Kris Lemmon talks to HMI President and Executive Director John Staicer about the ongoing ceiling project at St. Michael the Archangel Church. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Kris Lemmon talks to HMI President and Executive Director John Staicer about the ongoing ceiling project at St. Michael the Archangel Church. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Finding the original paintings and wall coverings of historic buildings is no small task, just ask the Indiana native trying to find the original artwork in Historic Madison Inc.'s St. Michael the Archangel Church.

The original artwork from the 1860s isn't entirely impossible to find - it's just a little time consuming to uncover. Kris Lemmon works little by little to go through layer upon layer of paint that covers the initial artwork of the second-oldest surviving former Catholic church building in Indiana.

"We are having a little bit of trouble finding the initial layer," Lemmon said. "I'm finding traces of it, but I'm not finding a lot of it."

With the project at St. Michael's church, she does have a basic idea of where the original pieces of artwork might be because of early photographs of the building.

"You already have a road map," she said.

Sometimes no photos are available of the original work, and Lemmon has to use her skills and knowledge of period art work to date a building's original work. With 25 year's experience, Lemmon knows what to look for when it comes to dating paint pigments and patterns.

"It's just being aware," she said. "(I'm) always looking for little clues."

Lemmon, who lives in Cincinnati, originally planned to pursue a degree in engineering at Purdue University, but decided to switch majors and attend art school. She graduated with a degree in painting and art history from Indiana University's Herron School of Art and Design.

After beginning to work with decorative painting in the Indianapolis area, she eventually worked for a company in New York City helping preservationists with historical homes and buildings.

"I got to work with people who were experts in their fields," she said.

Lemmon used her skills over the years to restore artwork in buildings throughout the United States, such as the Library of Congress, several private historic homes, and state capitol buildings of Michigan, Vermont, Indiana and Wisconsin. She also worked at the Lanier Mansion in Madison in the late 1980s to help uncover the historic decoration of the building.

She's currently working on another Indiana state historic site to preserve historic artwork - the Culbertson Mansion in New Albany - along with the former church building in Madison.

During each project, Lemmon uncovers the original artwork, does tracings and drawings of the work and matches colors of the period works. She also does an analysis to determine what type of paints were used in the works as part of the documentation.

"Patience is a good thing," she said of her work. "It's not like putting up wallpaper."

Historic Madison Inc., the organization that owns the historical building, contacted Lemmon after deciding to begin a replastering project on the ceiling because of cracks.

"Right now, it's just one little step forward," Lemmon said.

Lemmon's work takes anywhere from weeks to months to complete depending on the size of the project. She hopes to be able to finish her work in the historic building within the next couple of weeks.

Eventually, Lemmon's work will allow the organization to repaint the ceiling to it's original grandeur at a later date after the replastering project is complete.

"I think it's really important to have (a record) for the future," she said.