Mural artist Craig Gallagher was still applying tiny finishing details to the face of Christ on Tuesday.
The three immense murals that cup the altar under the gold-leafed dome of the sanctuary were essentially done, however. Gallagher, of St. Michael, Minn., has devoted hundreds of hours to the three paintings that are the most visible focus of the restoration work on the interior of the Church of St. Joseph in Mandan.
Two hundred and fifty hours went into the centerpiece alone, said the Rev. Patrick Schumacher, pastor at St. Joseph. The central painting — God the Father outstretched above a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit — is made three-dimensional with the hanging of the crucifix upon the wall. The tabernacle, which holds the consecrated Host, or communion wafer, will be placed underneath the crucifix, beneath the feet of Christ, Schumacher said.
Flanking the central painting are, on the left, a scene of the Nativity, the central figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, with cherubs, and the death of St. Joseph on the right, surrounded by Mary and the adult Jesus, with an angel figure whose wings direct the eye back to God the Father.
Gallagher did the painting in his garage, he said; the canvases are so large he had to paint them from the side.
They are affixed to a false wall at the back of the sanctuary to keep the painting away from the effects of cold and moisture, Schumacher said.
The colors of the side paintings are done in a softer, fresco palette to allow the eye to be drawn first to the brighter, central figure of the Trinity, Gallagher said.
Gallagher has been painting church murals for 21 years. His next assignment will be a painting of the Assumption of Mary for a church in Minnesota, which is probably the theme he has been asked to paint most often, he said.
The remainder of the painting done on the interior — miles of stenciling tracking along the ribs of the arches, ceiling and decorative panels, is 90 percent complete, Schumacher said. Against the soft buff color of the plastered walls, the floral and geometric stencils are oil-painted in blue, soft red and gold and accented with gold leaf.
A central motif on the ceiling of the nave, or congregation area, is a stencil naming the four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. St. Joseph was founded by a German-speaking settler, and so the evangelists’ names are given in their German spellings.
Also in German, stenciled above the symbol of St. Joseph — the lily, cross and carpenter’s square — is lettering in German that reads, “St. Joseph, pray for us.”
The church, with its airy, high ceiling spaces, built to an Anton Dohman design in 1904, provides an architectural canvas for this kind of art, Schumacher said.
Slate flooring has been laid down as flooring in the sanctuary, awaiting grout. The next step is installing stone flooring in the nave and bringing back the pews, which are being restored in Dickinson, he said.
The $1.1 million project is expected to be completed for the church to be used again by late April, he said. Bismarck Tribune