The ceramic Story Wall sustained smoke damage in the recent fire at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, and I’m acting as a consultant for its cleaning. It took me a week to be emotionally ready to go in and see the wall and pray there for the woman who started the fire. It was an emotional journey for me to reenter the church and I was saddened to see the Story Wall in that condition, since that has been a prayerful space for me. Originally they wanted to take the sculpture down for cleaning, which was scary since I felt it was likely the pieces would break apart in removing them. The problem is cleaning behind the sculpture — any remaining soot would eat away at the material and leave an odor.
I went to see materials engineer Dave Martin and worked with him on discovering the best way to clean it considering the terra cotta material and the sealer I put on it 12 years ago. The church ultimately decided not to take it down, and the ServiceMaster people will be doing the cleaning of the sculpture and the church. The work will take a couple of months, during which those parts of the church will be closed. I told the cleaners I thought God would help them clean the wall, because He helped me sculpt it! After they’re finished I will get up there and put new sealer on.