12 Years On From The Rubble: Damien Walker Reflects.
Updated: Mar 23
Today marks the 12th anniversary of of the Christchurch Earthquake its also The Studio of Saint Philomena 12th anniversary.
As I sit back and reflect on the past 12 years, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and awe. The journey has been nothing short of miraculous, filled with challenges, triumphs, and moments of pure inspiration. From our humble beginnings at a makeshift kitchen table studio to the launch of our new venture in Australia, the Studio of Saint Philomena has come a long way.
I still remember the day Father Dan Doyle called to say he had a statue in need of repair. It arrived in 160 pieces, shattered as a result of the earthquake that hit Christchurch Zealand of February 2022 2011. But we didn't let that stop us.
The work began, the family living room became a field hospital for statues, lying on their backs with cushions between each, so when there was violent aftershock they wouldn't fall and shatter. I rolled up my sleeves and started work, with my parents, Noel and Pauline, offering their unwavering support every step of the way. There was no manual of restoration and painting at the time and so the university of self teaching begun. Countless hours were spent researching, bringing the statues back to life and, decoding the methods of how they were made and the theology behind every individual piece. It was a labor of love that set the tone for everything to come.
But our work wasn't limited to restoration alone. Over the years we've also had the honour of creating new works of art, like the painting of ‘Jesus heals the blind man’ for Waitakere Hospital, commissioned by Bishop Patrick Dunn the Catholic Bishop of Auckland to paint the 148cm x 148cm centrepiece for the inter-denominational hospital chapel.
An opportunity, in 2019, to travel to Italy to observe and learn from the top art restorers in Europe with Carolina Izzo, was an experience that will stay with me forever. Encountering the beautiful art works of the great masters, seeing the detail of their brush strokes, getting behind the scenes of Florence's gallery and seeing restoration treatments and handling best practice was truly inspirational. I used this time in Florence as inspiration and infused it back into my art refining my practice and skillset.
One of our greatest accomplishments has been purchasing the Matteo Brothers Moulds and Statuary from Joseph Giansiracusa in Melbourne.
These beautiful pieces were crafted by Italian artists over a century ago, and now the 600 moulds have found a new life in our studio and will continue to inspire generations to come.
A proud moment in our journey was winning the historic Resene Color Award in 2019, for the restoration of the Amberley Catholic Church. This was a monumental project,with the assistance of Jo Gainsford as our colour consultant and with colour references from heritage England the project came together! Using over 1500 sheets of 23.5k Italian gold leaf making it the second biggest gold leafing project in Canterbury the final result was worth every ounce of effort. It was a privilege to work on a piece of New Zealand history, to help restore it to its former glory.
And more recently, the National Marian image of New Zealand commissioned by the New Zealand Bishops Conference titled ‘Ko Hāta Maria, te Matua Wahine o te Atua’. Creating this image was a journey in itself, one that required full immersion in Māori culture and deep understanding of the message we wanted to convey kotahitanga (unity). But with the help of Anthony and Hayley Kemp, we were able to bring our vision to life.
As we embark on expansion into Australia, I am filled with excitement and anticipation. Our mission, beauty through the restoration and creation of sacred art works, is a calling that transcends borders. A mission that in the words of Dostoevsky "Beauty will save the world,” echoed by St. John Paul II,Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
None of this would have been possible without the support of our patrons and all those who have supported the Studio financially, in prayer and in friendship over the years. I would to take the opportunity to say Thank you!
So here's to 12 years of hard work, dedication, and unwavering commitment to our mission. It's been a privilege to serve our community, and we look forward to many more years of creating and inspiring through faith and through art.