Artisans working diligently to prepare statues, stations for Fort Scott parish

Statues in various stages of renovation for the new Mary Queen of Angels Church in Fort Scott. (Courtesy photo)

Robert Elliot and his crew are bearing crosses of their own while restoring stations of the cross and statues for Mary Queen of Angels Parish in Fort Scott.

They are refurbishing, casting, painting, and doing whatever else is necessary to restore the church’s original decor as construction continues on a new church.

The former church was severely damaged in August of 2022 after lightning ignited a fire. Construction of a new church that will bear a strong resemblance to the original church is scheduled to be finished around the end of October.

“The Stations of the Cross were badly damaged,” he said. “There’s not a single one that doesn’t have cracks all the way through it. We have to ensure the structural integrity of each one.”

Stations carried in buckets

Many of the stations were so severely damaged that they were placed in buckets, Elliot said. They had to spread pieces out like a jigsaw puzzle to reassemble what they could.

“We started our project by sorting through those pieces, putting together what we could, and re-sculpting everything to fill in all the missing parts,” he said. “Then we created a mold so that we could start making the frames.”

He and the six artisans at Robert Elliot Studios in Wichita are building the parts of the stations after which they will reassemble them, determine a paint scheme, and paint the figures. “It’s a very involved process. All told it will be about a year and a half of work that we’ll be doing as we continue. We’ve got some very good people working on it.”

Color scheme in line with tradition

The color scheme will require some thought, Elliot said. The stations are about 150 years old and have been repainted three times in those 15 decades.

“This is no small task. Nothing remains of the original colors or techniques due to the many re-paintings over the years. We’ve been removing layer by layer of paint and we’ve discovered some things. We’re creating a new color scheme that is in line with tradition, so they’re going to be as nice or nicer than they were originally 150 years ago. But it’s just a long, long process that we’re going through to make this happen.”

The somewhat fragile plaster stations were damaged by fire, water, and their removal.

Systematic restoration

“It’s been pretty systematic,” Elliot said. “It started with putting those figures back together – assembling them and re-sculpting – and that’s taken most of the year. Now we’re working on the frames and we’re also removing the paint from the other statues at the same time.”

He said the project has been arduous and will require over 18 months of effort.

“To make the project affordable to the church, I have donated half the cost,” he said. “I plan on this being my last project of this size. It takes a lot out of me and I’m almost always subjected to many trials when I undertake work of this importance. I have been plagued with illness and injuries since I accepted this project.”

Who’s working on what

Here are the artisans working on the project:

• Mary Francis Skinner is the sculptor and “lead puzzle master.”

• Kathy Faulkner, who has assisted in other projects and renovations, is working on most aspects of the project and assisting with painting the robes on the statues.

• Dan Ochs, a nationally renowned mold maker, made the mold for the station frames.

• Brothers Michael and Hector Ibarra are highly skilled craftsmen who are working on all aspects of the project.

• John Suffield, an art student at Newman University, is assisting and training to learn the skills required for artistic renovations.

• Greg Walker, a master painter, will focus on flesh tones.

• Elliot is wearing many hats: coordinator, logistics, art director, restoration and repair, quality control, the recasting of the destroyed frames, and painting of the statues and stations.

“As always,” Elliot said, “it is an honor to be of service to God and his people and we all share in the joy of using our talents to that end.”