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San Fernando Cathedral

Last Jan. 16, Anne Zanikos responded to an anxious phone call from San Fernando Cathedral. A disturbed man had entered the old church and smashed even venerable statues. The restoration process began the moment she arrived.

Pick up the pieces. Literally. The more of the original artwork, the better the restoration. Ms. Zanikos literally got on the floor to gather up the shattered pieces of plaster and wood for each statue. They were labeled, boxed and taken to her Northside studio.

Examine the remains. She determined which pieces were left and salvageable and which had to be recreated. She examined the artwork to determine the artist's materials and construction method and the extent of any prior restoration. Then she set up a restoration plan so any work done on the piece can be undone if needed.

Start the jigsaw puzzle. She started the structural reassembly. At this step, the pieces saved are put together and any pieces to be recreated are fabricated. It's slow and meticulous work, carefully fitting the pieces together. Major damage, like a statue's shattered arm, had to be reinforced with internal dowels and carefully refitted, bases straightened.

Give it a final cleaning. The entire piece is cleaned with special solvents. Generations of layers of grime, candle soot, old paints and varnish are removed layer-by-layer. Old paintings and wood statues are often overpainted in misdirected prior efforts to repair or maintain the artwork. About four layers of paint had to be removed from the Nino Jesus, including some that looked suspiciously like house paint. This is another stage for careful, meticulous work.

Compensate for losses in the original design layers. Cracks are filled in. Signs of damage and repair are gone by this stage. The artwork is, if possible, taken back to the artist's original intent. Touch-up painting is done with fine-point brushes using pigments in a non-darkening reversible medium. Gilded areas are restored using 23 Karat gold leaf. Once the art looks as close as possible to the artist's original version, it's ready to go home.