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Friday, August 14th, 2009

Maria Stein Center's Jesus gets a new look

By Shelley Grieshop

Artist Sarah Hess, 22, of Maria Stein, displays a statue of Jesus that she recen. . .

MARIA STEIN - College student Sarah Hess recalls spending a portion of her childhood visiting the sprawling Maria Stein Center and gawking at the rich history inside.
The statues and figurines that dot the halls always caught her eye and she wondered how such amazing artwork was created by hand so many years ago.
This summer, the 22-year-old University of Cincinnati art major learned the story behind two of the aging pieces of art - a pair of papier mache statues of Jesus that were handcrafted about 150 years ago. In early July, the Sisters of the Precious Blood sought Hess' help to refurbish one of the statues that was in dire shape.
"When I started, it was peeling pretty bad. The whole thing was cracked and the plaster inside was exposed," says Hess, who grew up just a mile from the center on St. Johns Road.
She worked on the 4-foot-tall statue in Cincinnati. One of her first tasks involved removing some of the thick paint that had bled into the plaster below.
"I had to apply plaster in some areas to reform the shape," explains the Marion Local graduate.
A portion of one of Jesus' outstretched arms had been broken years ago and was crudely patched. To repair it, she resorted to cloth tape and oil paints to strengthen it while making it more flexible, she says.
She worked hard to preserve the statue's original look, using paints that closely matched the original colors including the blood that dripped from Jesus' crown of thorns, hands and feet.
Sculpting classes that she took in previous years came in handy, Hess says. After nearly 100 hours of work, she applied a sealing coat to protect the surface.
She admits the work on the delicate statue was a bit nerve-racking but giving Jesus a "make-over" was spiritually uplifting.
Hess is no stranger to artistic challenges. Two years ago she created the colorful mural that graces the entire southern wall of the Atelier beauty salon on South Main Street in Celina.
Hess' specialty is portraitures and oil painting, but she'd like to spend a few years teaching art before choosing a lifelong career, she says.
Precious Blood Archivist Sister Regina Albers said it's likely the papier mache statues were created by a nun named Sister Matura Karle, who came to the U.S. from Switzerland and settled at the center - the former motherhouse and convent of the Precious Blood.
"If other sisters did the work, they were likely supervised by her because she is the one who was noted to have the talent," Albers says.
The age of the statues is estimated; the newspaper used in the papier mache process was dated 1859 and written in German, Albers said.
Sister Mary Ellen Andrisen said some papier mache statues made in the 1800s were constructed by forming a plaster wash on top of another wooden statue. When the top layer dried, it was cut in half and removed. Later the two pieces were re-joined to make the new statue, she explains.
The Sisters of the Precious Blood say they are pleased with the work by Hess and another local artist who refurbished the second papier mache statue. That artist wishes to remain anonymous.
The Jesus statues once again hang on crucifixes on the first and second floors of the Maria Stein Center. Their restoration is part of preparations this year for the sisters' 175th anniversary celebration.
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