Conservation Treatment: Watercolours
from the Cathedral Collection
Before Treatment - Detail of Communion Rail
After Treatment - Detail of Communion Rail
In 1931, Bishop John McNally, the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, announced the construction of a new Cathedral. Bishop McNally envisioned this as a landmark of the Hamilton cityscape; an inspiring church that would be both beautiful and useful. He recognized that “a beautiful Cathedral is not only the Seat of the Bishop ruling, teaching and dispensing of God’s spiritual gifts, but it is a great silent, irresistible agency for the influencing of souls of people throughout the ministry of exalted art.” Local expertise was relied on for the design and building of the Cathedral. The architects Hutton and Souter and the Piggott Construction Company were retained to bring Bishop McNally’s vision to reality. Canadian and European craftsmen were employed to create the fine features of the church.
The Bishop Farrell Library & Archives maintains an archival collection documenting the growth and development of the Cathedral Parish. This includes a series of documents about the initial construction of the church. Within this collection are six stunning architectural drawings produced in watercolour on paper by the architects Hutton and Souter. The drawings depict options for marble stonework in several areas of the Cathedral: the communion rail, baptismal font, front altar, and the predella floor under the ciborium. These six drawings are joined by a further drawing by Hutton and Souter of custom bronze work for the Cathedral. This last drawing was produced using graphite and coloured pencil on tracing paper.
The compilation of drawings was found in the Archives in poor shape. They had been rolled tightly and were quite dirty. Some drawings were creased and others had old adhesive bonded to the page. The drawings were in need of repair! Conservation treatments were employed through the skill of Jennifer Robertson at Book and Paper Conservation Services. The drawings underwent a process of humidification to allow them to be flattened without damage. They were then cleaned and any adhesive was removed. Small tears in the drawings were repaired using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste, allowing the tears to be joined seamlessly. To provide added stability the drawings were then framed using archival acid-free materials.
The results of the conservation work are striking! The drawings showcase the detail and artistry that went into the building of the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King. We are now able to share the beauty of the drawings without fear of further damage. In addition, and most importantly, we have ensured that the drawings are well maintained and preserved for the future.
Jennifer Robertson is a fine art conservator specializing in art on paper, archival materials, and rare books. Her conservation studio, Book and Paper Conservation Services, is located in London, ON. Below are photographs highlighting her work with the watercolour drawings.
Cleaning the back of a drawing.
Removing adhesive bonded to the page.
Humidification treatment to gently add moisture to the paper and allow for the fibers to relax before the drawing is flattened. The drawing had been tightly rolled and would not lay flat without manipulation.
Repairing a tear in the page using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste to create a patch.
Using weights to flatten the drawings.
Cleaned, flattened, and repaired - Detail Altar Bronze Work
More information about these drawings can be found in our online database at
Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King: Initial Construction