William H. Machen, Toledo’s first known artist, made these paintings between 1866 and 1873 for the St. Francis Parish in Toledo. Decades ago, a fire at the church damaged the paintings. Poor restoration caused the paintings further damage, hence, sometime in late 2007 they were crated and put in storage.
In 2010, when I began this website, I went to see the damaged paintings. Soon after, I met William Machen’s great-nephew, James Machen. James hired me to photograph the damaged paintings in 2012. I put them on this website and we tried to garner interest in the restoration of the original paintings.
When it didn’t seem likely that we would be able to restore the originals, Jim learned how to digitally retouch a set of low-res files of the photos and made a 24″ set of prints of the 14 paintings. This set ended up in a church in the Philippines. Sadly, in November 2020, James Machen passed away.
Then in December 2020, an architect working on the renovation of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Genoa, Ohio found my webpage about the paintings. The church’s priest contacted me about making large digital restorations of the paintings to hang in their church, which was a tremendous honor.
My 54″ digital restorations of the paintings are layered with the patina of their distinct 150-year history. The paintings are important to our history because they are painted by Toledo’s first known artist for Toledo’s first Catholic church. They were taken down by the church in 2007 and crated. Their fate was up in the air. But now, 15 years later, William H. Machen’s images hang once again on local church walls as they were originally intended. They have a new life in the beautiful, renovated Our Lady of Lourdes Church in the nearby town of Genoa.
Perhaps this story will inspire a way to restore the original paintings, which would entail hundreds of hours and as well as (guessing) about a hundred thousand dollars. The varnish would have to be removed and the flaking paint would have to be scraped off and re-painted. With my digital restorations, the best that I could do by using photography and technology combined with the finest archival art materials to instill them with artistic and historic integrity, William H. Machen’s paintings can once again be appreciated by the public.
It’s a great accomplishment for artistsoftoledo.com’s 11th year in terms of our mission to remember Toledo’s art history.
More about William H. Machen and James Machen here: