Greg Lewis, a Portland artist, refinishes the 68-year-old Italian crucifix at Holy Cross Parish in North Portland. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Greg Lewis, a Portland artist, refinishes the 68-year-old Italian crucifix at Holy Cross Parish in North Portland. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
The Portland church named after the cross just had its 68-year-old crucifix restored.

“There were some blemishes showing up,” said Father Mark Bachmeier, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in North Portland. He points at the church’s simple but elegant wooden crucifix, a little smaller than life size. It hangs in the sanctuary.

“The wood just seemed kind of compromised,” the priest said. “We were afraid there was some fungus moving in.”

It was time to call an expert. In came Greg Lewis, an artist who designs liturgical art and does restoration on the side. Lewis discovered that the markings were not rot, but aging paint that had been used to cover up knots in the wood.

On the figure’s toes, calves and chest, artists in the days of yore had used beige paint to hide the dark blemishes. Over time, the paint lightened, leaving spots that did not match the rest of the wood.

Lewis solved the problem by using a water-based solvent to remove all the old paint and varnish down to bare wood. He re-stained the crucifix in a slightly darker hue and applied a clear coat. From a distance, no one can see the knots.

The crucifix was purchased under the leadership of the late Father Thomas Jackson, who was pastor of Holy Cross when the church was built. Father Bachmeier says it is believed that Father Jackson donated his ample poker winnings to help finish construction of the church.

Lewis removed the wooden nails from Christ’s hands and feet during the work and found that they were lovingly hand carved, a clue that the crucifix was made by Italian craftsmen who did such labor.

“Our generation is making old things new again,” said Lewis.