Museum of Divine Statues in Lakewood evolved from a religious calling of sorts for Lou McClung.
Specifically, it came from a broken statue of St. Clare of Assisi that he found in an antique store in 2009. McClung repaired her and soon became fascinated by church statuary and a love of religious restoration.
McClung has been rescuing and restoring religious statuary for more than 10 years, working with oil paints and acrylics. His experiences as a craftsman, commercial photographer, professional makeup artist, retailer and manufacturer of his personal line of cosmetics have given him a keen eye for beauty, reconstruction and restoration, seen in the new life he breathes into damaged or neglected statuary.
Raised in the Catholic faith and intrigued by the statues in the homes of his Italian relatives in Northeast Ohio, McClung envisioned a need for a reflective space where statues from the Catholic churches decommissioned and closed by the Cleveland Diocese could be displayed with reverence.
McClung says the displays help preserve the history of those churches as well as traditional Catholic art.
“The preservation of this art is really important because these statues break easily,” he says. “During Vatican II, a lot of churches destroyed or threw away some of this art. What I love about the work we are doing here is we are not only preserving but we are restoring this art back to its original condition.”
The museum, which opened in 2011, is housed in the former St. Hedwig Church on Madison Avenue in Lakewood. St. Hedwig was one of about 50 urban and inner-ring suburban churches the diocese shuttered in response to declining attendance and a shortage of priests.
The former parish’s 3,000 square-foot main floor today is filled with more than 100 beautiful religious statues on display — many of them restored by McClung. Most recognizable is the extraordinary collection of stained glass windows located throughout the galleries of the museum, as well as artifacts such as communion rails, baptistry gates, paintings, chalices, monstrances, iron works and relics.
Memories of the closed Cleveland Catholic churches are kept alive using the latest technology.
“The QR Code project allows visitors to scan the artifacts with their iPhone or use a tablet available to them for free in the museum,” McClung says. “When the item is scanned, you can read an art description about the piece and also read about the life of the saint. The scan also reveals photos of the parish it came from and also the entire history of that parish from open to close.”
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the museum continues to seek donations to purchase artwork from parishes that are closing, as well as donated statues or Catholic art. A special program allows donors to choose a statue or other sacred artifact to sponsor as a special way to honor a family member or to remember a loved one. For statue sponsorship, there is a fixed donation amount based on the age, subject matter, original condition and construction material. Sponsor information is then displayed on a plaque and permanently displayed in front of the statue or artifact.
The Museum of Divine Statues welcomes groups of 30 or more for guided tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, by appointment. Led by staff members who provide detailed information about the museum and its artifacts, the tours appeal to people of all ages.
Museum of Divine Statues is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, noon-4 p.m. Admission is $10. Guided group tour admission is $14. Group must be 30 or more people. For information, call 216-712-7094 or visit museumofdivinestatues.com.
Margaret Briller is a freelance writer in Northeast Ohio.
Photo: Lou McClung gently applies touch-up paint on the Blessed Mother.