Monday, August 10, 2009

The statues of Bethlehem Lutheran, Pemberville

Under an arch at the right-hand front of the sanctuary, are displayed these antique statues: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John the Baptist, two angels, and a dove that was atop an old baptismal font. They are beautifully preserved now, thanks to the efforts of church historian Dale Bruning and restorative artist Valerie French.
The statues are around 145 years old. They were originally displayed on the altar in Bethlehem's old church, built in 1862. This scan, from Bethlehem's 125th anniversary booklet in 1986, shows the interior of the old church, with the statues visible on the altar.
A closeup, showing Pastor Winterhoff. This photo would have been taken somewhere between 1899 and 1908.
The current church as it would have appeared when it was new in 1908, with the old altar still in place and the dove on top of the font clearly visible.
According to Dale Bruning: "The statues were in the original church and when the present church was completed and dedicated in May 1909 the altar furnishings (the statues and angels, baptismal font with the dove and pulpit) were all moved into the new church. In 1944 the church was redecorated. The altar, which was painted white, was stripped and stained an oak color as was the pulpit. The statues, which were in a bad condition, were stored in the attic, and the dove placed in a box. Here they remained until 2004, a period of sixty years. I was alerted and shown their location in the attic. I spoke with my brother, Bob and his wife, Joanne, and showed them the statues. Joanne said that she knew of a place in Bowling Green that might do restoration work. I went to Bowling Green and came in contact with Valerie French. I had taken one of the statues along. She looked at it and said that she would like to have this type of reconstruction project, but that she would do it at home in her studio."
"With someone to do the restoring Bob and I went to the Church Council and asked for permission to have the statues and angels restored at no cost to the church. Council unanimously agreed and the project went forward."
"This turned out to be a much more difficult project than anticipated. Hands etc. were missing; cracks etc. But Valerie did a tremendous job of restoration even to matching the original paint. I would venture to say that the 5 pieces look better now than when they were new. Valerie also had the niches constructed. Volunteers did the necessary cutting into the arch to place the niches. There was opposition to placing them back on the altar, so we had to find a new home. Everyone now says it looks as though the statues have always been in the arch."
"I was shown the dove at a later point in time and when Valerie delivered the statues in January 2007 I asked if she would consider restoring the dove, to which she consented. The dove is hand carved and very beautiful."
St. Peter with the keys to the Kingdom ...
... and St. Paul with his sword.
St. John the Baptist ... how unusual! ... is the largest of the statues.
From Dale Bruning: "Valerie French lives on McCutcheonville Road, Perrysburg, Ohio. She did the scenic set pieces for the Toledo Opera's production of "Salome" at the Valentine Theater last March. She is a very talented lady; we were fortunate to have had her expert services." This is most certainly true! The beauty and artistry of these statues speaks for itself. Bethlehem is fortunate to be able to display these statues again, beautifully restored; and fortunate also for people like Dale Bruning who care about the church's heritage. Thanks for all your help, Dale!


  1. Very nice. Great historical info. Imagine what you would find if you could look in all the old church atics.

  2. Oh, the treasures, in old church attics and basements!