Church interior restorer advises exterior upkeep

| June 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

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To preserve the interiors of historic churches, people responsible for the buildings must focus first on their exteriors, said Brian Henning, owner of Henning Church and Historical Restoration in Forest Lake.

“That’s the biggest thing: to make sure the outside stays good, so the inside doesn’t get wrecked,” he said. “We’ve had jobs where they’ve called us in to do work and we’ve basically had to tell them, ‘Fix your outside first and then we’ll come in, because you don’t want to pay me to come in and do this twice.’”

Most of the interior damage he sees is caused by water or moisture that leads to rot and plaster damage, the latter of which is his company’s most common repair, he said.

Tell-tale signs are plaster that looks chalky or puffy, with paint that looks like it’s bubbling off the wall. The damage is a result not only of water seepage, but also a chemical reaction, Henning said. The plaster gets wet and “starts the process of the plaster eating itself, then it basically flakes off.”

Scraping and patching the plaster isn’t enough to repair it, Henning said. If that’s the only treatment, the decay will reappear within months. The key, he said, is to neutralize the reaction before patching and repairing the damaged area.

Henning recommends parishes start a grounds or building committee that evaluates the property’s needs and stays on top of repairs, especially exterior maintenance, and assesses parish support for work that needs to be done.

Henning’s company has worked in churches — most of them Catholic — primarily in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

“We pretty much take care of almost exclusively the inside of the church, and almost anything that can be done,” Henning said. That includes painting, stenciling, surface gilding with gold and silver or other metals, and faux finishes, as well as new and original artwork, art restoration, new statuary and statue restoration, and new stonework and stonework repair. The company also designs new church interiors or redesigns existing spaces.

Henning’s maternal grandfather started the family business, and his dad, Douglas Henning, took it over more than 40 years ago. Brian now heads the company, but Douglas continues to serve as a consultant. Some of Brian’s cousins are also involved in the business, working alongside him in the churches. Other cousins work on statue restoration.

A parishioner of St. Peter in Forest Lake, Henning, 45, said churches seem to require renovation or restoration every 20 to 30 years. Taste in styles change or the decoration “gets old and dirty and faded, and it needs to be spruced up,” he said. Sometimes he’s called after “an act of God,” such as storm damage.

Henning Restoration’s work in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has included small projects in the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, painting and stenciling in Most Holy Trinity in Veseli, statue restorations at St. Bridget in Minneapolis and altar restorations at St. Michael in Prior Lake.

“I’m really enjoying working with people,” Henning said, “and helping them realize their visions and getting their buildings where they’re really proud of where they’re worshipping.”

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