Painting of Jesus in Milltown church restored
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]
When Tom Crecelius was a child, he used to gaze up at the large painting of Jesus behind the altar of the former Milltown United Methodist Church. He’d reach up and touch the hand of Christ.
“It was just awesome to me as a child,” he said.
The painting, which is nearly 12 feet tall, was completed by the late Everett Hutslar, a Milltown resident, sometime in the late 1950s or early ’60s.
“He was a sign painter and artist who lived here and went to church here,” said Crecelius.
At some point, probably in the 1970s estimates Crecelius, the church was modernized and the painting was covered with paneling. It remained that way for decades.
About a year ago, the Milltown United Methodist congregation decided to close the church and put the building up for sale. Grace Tabernacle, a Laconia church whose mission is to help recovering addicts, wanted to start a church in Crawford County.
“We knew this was the place for it,” said Greg Carter, pastor of Grace Tabernacle-Crawford.
After the purchase, church members were working inside the building when Crecelius, who lives next door, walked over. He told church members about the painting behind the paneling.
“He said he was an artist and would restore it for free,” said Carter.
Carter said once members learned of the painting, there was no question they’d remove the paneling. Carter said when he shared photos on Facebook, there was instant reaction.
“There were so many comments,” he said.
The painting was in decent shape, but it had suffered the effects of time.
“There were so many holes,” said Crecelius, noting there were three or four fist-size ones in Jesus’ face.
Crecelius began planning the project in March, just as things closed down due to the corornavirus pandemic. He kept a record of when he worked and for how long. He began the restoration on April 27 and applied the final brush strokes on May 19, putting in a total of 17 hours.
“That really surprised me,” he said. “I thought it would take a lot longer.”
Crecelius said his first task was cleaning the wall, which had accumulated a lot of dust in the nearly 50 years it was covered.
“It took two days just to clean it,” he said.
Once he began painting, Crecelius said his biggest challenge was balancing his materials and himself on the ladder while concentrating on the work at hand.
“Trying to balance and not drop something is a real challenge,” he admitted. “Keeping your concentration is a real challenge.”
Crecelius believes he had a little help from above.
“Every time I’d come in, I’d get on my knees and pray to God,” he said. “It was a huge undertaking, the entire congregation would be looking at it. I said, ‘I have to put my trust in you. I ask you to guide my hand.’ If you look at it just as a human, it’s too big of a task.”
Crecelius said his goal was to keep the painting as original as possible.
“I wanted to keep the original style, posture and format of what Everett did in honor of him,” he said. “He’s the person who did it.”
The original oil painting was in light pastel colors. After discussing it with the Grace Tabernacle leadership, it was agreed the portrait would have a greater impact if some deeper tones were applied.
“They wanted purple instead of light blue for His robe and I agree,” said Crecelius.
He also lightened Jesus’ eye color to a more golden brown hue, which he said looks “a little more realistic.”
Crecelius said he ended up using 13 colors.
“It’s amazing that that’s the number of disciples plus Christ,” said Crecelius. “I didn’t plan that out; it’s just the colors I used.”
Crecelius said there are more analogies that can be drawn from the artwork.
“People crucified Christ,” he said. “ … When it was decided to cover it up, He was destroyed again. When it was brought back, there were holes. There’s all kinds of analogies there.”
Crecelius completed the painting May 19, meeting his goal of finishing the work before his mother’s birthday, which was May 22. His late mother used to teach Sunday school at the church.
“This has been one of my lifelong goals,” Crecelius said of restoring the painting. “ … I wouldn’t really take the credit for it. I’d say God had a big hand in this. And Everett. I’m just the guy who redid it.”
Pastor Carter and his congregation are so grateful he did.
“It becomes a focal point. Instead of a wall of paneling, you have the center of who everything is. You’re gazing upon Jesus.”
Carter said he’s thrilled with the outcome.
“Everybody loves it. On the first Sunday back when we opened up, it was the talk of the congregation. … (Crecelius) brought the colors to life. It pops on the wall and just looks really fantastic,” he said.