Christians believe their followers are uniquely gifted with talents. Some people sing beautifully while others have the ability to draw. While each of us has our own religious beliefs, it’s always heartening when individuals showcase their special talents to serve the community.

When it comes to empowerment bestowed by the Holy Spirit, trainer Matthew Peter is blessed with the gift of restoration, particularly of Catholic statues.

Over three decades, the humble man has repaired over 600 religious icons for Catholic churches and families across the country. His work ranges from reconstructing two-inch nativity set models, one-foot holy family pieces to touching up five-foot tall statues made from a variety of materials such as wood, porcelain and marble.

Peter finds satisfaction in giving ageing religious statuaries the facelift they deserve.

“Religious statues are devotional items in Catholic churches and homes. In churches, people are baptised and couples exchange marital vows in front of holy statues. So, these icons need to be preserved in mint condition,” says the 52-year-old during an interview at his home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Peter developed an interest in restorative work (especially woodwork) in the late 1980s. The active church member kickstarted his hobby by mending broken furniture and creating wooden key chains. After honing his talent, he picked up other creative skills such as copper tooling, tile painting and enamel work.

“I got into reconditioning religious statues later, and my first project was reconstructing one of my holy sculptures. When my friends saw my finished piece, they asked me to restore their old religious statues, too,” explains the friendly man who heads the training and development department of an automobile company.

As Peter doesn’t have any formal training in restoring statues, he augments his knowledge by reading books and surfing the Internet.

“The Internet provides vital information on paint techniques such as airbrushing, dry-brushing and how certain dyes and pigments are formulated to develop acrylic paint,” says Peter, the third of four siblings, who inherited his artistic skills from his 80-year-old mother, Olive Margarett Theresa.

Man with an artistic touch

In his home, there’s a room dedicated to his hobby. On his table, there are bottles of acrylic paint, paint brushes of varying sizes, palettes, an airbrush kit, putty filler and watercolours, all neatly stored in organisers and shelves.

Sculpting devices, such as putty knife, carving tools, penknife and day-to-day items, including toothpicks, magnifying glass and needles, make up the survival kit for his work. Most items are obtained from craft shops and hardware stores from around his neighbourhood.

On a shelf, there are eight statues waiting to be “rejuvenated”.

“The statue of Mother Mary needs a fresh coat of paint while the statue of Jesus requires restorative work. There’s another statue of Mother Mary which needs a new headpiece,” said Peter.

As Peter has a day job, he only has time to indulge in his hobby after work and during weekends. Due to time constrains, it’s understandable that it takes anything between one week and six months to complete a project.

According to him, it boils down to the level of damage and complexity of work involved.

“There was a shattered statue of the Risen Christ which had to be rebuilt like a jigsaw puzzle. I have also worked on a smashed statue of Jesus Christ on the crucifix,” said Peter, who uses materials such as plaster of Paris, airdry clay and cement to fix badly damaged statues.

Restoring religious statues boils down to the level of damage and complexity of work involved, says Matthew Peter.

Restoring religious statues boils down to the level of damage and complexity of work involved, says Matthew Peter.

For statues that require minimal restorative work, he removes access wax and grime first. Then, he washes them with hot water and dish washing liquid and dries them in the sun. Once dried, paint is scrapped off using a chisel and sculpting tools. During the process, tiny fragments usually chip off, resulting in Peter having to restore the damaged parts using air dry clay and woodchip.

“It’s a huge responsibility to sculpt a perfect face that’s symmetrical while capturing the persona through their appearance. To recreate a human-like statue, the idol’s jaw, cheeks and bone structure need to be taken into account,” explains Peter.

Next, undercoat paint is applied, followed by several coats of acrylic paint. The other hurdle is having to recreate hues that look natural and pleasing to the eye.

“The colours shouldn’t be gaudy or overpowering. It’s difficult to paint cloth pieces as there are folds and the shading and airbrush techniques need to be as natural as possible. There’s a lot of skill involved in mixing and matching shades that give the ‘real-life’ effect,” said Peter.

He charges a nominal fee for his work.

“It’s not about the money but the satisfaction of restoring religious icons. Plus, the look on people’s faces is priceless when they adore their newly restored statues.”