(Editors note: The A-J published this article on July 28, 2001.)
The restoration of art works from Vatican museums is the primary interest of a growing number of international chapters of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.
Father Richard Bourgeois, who oversees the North American chapters, frankly stated Friday that he did not expect to be lured to Lubbock to witness one of the Vatican's most auspicious restoration projects.
"Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums" will be displayed June 2 through Sept. 15, 2002, at the Museum of Texas Tech.
"My first thought when I heard about this exhibit is, 'Who in Lubbock knows who with the Vatican museum?' Things like this just don't happen," Bourgeois said during his first trip to Lubbock. "Any Vatican exhibit is a major phenomenon, and Vatican art exhibits traditionally travel only to large, established museums in major metropolitan areas.
"I would have expected this exhibit to be shown at either the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) in New York City or perhaps the Detroit (Mich.) Institute of Art."
The exhibit's 31 frescoes -- 28 of which have been completely restored thus far -- never have been exhibited as a group.
At the conclusion of the Lubbock exhibit, they will not be shown to the public again until the year 2025.
While the exhibit will capture the attention of those who study, appreciate, practice, critique and/or teach art, it is not, said Bourgeois, one that can be appreciated only by those who have studied art.
Rather, it will be embraced, he said, "by anyone who is open to human creativity, open to beauty, open to the experience of history.
"All art is of God. But this specific art was created at a period of time -- and please God, we will return someday -- when all of Christendom was one. It predates the Protestant Reformation. It predates schisms between East and West."
He noted that the exhibit's earlier frescoes were painted "during the Crusades, and when Henry II and Samuel Beckett were having differences."
Later frescoes were painted when St. Francis of Assisi walked the Earth.
Early attempts to restore the frescoes almost left them damaged.
Bourgeois explained that a form of glue was used in an attempt to preserve each work.
It was later learned that this glue would distort the colors.
The modern restoration process is painstakingly slow, one of the first steps having Japanese paper lay down and salt water slowly brushed across the top to extract the glue.
The 2002 exhibit will be offered at no charge.
Bourgeois has mixed feelings about that.
"These are priceless, one-of-a-kind, never-before-seen exhibits we are discussing," he said. "Frescoes are a unique form of art. Usually, they cannot be moved; they are painted on walls and one normally must travel to see them. The best example I can give is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
"It certainly is not the norm for any Vatican exhibit to be offered at no charge to the public because, and this is very sad, it is the tendency of so many to undervalue that which is offered free. It would be tragic if the generosity of the spiritual people who are underwriting the costs of this exhibit was ignored."
Father Malcolm Neyland, a West Texas pastor who worked for years to make this exhibit a reality, estimated attendance will be about 400,000.
Bourgeois countered Friday, "A very conservative estimate would be that this exhibit will be seen by at least 3,000 people every day. Keep in mind that's on the low end.
"No Vatican exhibit ever has attracted a smaller number each day."
(LubbockOnline.com reporter Michael Gaffney contributed to this article.)