The World Has Not Learned Its Lesson About Letting Amateur Artists Restore Works of Art Featuring Jesus

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Religious fervor has moved many artists over the centuries to lovingly depict the baby Jesus in all his glory, but while their hearts might be in the right place, religious devotion does not necessarily translate to artistic skill. One would have thought the world would have realized that by now.

In 2012 a kindly old lady named Cecilia Gimenez was distraught over the peeling, crumbling face of Jesus on a fresco at her church. The church had no money to repair the painting, so she decided that as an act of love and devotion, she’d fix it herself. We all know how that ended.

Now, somehow, it has happened again. According to The Guardian, a white stone statue of Mary and the baby Jesus stands in front of a Catholic church in Ontario called the St. Anne des Pins church. It’s pretty, and Mary looks sort of like Kate Middleton. But miscreants have occasionally taken to vandalizing the statue, and last year on Devil’s Night someone knocked the baby Jesus’ head off. That had happened before and the head was able to be reattached, but this time it looks like someone made off with it.

Father Gérard Lajeunesse looked into having the statue’s head replaced, but all the estimates came in at around $8,000 or more. That was too much, but he’s an optimistic person and hoped it would turn out for the best. Then local artist Heather Wise knocked on his door and offered to help.

“My feelings were hurt when I saw it, because I thought, ‘Who would do that?’ It’s just not a positive feeling to see that,” she said to “I said ‘I’m an artist, I would like to fix it.’”

Lajeunesse agreed, even though Wise had only studied sculpture at a local college but had never worked with stone before. Still, she plowed ahead and sculpted a new baby Jesus head out of orange clay.

“To do a statue of baby Jesus for a church is like an honour of my entire art career,” she said.

Of course, it turns out there’s a reason custom stone baby Jesus heads cost $8,000. They’re really hard to make! Wise’s orange head looks a bit like a slightly melted head of Maggie Simpson. Parishoners were not best please, and Lajeunesse says he’s been getting a lot of upset calls about the head.

Lajeunesse seems optimistic that the negative reaction was largely caused because the orange head is a different color, which will be fixed when Wise carves the real head out of stone sometime next year. That’s pretty optimistic of him, because even though the head is orange, the biggest problem is the misshapen mess. Now it looks like Mary is giving her baby some skeptical side-eye instead of gazing at him with downcast eyes full of adoration.

On top of that, Lajeunesse has to realize that if Wise sculpted a head that looks like this out of clay–a medium with which she is familiar–it’s probably not even going to look this good when she does it out of stone.

Lajeunesse says he’s not sure what to do about the problem.

“I wasn’t trained for this in seminary,” he said.

It looks like seminaries need to add a chapter on how to  handle damaged works of religious art, and why it’s not a good idea to let random parishioners do the work themselves.