18 January 2010

Christ Church in Bong Bong

One of the great things about working in conservation is that almost all of our work makes a difference, both to the objects that we conserve, and for the people to whom the objects are significant.

But from time to time, we get the opportunity to work on projects where the difference our work makes is highly visible, even transformative.

Such was the case late last year with our work on the decorated interiors of the Anglican Christ Church at Bong Bong in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, it is the oldest church in the region, dating from 1845, and for some time, it was the only church between Sydney and Goulburn.

International Conservation Services was originally requested to conserve the interior paintings and decorative elements of the church. But after some discussions with the parish, we found that we could help the church with a broader project involving advice on the colour scheme, redesign of the internal church lighting, as well as work on the timber pews and running a training course for the parish members on how to care for them.

The large areas of flaking paint found in the artwork and decorative paintwork of the ceiling were of primary concern to our painting conservation team of Adam Godijn, Arek Werstak and Matteo Volonte, who spent a long fortnight working in demanding conditions of up to 40 deg C just below the ceiling of the church.

The flaking paint areas were consolidated as a priority before the extensive cleaning works required to the decorative ceiling were commenced. In order to avoid the heat, the team worked as early in the morning as possible.

After cleaning and consolidation of the paint layers, the losses were filled and inpainted before a final varnish layer was applied. This reversible varnish layer serves as a protective coating from the dust, dirt and debris that will collect in time, and also improves the appearance of the decoration by saturating the surface.

During planning for these works, we undertook a variety of paint investigations around the church to confirm the extent of original decorative finishes, and to attempt to identify the original colour scheme. These investigations uncovered many interesting things.

We discovered that the white gloss enamel painted window frames originally had a wood grained finish. A specialist decorator was brought in to re-create this original wood-grained effect. Apart from looking much more interesting the dark oak-like wood grain significantly enhances and highlights the beautiful stained glass windows.

Investigations around the gothic lettering at the front of the church found that the original lettering was much more ornate, and much more in keeping with the style of the surrounding decorations. The existing lettering was quite harsh in blue and red, whereas the original lettering had three colours - red, blue and gold leaf. After some discussions, the original lettering was replicated.

The plain sections of the church interior were repainted by a local tradesman using a colour scheme developed from original colours revealed by our paint scrapes, and in consultation with representatives of the churchwardens.

During the painting works, all of the plaques on the walls had to be removed, so the opportunity was taken to clean and polish them all before they were re-installed after the painting works were complete.

And finally a new lighting system was installed that provides both uplight onto the ceiling decoration and also spotlights the decorative verses on the two end walls.

You can read more about our work in this article in the Southern Highland News.

We are delighted to have been able to contribute to revealing this real gem of a church interior in a historic region of NSW. Services are held in the church each Sunday if you are interested in visiting.

David West and Adam Godijn