The Rev. Mark Phillips, pastor of the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor, the church’s historical committee, and members of the church’s Session have announced that the historic trompe l’oeil mural in the building’s sanctuary will be restored. The public has been invited to a talk about the project on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the church.
The mural, part of the architect Minard Lafever’s original design of the church, which was completed in 1844, creates the illusion of a curved apse with classical columns framed in an Egyptian-style border.
One of the architect’s stylebooks shows the interior of his ideal church, which resembles Old Whalers but includes an actual apse. One theory is that a large cost overrun forced the replacement of the apse with the painted illusion of one. The pulpit area has been modified over the years, and the mural repainted several times — painted out and replaced with a different wall decoration in 1902, then restored in 1909.
The restoration will be carried out by International Fine Arts Conservation Studios of Atlanta. The first phase will involve a detailed inspection of the mural and the structural condition of the wall, as well as an analysis of samples taken from drilling. A congregation member has underwritten the $4,500 cost of this phase.
The second phase will be the actual restoration of the mural. The conservation group will be guided by historical photographs and the results of research. This phase is expected to begin in April of next year and be completed in May 2015, in time for the building’s 170th anniversary celebration. The cost of the restoration is $45,000, of which $40,000 has been donated by four of the church’s members.
The restoration of the mural is the last structural project in a series of efforts to preserve the historic sanctuary of the church. Other projects have included restoration of the coffered ceiling, replacement of the windows, plastering and painting the other sanctuary walls and those in the narthex, and restoration of the narthex and sanctuary floors. The Old Whalers Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994