Artwork on Chapel Doors Restored to Original Splendor

Camila Chaudron ’08

June 26, 2015

The storied copper panels that adorn the exterior of Thurston Memorial Chapel received a much-needed facelift this summer, just in time for Punahou’s 175th anniversary, and the original artist of the reliefs was there to guide the restoration process. Evelyn Giddings, who sculpted the biblical scenes featured on the doors of the Chapel in the mid 1960s, returned to campus to lend her insights to the professional conservationists who restored the artwork this June. Giddings created the 32 panels, which represent scenes from the life and death of Christ, using the designs of renowned artist Jean Charlot.

Rosa Lowinger, the director and principal conservator at RLA Conservation, inspects one of the 32 copper panels on the Chapel doors with the original sculptor, Evelyn Giddings.

Over the past 50 years, the Chapel doors had accumulated a certain amount of residue due to the effects of the weather and the copper had begun to oxidize. “The panels were very dry,” noted Rosa Lowinger, the director and principal conservator at RLA Conservation, indicating the need for the metal doors to be protected from the elements. After removing layers of dirt from the panels using restoration-safe materials, including water and gentle brushes, the conservation team retouched exposed areas and applied thin layers of hard protective wax over the metal to ensure its safekeeping.

The nationally acclaimed RLA Conservation team is trained in the art and science of restoration, meticulously bringing art back to its original glory. The team asked Giddings for guidance during the process to ensure that the final product is true to the original intention of the artwork. “It’s not very typical to get an opportunity to speak to the artist when we’re restoring a piece, especially with something done so long ago,” Lowinger said.

Giddings described certain nuances in the artwork that had faded over time, including a diffuse halo surrounding the head of Christ and the green- and black-colored shading, which required lightening. The RLA Conservation team listened attentively to her suggestions so that the restored product resembles the original as closely as possible. “Our general intention is to be as non-invasive as possible,” Lowinger said.

As the sight of the panels jogged Giddings’ memory, the nonagenarian recalled how Vladimir Ossipoff, the architect who designed the Chapel (as well as the Mary Persis Winne Units and the Julia Ing Learning Center), would anxiously await her creations. “Are they ready yet?” he would ask about the panels. Giddings said that it took her over a year to complete the project, although she assured it was a labor of love.

Giddings also described her collaboration with Charlot. “Jean worked on the designs one-by-one,” she said, “so I didn’t have all of them when I first started sculpting. Once, he sent me a design from Paris, but it was too intricate so I wrote him back to say that I wanted to leave some of the elements out.” Charlot replied in the affirmative, agreeing that Giddings could modify the design. The two artists collaborated fruitfully on a number of pieces on display in Honolulu, including a copper sculpture at Moanalua Intermediate School.

The Chapel restoration is a result of the School’s increasing attentiveness to art across campus and part of Punahou’s continued commitment to preserving its architectural heritage. “Our intent is to provide the proper care to ensure that these unique and historic panels are well maintained, protected and here for generations to enjoy,” said Director of Advancement Operations Lissa Lam ’72 Schiff, who coordinated the restoration.


  • 6/30/2015 2:31:45 AM

    Thanks for the report! The Chapel and its doors are a well cherished part of our familial campus. – Jim Fleming, Parent '94, '00 and '04

  • 7/23/2015 1:54:27 PM

    What a beautiful, worthy project – to restore the Chapel panels depicting the Via Dolorosa and Stations of the Cross. We grew up with Charlot's work at home and in the many hours spent at Thurston Memorial Chapel over 13 years. Those doors and their panels are family, beautiful familiar friends ensconced by so many hearts and small hands yearning to touch the life of Jesus. Mahalo, Punahou, for preserving what is treasured beyond words for many, and a unique gift of our school's heritage. – Deborah Risa Mrantz


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