Destroyed painting resurrected
Workers with Hill’s Van Service move the 16-foot 6-inch by 9 foot replica of the painting “Resurrection,” an oil on canvas by local artist Margaret “Peggy” Watts, into the Queen of Peace Catholic Church on State Road 200 in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, May 28, 2021. The original “Resurrection,” that Watts painted 20 years ago was destroyed by arsonist Steven Shields, 24, of Dunnellon on July 11, 2020 when he drove his minivan through the front door, dumped 10 gallons of gasoline and lit it on fire with the intent of destroying the church. All the other painting in the church were also destroyed. After the original artwork was destroyed, the decision was made to recreate the pieces (including the large piece) using photos of the original works that Peggy had for insurance purposes. Art restorers worked from the photos to recreate the paintings, with the exception of the central/large piece (16×9) – which Watts and her artist friend Rich Woy collaborated on. She did the lower half and he did the upper half (as she could not go up on the scaffolding). Pete Adolf of Adolf Construction donated the use of one of his warehouses for Peggy and Rich to work in to complete the painting. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
Margaret Watts and Rich Woy anxiously watched as workers maneuvered the massive painting into place near the entrance of Queen of Peace Catholic Church.Watts and Woy spent three months painting a copy of “The Resurrection” on the custom-cut piece of Belgian linen. The original is a 15th-century masterpiece by Piero della Francesca.
But at 16.5-feet by 9-feet, Watts and Woy’s towering replica took a six-man crew and a pair of hydraulic lifts to install on Friday morning.
The painting replaces another copy done by Watts about 20 years ago which was destroyed on July 11 in an arson attack on the church.
Queen of Peace’s pastor, Rev. Patrick O’Doherty, remembers coming face-to-face with 24-year-old Steven Shields, who reportedly drove his minivan through the doors of the church and doused the church floors with gasoline before setting it on fire.
Shields, of Dunnellon, was apprehended that day after a traffic pursuit and later admitted to setting the church on fire, citing that he “had problems with the Catholic church,” according to the arrest affidavit. Shields is awaiting trial.
The fire caused extensive damage to the chruch’s narthex and the art inside.
“The framework was still intact… charred, but unusable,” Watts said. “And the canvas was like it’d never been there. It just disintegrated. It was oil paint and had a coat of varnish on it, which goes up like a candle.”
For Watts, everything came full circle on Friday morning.
Twenty years ago, Watts watched her first interpretation of “The Resurrection”, take its place in the church. The anxiety she felt on Friday morning was familiar.
Watts can recall fearing the painting would come crashing down into the baptismal well, which is located directly below the piece of art.
But all went well on Friday as the painting, which was done to look exactly like the one that was destroyed in the fire, was secured to the wall.
This time around, Watts employed the help of Woy for the project.
“I can’t climb anymore… ancient age,” Watts laughed. “He did the parts I couldn’t. He did the top half; I did the bottom half.”
Jesus’ waistline and below was completed by Watts, while Woy painted the upper parts of Jesus and the scenery behind him.
Despite their different painting styles, the work is cohesive.
“We critique each other,” Woy said. “It’s hard to develop a change in style to accommodate the original artist’s style. So that was a good challenge.”
According to Watts, she and Woy, with the help of Woy’s wife, projected the outline of the original painting onto the blank canvas and started from there.
Two decades ago, when Watts painted the first rendering, she used a local junior college student as her model. And fortunately, she kept all the photos.
“Why I had saved all that is unbelievable,” Watts said. “I’m a thrower-away person.”
For three months, Watts and Woy spent an average of four hours a day working on the painting in a warehouse owned by Pete Adolf, owner of Adolf Construction. The painting was stored in the warehouse for six months after its completion as the reconstruction of the narthex continued.
Adolf, who constructed the framework of the new painting, was on hand Friday morning for the unveiling.
“It looks a lot better up there than it did in my shop,” Adolf said. “It was too big to go anywhere else.”