Parishioner restores vintage statues at St. Pius X Church

  • Written by Mary Louise Van Dyke
  • Published in Local
Bill Mitchell does touch-up work after repairs on this statue from St. Pius X Church in Mountlake Terrace. Photo: Courtesy Bill Mitchell Bill Mitchell does touch-up work after repairs on this statue from St. Pius X Church in Mountlake Terrace. Photo: Courtesy Bill Mitchell

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE – When parishioner Bill Mitchell enters St. Pius X Church in Mountlake Terrace, he is greeted by his handiwork — rejuvenated statues of Mary and Joseph. 

Mary statue comparison
The work of restoring the statue of Mary included creating a new base and repainting the statue in its original colors. Photo: Courtesy Bill Mitchell

The statues are among more than 100 vintage plaster pieces that Mitchell has restored for parishes around the Seattle Archdiocese and as far away as Alaska and Oregon.

“Many times these statues can’t be replaced,” said Mitchell, a semi-retired custom wallpaper designer and one-time painter’s apprentice. The aim of his Statues and Stations restoration work is “to protect, to preserve, to beautify,” Mitchell said.

“I am true to the original color of paint. I never change the colors unless the original is totally unknown,” he said, explaining that most statues were painted in a traditional palette of red, blue and yellow.

Mitchell, who grew up in the Seattle area, said he is basically self-taught in statue restoration and he does most of the work in his shop in Lynnwood. “A lot of the help I get is from a guy named Michelangelo,” he joked. Parishes in need of restoration work often find Mitchell through Kaufer’s Religious Supplies in Seattle.

At his own parish, Mitchell’s expertise came into play after he asked the pastor, Father Cal Christiansen, if he could help out in any way.

The answer was yes. The parish’s statutes of Mary and Joseph had been stored in the basement when the new church building was dedicated in 1983, Father Christiansen said. Shortly after he arrived at the parish in 2013, Father Christiansen discovered that flooding and mold had damaged the statue of Mary.

Bill Mitchell restores statue of St. Joseph
Bill Mitchell makes sure St. Joseph’s mended hand is in good repair before the statue is reinstalled at St. Pius X Church in Mountlake Terrace. Photo: Courtesy Bill Mitchell

“I pulled her out and basically used a couple gallons of bleach to kill the mold, and put her in my rectory garage,” the pastor said.

But the statue still needed extensive repairs, which Mitchell agreed to tackle. It took about 25 pounds of plaster and three months of work to repair the statue, he said. St. Joseph required fewer fixes — replacing a missing part of his hand and repairing fracture lines in the base. Mitchell repainted the pair of statues before they were installed in the church during summer 2015.

Earlier this year, Mitchell again was asked to help the parish when its new crucifix arrived from Spain with damage to one of Jesus’ arms. Instead of shipping the crucifix back, Mitchell agreed to repair the damage. He climbed inside the large shipping crate to make the repairs. “It was very much easier for me to get in it and work in there,” he explained.

The crucifix, unveiled this year on the feast of Corpus Christi, replaces the 1983 cross that represented the risen Christ. “I think people are really well-receiving of the change,” Father Christiansen said. The statues, he added, “bring a sense of Catholic identity back to our parish.”