Heritage Building: Church of Menil-Gondouin mineral paint on stone; (interior and exterior restoration)
Location: Normandy, France
Client: Town Mayor, The Doicese of Sées, French Historical Building Architects
This unique church was first decorated by priest Victor Paysant who wanted to create ‘a living, speaking church’. Beginning in 1873, he covered the building inside and out with colourful images and biblical sayings that he hoped would resonate with the local farming community. It looked and felt completely ahead of it’s time. Upon the priest’s death in 1921, the local religious authorities quickly saw fit to limewash the controversial walls of the church, destroying this powerful example of populist art. Ironically, the limewash preserved some of the paint, helping this local legend to be rediscovered in the 1980s. Heritage France helped to initiate a funding drive which secured enough funds from private citizens, the church and European and regional sources alike to completely restore the building to Paysant’s vision. Having to rely on black and white photographs, postcards and scrapings to decipher the exact pigments used by Paysant, the artist was astounded to come across a first-hand account of the building in its prime. An elderly local woman, well past 100 years, remarked that the colours were wrong after seeing a scale model of the intended restoration. Despite her age, she had excellent vision and memory, remembering the church and priest well. She was able to assit the artist in discerning the exact tonal range of the paintwork. She got her granddaughter to mix watercolours, and hitting upon the right shade, she would send off the sample, allowing the artist to match the colours exactly.