Whenever artist Doris Davis of Westphalia goes someplace to worship God, she wants to be able to walk in and “feel” the spirituality.
“People might not realize it, but when they enter a church where everything works and flows, they can actually feel it as opposed to just seeing it,” she stated.
“All of the art and special details help make that happen,” she said.
Mrs. Davis is restoring the Stations of the Cross that will be installed in the Cathedral of St. Joseph during the yearlong renovation and expansion taking place there.
The Cathedral’s first major renovation in its 53-year history will incorporate classical elements into the familiar mid-century structure, enhancing its beauty, functionality, capacity for hospitality and uniquely Catholic identity.
Church architect William Heyer, architectural consultant for the project, acquired the Stations in his home state.
They date from the early 20th century and previously adorned a now-closed Catholic church near Marion, Ohio.
In a style reminiscent of classical mosaics, the oil-paint-on-copper images depict 14 moments that culminate with Jesus’s crucifixion, death and burial.
Mr. Heyer visited Mrs. Davis’s studio in Westphalia, surveyed her work and ultimately entrusted her with restoring the Stations to their original luster.
She recently worked on the Stations of the Cross in St. Joseph Church in Westphalia and St. Thomas the Apostle Church in St. Thomas.
“I performed a full restoration on the ones in Westphalia,” she noted. “St. Thomas was more of a repair and touch-up of the figures, and then the repainting and re-gilding of the outside frames.”
Mrs. Davis grew up in Taos, went to St. Francis Xavier School, studied fine arts and is now a member of St. Joseph Parish in Westphalia.
She has contributed to the renovation of several churches in this diocese, beginning in 1998 with St. Francis Xavier Church in Taos.
She was working as a graphic artist at a print shop when a member of the parish’s renovation committee asked her to touch up the mural on the ceiling above the altar.
“I said, ‘Yes, if I can get up there, I will do it,’” she recalled.
Restoration consultant Tom Sader, who oversaw the renovation of the Taos church, walked her through the process.
She got the work done while perched on a scaffolding on top of another scaffolding.
After that, she went to work for Sandbothe Painting & Decorating in Jefferson City, which has helped renovate several local churches.
She has also repaired some of the decorative paintwork and gilding in the Missouri State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.
“I like working behind the scenes,” she said.
She is now proprietor of Davis Creative Painting.
Light and shadow
Mrs. Davis said the Stations chosen for the Cathedral are “in basically good shape.”
She noted that it was common for artists in Italy near the turn of the past century to apply oil-based paint to copper, “because it’s a good and stable surface.”
She said she approaches each Station with a heightened awareness of the little details that help draw people into the experience of the Lord’s total self-sacrifice.
“I really think about how that journey went for Jesus and His mother and the bystanders and every other character,” she said.
She also reflects on how the shade of the sky, the texture of the ground, the colors of individual garments and other subtleties help create a mood that’s conducive to contemplation.
“They’re all very special to me,” she said. “I go through every inch of every one of them I work on — from a technical standpoint and just because I’m in awe of the idea that I’m even getting to do this.”
“All things work together”
Mrs. Davis considers it a privilege to play a part in the renovation of a church, let alone the Cathedral for her home diocese.
“Whether it’s the plumber or the roofers or the architect or the artists, it takes all of them to make this place ‘work’ as our place of worship,” she stated.
She said applying her craft to a sacred purpose helps deepen her faith and enhance her relationship with God.
“I’ve always enjoyed the artwork in a church and the story it tells,” she said.
It gives her joy to see the Cathedral being maintained and improved.
“What we have is something beautiful, and we should rejoice in the fact that we are taking good care of it,” she said.
Past and present
This will be the third set of Stations of the Cross to adorn the Cathedral since its completion in 1968.
The original, hand-carved wooden Stations spent nearly 40 years in the Cathedral before being transferred to the rebuilt chapel of the Catholic Newman Center near Truman State University in Kirksville.
They replaced the Stations that were lost in a fire that destroyed the center in May of 2007.
The carved marble Stations that adorned the Cathedral from 2008-22 are from Italy and previously adorned the chapel of the former St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary high school in Hannibal.
They have been given to Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, where they will be placed in the school’s St. Pius X Chapel.
Prayer and sacrifice
Since the Cathedral serves everyone in the diocese, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight invites Catholics from all parishes to contribute toward the cost of the renovation, as long as doing so does not reduce their regular, sacrificial support of their own parish.
He asks for prayers for the health and safety of everyone, especially the laborers, during the renovation project.
Mrs. Davis requested prayers for God to guide her eyes and hands in the right direction throughout the restoration of the Stations.
“He’s already filled my heart,” she stated. “I feel very blessed.”