Artists Brush Enhances Basilica

The painted ceiling of the John Paul II Pavilion.

If you’ve ever been to Mass at the Basilica of St. Josaphat or taken a tour, then you’ve seen the amazing painting work of Andrew De Weerdt. He has adorned the ceiling and walls of the John Paul II Pavilion, Andy modeled the wall behind the altar of the Lower Church and ceiling after the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy. And he was part of the original team from Conrad Schmitt that redid the entire painting scheme of the Basilica in 1988-89. Get the picture?

Andy is pretty much a local kid, he was raised in West Bend and went to art school at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD). But he didn’t learn many of the techniques he used at the Basilica in college. He learned them on the job and was mostly self-taught; techniques such as trompe l’oeil—which translates to deceive the eye. Take a look at the ceiling of the pavilion and it looks like the cornices are three-dimensional, and as if there are many more walls than there actually are. And then you’ll realize, that’s not actual tile on the walls either.

Many of the elements of Andy’s paintings are inspired by Rome and Assisi. In the Pavilion the entire scheme is inspired by Rome. By then in 2000, Andy had his own company and was hired by Bishop Bill to paint the pavilion. The frame that surrounds the image of Saint John Paull II is a copy of a frame of a clock in Rome.

Andy painted the two statues (St. Christopher and St. Francis of Assisi) at the Seventh Street parking lot entry door with a technique called bronzing. The background behind the statues, the niche, is trompe l’oeil. From there, head to the donor chapel and you’ll see more of Andy’s work. Then down the hallway to the basilica, the architrave, each of those paintings of Andy’s, are inspired by Assisi and then a modern-day view. He even traveled to Assisi as those were the days before the internet. All of the faux marble along the hallway was completed by Andy and his crew.

In 2006, Fr. Michael Glastetter, hired Andy to redo the lower church altar. They had woodworkers lengthen the altar. The pulpit was found in a storage area, painted blue and used as a creche. Andy removed the paint and separately found the wood figurines that were museum quality in another pile. He restored those and repainted the pulpit to match the altar.

One marvels at the hours upon hours the work took and the enduring patience to complete the project. Another technique Andy employs is rag rolling, which as the name implies involves rolling a crumpled tee shirt in varnish or paint and creating a texture in the background. Stencil work is also represented. On some of the pieces in the lower church a technique that duplicates wood grain fools the eye.

There are two murals in the lower church by P. Bianchi that Andy’s team restored. One in the sacristy was falling off the wall due to moisture problems. With proper venting of the room, the mural remains intact. Andy’s team added gold framing around the mural that is readily seen in the southwest corner and the angels painted on the side are another Assisi inspiration.
Andy is also a fine artist in his own right. He is best known for his figurative painting. Currently, he is painting with beeswax a method known as encaustic. He has a piece at the Plymouth Art Center in Plymouth, Wisconsin at their Go Figure show. You can also see his work at two Chicago galleries, Jackson Young, and ARC.

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