FCX: The Gift Of Resurrecting Religious Figures

Published on 27 Nov 2015 4:19:36 PM

Matthew Peter is blessed with a talent for restoring religious statues. He has repaired more than 600 figurines in over 30 years, for churches and Christian families throughout Malaysia. His work ranges from reconstructing tiny nativity scenes to touching-up life-sized statues made from marble, wood and porcelain.

Peter finds great satisfaction in giving the ageing figurines a facelift. “Religious statues are devotional items in Catholic churches and homes. In churches, people are baptised and couples exchange marital vows in front of holy statues. So these icons need to be preserved in mint condition,” he says.

Peter's interest in restoration began as a hobby in the 1980s. He started by mending broken furniture and carving wooden key chains, before picking up skills like copper tooling, tile painting and enamel work.

“I got into reconditioning religious statues later,” he says, adding that he inherited his artistic talent from his mum, Olive Margarett Theresa, now 80 years old. “My first project was reconstructing one of my holy sculptures. When my friends saw my finished piece, they asked me to restore their old statues, too.”

Peter, 52, doesn’t have any formal training in restoration work – he heads the development division of an auto company as a day job – so he augments his knowledge by reading how-to books and websites. “The Internet provides vital information on paint techniques such as airbrushing, dry-brushing, and how certain dyes and pigments are formulated to develop acrylic paint,” he says.

In his Petaling Jaya home, there’s a room dedicated to his work. Bottles of acrylic paint, brushes of varying sizes, palettes, an airbrush kit, putty fillers and watercolours – all are neatly stored and organised on shelves. Sculpting tools such as putty knives, carving devices and penknives make up his tool kit, along with everyday items like toothpicks, needles and a magnifying glass.

On one shelf, eight figurines wait to be rejuvenated. “The statue of Mother Mary needs a fresh coat of paint, while the statue of Jesus requires restorative work. There’s another statue of Mother Mary which needs a new headpiece,” Peter says.

It takes one week to six months to complete a restoration, and that depends on the level of damage and the complexity of the work. “There was a shattered statue of the Risen Christ which had to be rebuilt like a jigsaw puzzle,” Peter says. “I have also worked on a smashed statue of Jesus Christ on the crucifix.”

Peter has uses plaster of Paris, air-dry clay and even cement to fix badly damaged statues. For figurines that require minimal work, the process involves removing any trace of wax and grime, then a wash with hot water and dishwashing soap, before drying in the sun. Then the old paint is scrapped off with a chisel, which unfortunately causes tiny fragments to chip off. But Peter then repairs the damaged parts with woodchips and air-dry clay.

“It’s a huge responsibility to sculpt a perfect face that’s symmetrical, while capturing the persona through their appearance. To recreate a human-like statue, the idol’s jaw, cheeks and bone structure need to be taken into account,” Peter says.

Finally, he applies an undercoat of paint, followed by several coats of acrylic paint. “The colours shouldn’t be gaudy or overpowering,” he says. “It’s difficult to paint cloth pieces as there are folds, and the shading and airbrush techniques need to be as natural as possible, to give the real-life effect.”

Peter says he only charges a nominal fee for all that work. “It’s not about the money, but the satisfaction of restoring religious icons. Plus, the look on people’s faces is priceless when they adore their newly restored statues.”

To read more about Matthew Peter, click on the Star2.com link below.