St. Joseph the Worker Chapel Restoration
For the first time since St. Joseph the Worker Chapel was built between 1949-50, there is an initiative for VMC to look into true restoration for this structure, which is not just significant in terms of architectural and artistic worth. It is important also because the church stands as a symbol of the Victorias community spirit, shown through the community members’ contribution and participation in the building and decoration of this church. What VMC is trying to do is champion integral community conservation in Negros and pioneer the education of communities about the importance of their participation in preserving cultural heritage.
By documenting the church as it presently stands, VMC and the restoration team fulfills an ethical obligation to International Charters, to the public, and to the structure itself; also to the conservation community both local and international. The chapel carries a cultural and artistic significance in 20th century architecture through the work of renowned Czech architect, Antonin Raymond, the mural of internationally prominent American artist, Alfonso Ossorio—which is identified as the largest piece in his body of work—the mosaic panels of Belgian liturgical artist Ade de Bethune, and the local artisans who highlighted Filipino identity in their work, such as Arcadio Anore and Benjamin Valenciano. The chapel stands as a token of the courage and lively intelligence of the people who conceived it and took an active part in shaping it.
Intervention, which will be determined through the assessment of degradation and/or damage the chapel has sustained through the years, will help define the nature and on-going care of the structure and the artworks within, in order to prevent further deterioration and, hopefully, the need for future conservation work.
The Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker has received renown for the artist Alfonso Ossorio’s compelling image of Christ painted on the sanctuary wall and ceiling. As the works of art in question–wall murals and mosaic—are directly on the building fabric, it was deemed necessary to have an investigation of the building itself. An initial ocular inspection coupled with the production of architectural as-built plans based on a laser scan was carried out to find out which tests are needed to determine the integrity of the building and its materials, along with the possible causes and agents of the deterioration of the murals.
Deterioration Observed in the Sanctuary: Physical Degradation
In the ocular inspection conducted, the aim of the architecture/structural team members was to find flaws in the sanctuary area that may contribute to the overall deterioration of the Ossorio mural.
Structurally, it was concluded that the sanctuary, along with the rest of the building, showed no alarming signs of deterioration such as settlement, severe structural cracks, and deformations. This being said, there is no further need for soil testing around the area of the chapel.
What can be observed on the wall of the Ossorio mural are cracks that have formed on the plaster, which range from fine hairline fissures to 3mm faults at the widest. These cracks are not structural in nature but an indication of moisture in the wall. This rough surface does not have any waterproofing, and continuously admits water into the wall, making it constantly wet. This makes the plaster on the cement wall, on which the mural is painted on, directly prone to cracking, given the moist-dry cycle. This is also evident in the lateral walls of the sanctuary.
Also contributing to the overall deterioration of the Ossorio mural is the excessive heat emanating from the mercury bulbs which may also promote condensation, especially during the cooler months. The mercury bulbs are recommended to be replaced with much cooler lighting alternatives such as, but not limited to, LED.
To minimize and eradicate the humidity in the walls and ceilings, waterproofing of the roof slabs was done immediately.
Condition Assessment: Ade de Bethune’s Mosaics and Alfonso Ossorio’s Mural
Site description and significance
St. Joseph the Worker Church, popularly known as “The Church of the Angry Christ” is located at the heart of the Victorias Milling Company compound. The uniqueness of this chapel is found in the liturgical decoration within. The architecture itself is the brainchild of Antonin Raymond, a former colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright, who himself became an eminent exponent of modern architecture.
The church interior decoration includes, as the centerpiece, a 60-square meter liturgical mural by Fil-American artist Alfonso Ossorio. This mural became popular as “The Angry Christ.” Ossorio, son of Don Miguel and his wife Ma. Paz Yangco, who was born in Manila and lived in the Victorias community for the very early part of his youth had been living in the United States since his adolescence where he became one of the prime movers of the first major American art movement, Abstract Expressionism, along with artists Jackson Pollock, William de Koonig, Mark Rothko, among others.
Adelaide (Ade) de Bethune, a Baroness by birth, was a Catholic liturgical artist born into a noble Belgian family who migrated to the United States after World War 1. Her forte was in traditional Christian iconography, which she employed when she designed four mosaic panels, one exterior mural, a small drawing on an exterior wall, various wood carvings, the metal plates decorating the pulpit, and the enamelled tabernacle.
Mosaics: Description and existing condition assessment
Apart from collected dirt, moss, cobwebs, mud, and black encrustations on the cement base, the mosaic panels on the east and west walls of the chapel, and the baptistery, are still in good condition with hardly any loss of glass pieces. There is more deterioration, however, on the church façade and the 24 panels along the roof.
The team underwent a series of testing of cement mortar with a sturdier cement-sand ratio prior to actual restoration work. Old mortar was chipped off and replaced with new mortar where glass pieces were embedded. As it may be close to impossible to match exactly the configuration of each glass piece, the glass piece was trimmed to fit the imprint of the original shape. Glass colors that were lacking were noted and marked on the mosaic mural. Identical colored glass was ordered and the missing pieces filled in.
Mural: Description and existing condition assessment
a. Water marks are most evident on the ceiling where they outline the pre-fabricated slabs used on the roof, forming discernable grid patterns by the delamination of the paint.
b. Salt efflorescence is localized to the ceiling, and is caused by the infiltration problem associated with the leaks from specific parts of the ceiling.
c. On the vertical wall, the presence of moisture is evidenced by sweat-like drip marks. Thin white films caused by condensation are most obvious on the darker colors. Occasional bird droppings were also sighted.
d. Pigment alteration can be detected particularly on the surfaces painted in deep olive green and brown. The white or pale pink overglazes fade in an irregular mottled pattern. This action is inherent particularly on these color combinations. Probable cause may be related to the deteriorative chemical action of ethyl silicate and the chemical reaction between pigments used.
e. Hairline fissures are most prominent on the lower portion of the vertical wall, caused by the presence of moisture on the wall and vibrations from the bell. One particular crack, the biggest noted so far, has a 1.5-centimeter lacuna. The crack may have been further broadened by seismic action, as the cement had been previously weakened by water infiltration.
Community female volunteers cleaned the mural with isopropyl alcohol on sponges. Spider webs, dust and dirt were swept away from the ceiling, crevices, and floor using brooms. Electric fans, whose vents and covers were encrusted with hardened dust were also cleaned to prevent further dispersal of dust and dirt. Light paint splashes and bird and lizard droppings were cleaned up.
Community Involvement and Development
The chapel of St. Joseph the Worker, during construction between 1949-1950, involved members of the Victorias community as key contributors to its completion. In the same token, its restoration aims to include training programs for community members in the restoration of the mural and mosaics. If possible also, graduates of Escuela Taller’s masonry and painting and finishing classes will be employed by Victorias Milling Corporation for this project, and hopefully for future gainful employment for the continued maintenance of the restored church.
Experts Doing the Work
Because the conservation and restoration of built heritage always requires a multidisciplinary approach given the use of various materials, architecture, and the impact of changing environmental conditions, the following consultants and experts have contributed to this study to help determine the particular approach in conserving and/or restoring the structure and artwork hereby mentioned, through passive, preventive, or remedial intervention:
LILIANE REJANTE-MANAHAN, Over-all Project Coordinator and Restorer for mural and mosaics
JORDAN T. SUGAY, Head of Mosaic Restoration work
MICHAEL F. MANALO, restoration architect
DAVID S. REYES, structural engineer
CONRAD ALAMPAY, 3D laser scanning technology expert
MA. CRISTINA PATERNO, Executive Director, San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Fund, Inc.
ABEL ESPINOZA, Ph.D., former Technical Director, Sunpol Resins and Polymers, USA
PAUL SCHWARTZBAUM, Senior Conservator for wall paintings and former director, Guggenheim Museum, Venice