Old South Church Restoration on Nantucket Island

Unitarian_Church_Nantucket_C. Bonelli
Interior of the Old South Church showing trompe l’oiel murals._Photo:C. Bonelli

This past spring I spent 6 weeks working on beautiful Nantucket Island helping restore  the Old South Church in Nantucket Island.  Today it is the oldest of the large church buildings still standing in the town. Nantucket is about 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts  and was the setting for the whalers from Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”. Off course the whaling economy is long gone, but now Nantucket is a wealthy vacation resort.

View of the Old South Church from the Waterfront
View of the Old South Church from the Waterfront

It is full of bike trails, old cobblestone streets, cedar shingled houses, and lots of windswept natural beauty.  This project was with Evergreene Architectural Arts. Terry Brackenbury was the project manager. Also on the job were Chris Bonelli,  Faizulla Khamraev, Kalina Pavlova and Victor Doudkin, and a  female British restoration  plasterer named Pen (whose last name I don’t have).

Built in 1809 and updated in the 1840s, the Meeting House is home to Carl Wendtes’  trompe l’oeil paintings, the 1831 Goodrich organ, the massive Portuguese bell, as well as a collection of historic artifacts. It is a Unitarian church, which coincidentally was the faith I was raised in.

Detail of the PaintedTrompel'oiel Mural on the Cieling

Above: Detail of the PaintedTrompel’oiel Mural on the Cieling

The project was the re-creation of the 160 year old trompe l’ oiel paintings originally created by Swiss artist Carl Wendte. There had been at least three restoration campaigns, the last of which was done in the 1980’s that was unfortunately de-laminating, probably because of the damp on Nantucket.

Keep in mind when looking at these photos that there is very little  ornamental plaster work in the building. It is all paint. Some distortion is evident in the shots. These were either changes we made so things would look correct from the floor, or sometimes the walls were distorted.

Detail of the Trompe L'oiel Painting in the Altar Area
Detail of the Trompe L’oiel Painting in the Altar Area

The process was for Evergreene  to carefully document the old work, including exposure windows. Then the plaster was repaired in the entire church , and the walls were repainted. We used Kiem brand paint, which is a very flat, breathable paint, which should avoid the moisture problems in the future. We used about 7  different values of gray paint  to create the  trompe l’oeil, which gave it a really realistic effect.

Thanks to Chris Bonneli for some after scaffold photos. Below is a slideshow of Nantucket and Old South Church images.

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2 thoughts on “Old South Church Restoration on Nantucket Island”

  1. Would it be possible for some of these pictures will be included in the addition to the 2009 Unitarian Meeting House book, published by the NPT?

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