Michael Rieveley: "A Resurrection"
In the spring of 2018 I got an enquiry from the director of an architectural practice on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Wrexham to investigate the possibility of taking on conserving a mosaic from the Church of the Resurrection of Our Saviour, Morfa Nefyn.
The church in which it was housed was built in 1968. Along with the mosaic were 12 dalle de vere stained glass windows, all had been commissioned specifically for the site from the artist Jonah Jones (1919 to 2004). He was a prominent artist in Wales where he was particularly influential and examples of his commissioned and private work can be found in buildings, public and private collections throughout the UK. The church had been closed in 2016 due to a lack of congregation and the site and building put up for sale and is now due for demolition.
It is of credit to the Diocese that they recognised and valued the importance of preserving the relatively modern work of both religious and artistic significance within the building, also being willing to fund their removal with an intention of providing new locations for them.
On entering the church for the first time the stained glass windows were boarded over but in the centre of the church on the recessed wall behind the main altar, illuminated by an overhead skylight, the scale of the mosaic and luminescence of the glass tesserae, its striking appearance was immediately apparent.
The mosaic began at floor level rising to 3.55 metres and 4.25 metres in width, made up of around half a million glass tesserae. The mosaic was attached to a cement rendered brick wall; it was structural and supported the main roof. Having surveyed the mosaic, investigating the manner of attachment and the substrate, we were also able to take with us four of the glass tesserae that were loose and easily removed for closer inspection from which we could investigate the method of fixing.
In December a meeting between the architect overseeing the project, the project manager for the new building in which the mosaic was to be rehoused and ourselves was arranged to meet at the church in Morfa Nefyn. It was at that point that we, Rieveley Ceramics, were given specific instruction to go ahead with the removal and eventual re-installation of the Jonah Jones mosaic. The question of timing arose and the chosen new location, a newly built Catholic School in Rhyl, would be ready to have the mosaic installed around July 2019. Plenty of time. However it was believed the developer who had purchased the Morfa Nefyn Church was anxious to gain possession. Although we had carried out some work on the basic principles a lot more work was required to evolve the method before we could be confident of a successful outcome. It is not uncommon when working in the commercial sector that time limits can be problematical however with goodwill on all sides these matters can be resolved, as was the situation in this case giving us roughly 3 months to complete the removal; under the circumstances a tight but not impossible deadline.
The removal of around half a million individual pieces of glass tesserae and transferring them onto a portable backing that is capable of reassembly whilst maintaining the integrity of the artwork was a challenge. Having consulted with colleagues and carried out research I was unable to find any records of something of the same nature having been done previously. We set about trialling the method until satisfied we had a workable solution. The first section of the mosaic was taken down 11th February 2019 and on the 13th of March we were able to transport the mosaic from the church back to our base for storage, where minor repairs and preparation for the re-installation also were undertaken.
On the 8th of July, 2019 the installation in the new location got underway as we transported the mosaic to Rhyl. A decision had been taken to place the mosaic in an elevated position, requiring the use of a MEWP (mobile elevated working platform) . Given that many modern buildings have a limited lifespan with the prospect of having once again to relocate the mosaic I had made the suggestion that provision for such should become part of the brief. Consequently the mosaic is now divided into 12 sections with the internal edges echoing the linear curves apparent in the design.
The sections were lifted into place with the base of the mosaic being just under 3 metres above floor level. The lower sections were the first to be secured allowing the next level to be put in position and secured, so on until the upper sections were put in place reaching to a height of over 6 metres from the ground. The odd dislodged tesserae were put back in position then a final cleaning of the mosaic surface was undertaken and our work on the religious inspired art work of Jonah Jones completed.
The conserving of this mosaic was very much collaboration between the organisations and individuals involved and the help of many others from whom advice was sought. Special thanks must go to the following:
The Catholic Diocese of Wrexham; David Hughes, Director Lawray Architects Wrexham office; Martin Walsh, Project Manager Kier Construction also Graham Bellis; Lesley Durbin of Jackfield Conservation Studios Emeritus ICON; David Jones, Peter Townsend Jones, Naomi Jones, Scene and Word; Gareth Jenkins, and last but not least Alex Haycock, whose hard work and dedication enabled a successful conclusion.
The 12 dalle de verre stained glass windows were taken from the church to be restored and then put into a new location by Owen Luetchford and Stacey Poultney from the Architectural Glass Centre, University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Swansea.
Further information on the artist Jonah Jones can be found online and the following links:
Author Bio: Michael Rieveley, Rieveley Ceramics - www.rieveleyceramics.co.uk - 07747 394280 / 01286 650702
Images: © Michael Rieveley
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