Calvary Cemetery’s mosaics rescued from deterioration

Beautiful mosaic depictions of religious scenes – produced more than 60 years ago in Italy – were in danger of being ruined. Sections of colored tiles were falling out and getting lost. Grout was crumbling.

That was the condition of the 14 Stations of the Cross and a Holy Family mosaic at Omaha’s Calvary Cemetery until skilled artisans rescued them.

Although touch-up work had been done over the years by cemetery staff, sections as big as a fully extended hand had fallen off, said Deacon Dan Keller, director of Catholic Cemeteries.

“We knew that if we didn’t address this pretty quickly, tiles would start coming off in bigger sections. The mosaics are just so gorgeous – you can’t allow that to happen,” he said.

In June, workers from Conrad Pickel Studio in Vero Beach, Florida, used their specialized skills to restore the artworks to their original beauty. Heading the job was foreman Paul “P.T.” Thornton, a man with 30 years of experience working with such art.

“The mosaics are awesome,” he said. “I love to work on great work.”

Thornton and an assistant spent seven days meticulously cleaning and reinstalling tiles, searching through thousands of tiles in their supplies for the right-sized and colored tiles to replace those that were missing, cutting and shaping them to fit, and reapplying and coloring grout across the mosaics.

“It’s very tedious work; you have to have a lot of patience,” Thornton said.

Deacon Keller said last fall and this spring two local firms repaired damaged mortar in the stone structures that support the mosaics to remedy the water damage that was causing the mosaic tiles to loosen.

Altogether, the restoration project cost nearly $60,000, he said.

Produced in and shipped from Italy, the Stations of the Cross mosaics were installed within the limestone structures around the cemetery between 1952 and 1953, and the Holy Family mosaic in 1962, Deacon Keller said.

Several bronze, raised-relief works of art also adorn the cemetery: The Last Supper and representations of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of the rosary.

Such artwork provides a welcoming environment at the cemetery, Deacon Keller said. “Beauty always enhances the experience. 

“Most people, when they have a burial, don’t always see the beauty that’s around them because they’re in a state of grief and loss,” Deacon Keller said. “Later, when they come back they notice, and (the mosaics) become a point of reference” for their loved one’s grave.

“And we’re always looking to enhance the beauty of the cemeteries,” he said. 

Recent projects included repainting at the Chapel of the Apostles and the Suffering Christ Mausoleum at Calvary, and the mausoleum at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Future plans include painting at the Holy Angels Mausoleum at Resurrection Cemetery and rebuilding altars at St. Mary and St. Mary Magdalene cemeteries.

Volunteers also planted and continue to maintain flower gardens at Calvary.

“It’s more than just doing the big things, it’s doing the small things to maintain the beauty of all the cemeteries,” Deacon Keller said.

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