Arts group reaches out to Vatican to help preserve human history

| June 9, 2011 | 0 Comments

At right, Johan van Parys of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis views a restoration project in the laboratory at the Vatican Museums, where artisans restore both marble and plaster statues. Cross-contamination of the dust particles prompted a request for a new lab, which will be funded by the local PAVM chapter chaired by van Parys. Courtesy Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museum

Members of the Minnesota and North Dakota Chapter of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums plan to fund a new laboratory for the restoration of existing plasters and for the creation of new plaster casts of the famous works of art in the Vatican, said Johan van Parys, chapter chair and liturgy direc­tor at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

“It is the gift that will keep on giving,” van Parys said. The project, which will run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, is the largest commitment to date by the local PAVM, which is beginning a year-long celebration of its 10th anniversary, he added.

Preserving history

The first restoration cost the local PAVM chapter $150 for a hammer used for the verification of the death of a pope. Last year, members provided $45,000 to res­tore the first set in a series of the Stations of the Cross painted by the early 20th century artist Gaetano Previati.

Annual mem­bership fees — $500 per person or $1,000 per household — are used each year to support a specific project at the Vatican Museums. Additional donations may be made by members or friends who are interested in preserving history, van Parys said.

Originally, the group planned to kick off its anniversary this spring with a trip to Italy, van Parys said.  But the beatification of Pope John Paul II increased the cost of rooms and limited what is usually “super” access to Vatican sites. So, the trip to Rome and the Amalfi coast was postponed to the week after Easter in 2012 to celebrate the end of the group’s 10th anniversary.

According to its website,, PAVM’s mission is to support the protection, restoration and preservation of human history as contained in the art and artifact collections of the Vatican museums.

The 60 to 65 members of the local chapter are part of a worldwide network. However, most of the chapters are based in the United States, van Parys said. Although the majority of members are Catholic, many members come from other faith traditions with the same eagerness to preserve history.

Each year, the Vatican Museums puts out a wish book of restoration projects, and groups bid on the project they want to support.

When the restoration is complete, the group receives a detailed ac­count of how the money was spent on materials and labor. If any money is left over, it is returned to the group or can be held to help pay for the next project it sponsors.

More than art

Although the group is interested in art, the members also enjoy fine dining, educational events and fun get-togethers, van Parys said. This month, one of the members is hosting a dinner in her garden. In the fall, another member is coordinating a “Catholic tour” at the Min­nea­polis Institute of Arts, with the curator and van Parys offering a faith perspective on the works.

The group also planned outings together to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Vatican Museums exhibits at the Science Museum of Min­ne­sota and Minnesota History Center. Some of the pieces the group paid to have restored were displayed and acknowledged as such during the Vatican Mu­se­ums exhibit.

“We are working on a new exhibit [from the Vatican Museums] to travel the United States,” van Parys said. “It will be a much bigger one than we had in St. Paul, but I don’t know if it will be here.”

For more information about the local PAVM chapter, contact Johan van Parys at (612) 232-1951 or

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Category: Arts and Culture