constructed foundation (this has since been replaced). To restore the interior to its original state, these tin panels were removed, starting under the lower arches. The original plastered walls were carefully cleaned by hand using a solution of Orange Clean and water. Cleaning the walls revealed a treasure – an ocean of stencils emerged from the black soot from decades of candle smoke that had accumulated on the walls. Under this tin, elaborate stenciling covered the hundreds of feet in colors of muted browns, greens, and golds. Flowers and fronds or geometric designs graced the arches. Garlands of maple leafs flow around the windows.
After removing the tin from the walls of the building, the next step was the removal of the tin panels over the main altar. Another treasure of stencils was revealed - an extensive array of gold leaf stars are scattered all over the apse. Many of these were “shooting” stars, with tails, including a large star near the center of the ceiling arch. This star is believed to represent Halley’s Comet, which passed earth’s orbit in 1910, shortly after the building was constructed. The vaulted ceiling was originally intended to coffered with window wells for the sculptures of the apostles. For reasons unknown, the plan change to what we have today.
Although the surface of the walls are very dirty from decades of smoke and dust, the paint and plaster are in remarkably good condition. Where plaster was damaged or missing, a replacement plaster was applied. The plaster was mixed with sawdust, which gives it a texture of terracotta and applied slightly raised to allow for shrinkage when cured (proper drying and curing time was crucial to a successful outcome). Future plans include applying elastomeric paint to replicate the original plaster texture. A final washable and clear sealant (not altering the plaster’s appearance or luster) will be applied over the completed work. The original paint will remain intact wherever possible; the parts of the walls to be painted will be those repaired with new plaster (the goal is to respect and give life to the original walls, not create new ones).
The chapel also underwent extensive paint removal from the walls and ceiling. Like the main part of the museum, the original paint was in good condition and extensive stenciling was revealed. The stencils include garlands of flowers making two squares around a round stencil at the base of two light fixtures. The ceiling is coved (about four feet in height). The bottom of the cove has a stencil of laurel wreaths with a fleur-de-lis. Below is a cornice with gold leaf stencils of acanthus and fleur-de-lis. As with the rest of the building, the intent is to restore the walls and ceiling as close to their original state as possible.
Funders and Supporters
- Margaret Burnham Charitable Trust
- Maine Acadian Heritage Council
- Maine Community Foundation (Belvedere Fund)
- Maine Historic Preservation Commission
- Audrey and Larry Thibodeau
- Maine Community Foundation
- Private Donors
- John Dionne
- Terry Helms
- Marc Garcia
- Adam Pelkey
- Don Cyr
Work on the interior windows began during the summer of 2000 and is on-going. As with the exterior, the interior windows were removed, cleaned, glass replaced where needed, and trims were scraped and painted. The windows of 1910 were originally frosted. Work is in progress to restore the windows to their original state. Every pane of each window have been removed from their frames and catalogued (52 panes each of twelve windows). Window frames are four feet by twelve feet and situated about three feet above the floor. Each pane is assessed for its condition. While carefully scraping the trim, the original beige color paint was revealed (similar to the repainted version). The original paint will be left undamaged and intact.
The frosting of the glass was a common method used in Québec (but not in Maine). This process consists of using white wash (lime) to paint the exterior of the interior window. Though white wash is water soluble, it is protected by the storm window. Plus, two lines along the edge of each pane of glass were scrubbed to reveal clear glass giving it a somewhat beveled effect. There may be more permanent materials to achieve a frosting effect, but the old method from 1910 proved adequate, lasting 100 years on many of the windowpanes.
It was decided to refrost and repair windowpanes only where necessary, leaving the original frosting where possible. The repair process proved complicated because of an accumulation of oil-base paint over parts of the white wash due to slopping painting in the past. This oil paint had to be removed with acetone and Q-tips, taking a considerable amount of time for each pane of glass (this was an unplanned complication). No matter the time or labor, authenticity will be maintained.
Even though stained glass was commonly used for Catholic church windows, the architect decided against the use of stained glass in order to ensure better access to natural light. Windows face southeast and northwest, taking advantage of sunrise and sunset.
The architect designed everything carefully. In the original plan, there were 14 large windows. Now there are 12 with 52 pieces of glass in each, possibly connoting 7 days in a week and 52 weeks in a year. The top of each windowpane is in the design of a Celtic cross, representing the New Testament (and relating to the origins of the region’s settlers from northern France, which is a mixture of Franc and Celtic), and below are the tablets of commandments, representing the Old Testament.