Lou McClung of Cleveland, Ohio has a knack for restoration, being a professional make-up artist and he manufactures Lusso Cosmetics. In 2009, he restored a run-down St. Clare of Assisi statue that he kept in his 2,200-square-foot apartment. When multiple Catholic churches closed in Cleveland, McClung set out to rescue statues and artifacts once purchased by the people in those parishes. That quest to preserve Catholic history in a reflective and respectful museum cost him $30,000 on his credit card. Today, he's still buying, restoring and lovingly maintaining his Museum of Divine Statues.
Museum of Divine Statues
by Judith Glynn. When Cleveland, Ohio closed 37 Catholic churches, St.Hedwig's Church became a museum for restored religious artifacts.
Preserving Cleveland's Religious Past
"What was going to happen to our heritage in Northeast Ohio? When people came to this country, they filled churches with statues dedicated to their faith," he said, as a Gregorian chant played in the museum. "Most of the statues were in disrepair or being sold out of state when I heard about them."
Today, that "calling" and his knowledge of painting cosmetic faces turned him into the curator, restorer and tour guide for the approximately 70 exquisitely restored statues and religious artifacts housed in the Museum of Divine Statues. This magnificent place was the former 125-year-old St. Hedwig Church on Madison Avenue in Lakewood, a working-class neighborhood of Cleveland, which he purchased from the diocese.
In addition to the statues, what was done with the former church is breathtaking. Old tiles and tar were ripped up to reveal hardwood floors. The pews were removed. Archways were reconfigured, Styrofoam was attached to columns and painted to resemble stone, as were many of the bases for the statues, which makes them easier to move.
For Catholics, it's a whole other dimension to view or adore the rescued statues and artifacts all in one place. Many young people have never seen the inside of a church, much less a statue close up. The museum, however, is not just about religion. Anyone interested in art and architecture will come away with an appreciation for McClung's efforts.
"Look at the craftsmanship here. It's my honor to bring these artifacts back to the way they were," McClung continued. And that includes his repairing broken fingers, crowns and bodies; repainting faces with oil and air brushing the bodies and clothing folds with paint. But it’s the statues' eyes made of hand-blown glass that give the haunting life-like appearance. Those with brown eyes were made in Spain, while those with blue come from Eastern Europe.
It's not unusual and welcomed for people to sponsor a statue in perpetuity or buy one for personal use. Back in the 1900's, it was standard to have a devotional statue in the home. All have provenance. Some pieces are carved linden wood or bass wood while others are marble or plaster. The Stations of the Cross come from a church in Collinwood and number ten hanging on upper walls.
Tour Groups and Private Visits
Tours groups, which are welcome any day of the week, can range up to 60 people with McClung as the guide. He likes to mix technology with restoration, using giant monitors at the front of the church where he transfers images from his Ipad to take the visitor through his story, how stone statues are carved and, of course, the before-and-after restoration photos.
Presently, the Museum of Divine Statues has one disadvantage for individual visits. It's only open Sundays from noon to 4:00 p.m. Price is $8. McClung's parents drive one hour to help him that day by manning the gift shop and welcoming visitors.
Museum of Divine Statues
If You Go
The Museum of Divine Statues is located at 12905 Madison Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44107. Telephone is 216-228-9950. Don't have a car? A Rapid Transportation public train is a few blocks away. Lou McClung has a private business where he sells restored statues and artifacts.