The Work of this Generation

On time, on budget, on scope

main image

We are approaching the end of our second month of work and continue to be on our timeline, budget and scope of work.

Paul Westrom and his team did an excellent job repairing the slate roof and removing any mold from the interior, particularly the basement, prior to the start of this phase of the restoration.  The installer of the new slate roof visited last week while we had the hoist on site to inspect the slate roof, which is now a little over two years old.  Please make a note that according to Hugo Gomes, who installed the new roof, we should have it reviewed every two years to replace any cracked slate tiles to prevent any future leaks, and he replaced some tiles while he was here.  He said this way it will last another 175 years!  

The exterior stonewall repointing is moving along very nicely.  The repointing is being done by a well-established masonry company named Brunca Inc, from Providence.  Their lead man who has done most of the mortar repair is named Dave Schiapo Jr. of Cranston, called “Fish” by his friends.  He has been assisted by Will, who did the original power wash of the entire building. Fish has been doing mortar repairs and stonewalls for over 30 years and is the equivalent of a plastic surgeon in his trade, as he skillfully mixes just the right mixture to copy the original color and sand texture content of the mortar.

As you know from my last note, I worried about what color we might use on the external mortar for repointing as there were at least four different mortar colors used over the years.   However, Fish developed just the right mix and color for the project matching the original mortar exactly. After mixing the right mortar mix, with steady hands and a mortar tool, he filled the gaps between the stones with the mortar mix.  When this process was complete, he then used a stiff brush on the mortar to get the right aged look.  He will probably finish all four sides of the church at higher levels using the big blue hoist within a week and then follow up the remainder of the repointing from the ground.  Our goal is to have the repointing completed in about two weeks.  They will then re-caulk all the windows and doors to ensure that they are watertight.  When this work is done, we can rest easy. There should then not be any water leaks from the roof or the exterior walls, disfiguring our newly plastered interior and painted walls and ceiling.

Before we could begin painting the walls, the newly applied plaster had to be scored or scribed to reflect the outline of faux sandstones.  This faux sandstone finish was used on the walls in the original historic finish.

This faux stonework on the walls was discovered in the earlier historic review when the canvas/fabric wall covering was removed from the walls and the scored lines were visible.  It was characteristic of the times, I suppose, to save on the expense of repairing cracks in the plaster to just cover the walls with a fabric and then over the years paint on top of the fabric or canvas.  Unfortunately, this meant that under the fabric cover there were multiple cracks awaiting a future generation to repair.  In St. Mary’s case, not only were there many large and small cracks under the canvass on the walls and ceiling, but in fact whole sections of the walls and ceiling had completely deteriorated and needed to be replaced with new studs and new plaster.  As shared previously, where possible the original internal plaster was saved.

The scoring of the walls using a laser tool to ensure the lines were accurately positioned was done carefully and artistically by Milan Company out of New York.   Milan Company was selected by our general contractor, Burman, and his subcontractor, Egan Restoration, because of their experience doing many church restorations as their sole line of business. The foundation was still in perfect alignment for this process. They have done both the plastering and are now doing the painting of color onto the ceiling, having sanded and primed all the walls, ceilings and the woodwork beams.  Some folks who have observed the online photos, have commented how white both the walls, ceiling, and beams appear. 

This is merely the prime coat.  It is worth pointing out that the beautiful interior beams were originally painted brown and not finished with a stain.

I hope when you see the color palette chosen, you will feel that our prayers were answered from my last update.  Our hope is that no one says, “Your prayers may have been answered, but you obviously were not listening.”  With the input from our interior design team, led by Patti Watson of Taste Design, Inc.; our rector, the Rev. Jennifer Pedrick; a review by a well-respected Rhode Island artist, Harley Bartlett, and with the final concurrence of the vestry, we believe we have the right color palette and are now beginning to paint the ceiling and the beams with the colors chosen.

You can see that the decision was made to carry the original blue color throughout the church ceiling.  Above the chancel, the ceiling will have the same gold-colored design as before on the blue ceiling background color. Milan has headed up the artistic task of reproducing that gold star pattern on the ceiling above the altar.

 The brown color for the beams was the closest we could match to the original brown color.  After the ceiling and beams are finished, then the walls will be painted stone by stone to produce a faux sandstone finish as in the original design.  At the corners of the large cathedral arches, quoins have been scored into the plaster to give the stone walls an authentic look.  Our goal is to have the painting completed by the end of July.  We will then begin to lay a new floor. 

Beneath the chancel of St. Mary’s is the family tomb of George Gibbs II and Mary Gibbs, Sarah Gibbs' parents.  We know that George, though, is buried in the Trinity Church cemetery, as his tombstone is clearly marked next to his first wife.  What has been an interesting question is did the family tomb exist before the St. Mary’s Church was built and the church was built on top of it, or was it built simultaneously with the church? 

All of the facts discovered to date suggest that the tomb was built before the church was constructed, and the church was positioned on top of the family tomb.  A major contributing fact for this conclusion is that Mary Gibbs died in 1824, and the church was not built until 1847.  She had several children who predeceased her, and it is very likely that the tomb was built for their resting place as well as for her later.  During this restoration, the stonemason, Fish, after a review of the tomb and church foundation wall, came to the same conclusion based on the joint of the two foundations: the tomb existed prior to the church and the church was then built on top of the tomb.  

No matter the timing of the Gibbs Family tomb, we thank the entire Gibbs family for their faith, benevolence, and extraordinary generosity and perseverance during and after the American Revolutionary War.

Because we are about to celebrate the 4th of July, I have added some interesting facts about the Battle of Rhode Island in the Revolutionary War.  The first shots fired by the Rhode Island patriots and Continentals in the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778, were fired by hidden American Patriots behind the stone walls at the corner of Union Street and East Main Road, across the street from property owned by George Gibbs II, right where the Portsmouth Historic society is now located today.  These shots were fired at point blank range into the marching British troops who were marching on East Main Road to engage in battle with the colonials at Fort Butts above the Portsmouth High School.  This encounter resulted in numerous British casualties and deaths. 

For a very good read of the Revolutionary Battle of Rhode Island, Christian M McBurney’s book entitled, The Rhode Island Campaign is highly recommended.  One can acquire it through Westholme Publishing, LLC in Yardley, Pa.

So happy 4th of July and onward to continue the restoration of St. Mary’s Church! 


Posted by Ron Machtley with

It is for us to independently and quietly listen.

main image

At this past Sunday (6.12) morning’s outdoor service, our rector, the Rev. Jennifer Pedrick, shared the reality of God’s spiritual messages in our lives; it struck me this might be a good time and theme to write a bi-weekly report on the restoration work.  Moses was lucky, he had a burning bush speak to him.  The rest of us mortals live today in a modern world where messages are flashed on our phones, computer screens, and into our lives and brains faster than we can comprehend them.  However, it is for us to independently and quietly listen, as shared Sunday, so that the soft spiritual voice can help us complete our task correctly.  

We are now into the second month of the restoration of the historic St. Mary’s Church with process and budget still on track. 



The most major work has been on the walls and ceiling. The plaster cracks have all been repaired, and two coats of plaster have been applied.  This will ensure that the cracks, some of which involved whole sections of the walls and ceiling, as was evident from the picture, do not return when the walls and ceiling are painted.  Where the wall had severely deteriorated, new wall board was applied and rotted wood was replaced.  All of this prep work is intended to give the entire church an updated plaster finish while saving the old plaster where possible. 

The walls, beams and other wood finishes are now getting their final sanding.  When the sanding is finished and everything is dust-free, the primer paint coat will begin perhaps as early as next week, and color will then follow on the walls and ceiling, moving from the front of the church to the rear.  The expected completion date for the painting is by the end of July.   

We are now starting the review of colors for the interior:  pew cushion fabrics, chair coverings, carpet, wall paint and ceiling paint.  Because of supply chain delays, the pew cushions can take 16 weeks for completion and installation.  So, a color and fabric decision soon are paramount.

 Patti Watson of Taste Design, Inc, and I  met on Thursday (6.16) with the vestry to see the first cut on color and fabric.  Later in the summer,  Patti  will share with those of the congregation who may be interested the palette of color, fabric and rug chosen.

For me, color will be the critical pathway to success or failure for this restoration project.  It could be a future where everyone while sitting in their new comfortable pews seeking spiritual meditation, may only receive signals of wrong color choices!  Or, if we are thoughtful enough and we have the right independent review after using expert artistic colorists and interior designers, God will share his answer to our prayers, “What colors/shades are right and help us to get it right!” When this act of faith happens, the congregation will have once more that sought-after renewed worship place of spiritual beauty and genuine satisfaction for religious services, wedding and funeral service. 

In the Italian countryside, just outside of Siena, in a small village called Pievescolo among the beautiful fields of sunflowers and blue sky is a villa, now a hotel, called La Suvera.  In 1508, it became the summer home of Pope Julius II.  According to the story, it was here that Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo, to both paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican and create the sculptures for the Pope’s future tomb.  

Michelangelo, up to this point in his artistic career, had only done sculpture, not fresco painting, on the scale contemplated by the Pope.  As one can imagine, Michelangelo was very concerned he was not up to the task but the Pope insisted.  At the same time, Raphael was painting the Pope’s ante-chamber apartment with the beautiful murals that adorn it today.  This no doubt led to more anxiety for Michelangelo.  But as we know, Michelangelo climbed the scaffoldings daily from 1508 until done in 1512, in answer to the Pope’s call to create what even Raphael pronounced when he first saw the ceiling, the most incredible art ever painted.  When one sees the Sistine Chapel ceiling today, one knows that truly God had to have blessed Michelangelo, as it is doubtful any human could have painted such a masterpiece without God’s help and blessing.

 This story and the concern for the color selection for our church is shared, not with the intent of comparing our church and its finish to the Sistine Chapel, but as an appeal congregation-wide for prayers that with God’s spiritual help, along with the input of experts, our rector and the oversight of the vestry, that the right finish colors for this restoration project are selected.  Finally, we need prayers that we do appropriately restore this beautiful church with the financial generosity of the congregation to the finish that we all so earnestly hope and seek.  This restoration is not an easy task  as each individual and family has a vision of just how the church should look and feel when finished.  This vision is developed over years of worship, prayers offered inside, weddings and funerals.  However, this is not of course, just the restoration of any building, it is the restoration of God’s house, and we certainly ought to use His spiritual input to get it right.

 Later this week, we will also select the mortar color for the exterior re-pointing.  This is another difficult decision, as there must be at least four different mortar colors on the exterior of the building from various repairs over the years.   


The very first rector of St. Mary’s, the Rev. Hobart Williams’s burial stone and grave are located adjacent to the church on the south side.  It can be seen as one drives up the drive to the parking lot.  It has a rounded rose-colored top.  He arrived in southern Portsmouth in 1843, when he said “there was nothing here but an old wooden shed.”  He served as the rector as the plans of Sarah Gibbs were made for the current St. Mary’s Church. 

 In fact, he and his wife, the former Augusta M. Eaton, the daughter of a clergyman in Boston, lived with Sarah Gibbs in her house at Oakland Farm, now condominiums for many years after their first arrival in Portsmouth.  Finally, when Sarah Gibbs died at age eighty-two in 1866, they had no place to live, as she had only a life estate in the Oakland Farm property.  So, he paid for the restoration of a manse on the church property from his own money and lived there for the remainder of his ministry and life.  The Rev. Hobart Williams served 41 years as the first rector and missionary of St. Mary’s Church.  He was beloved and when he died in 1884, although the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island had given he and his wife a life tenancy in the manse he had remodeled, his wife deeded back any interest that she had after his death and went to live with other family members.

 Now the Rev. Hobart Williams must look up at the ongoing restoration and the new masonry and smile just as Sarah Gibbs may, knowing how significant St Mary’s Church has been in the lives of the congregation during the past 175 years since that cornerstone was laid on September 2, 1847.  He also went to his grave knowing where the cornerstone was positioned, but never wrote the location down.  The exact location of the cornerstone remains a mystery today; however, we continue to look for it.  The cornerstone has a hollowed space covered with a copper plate and contains inside a Holy Bible, Book of Common Prayer, Journal of the RI Convention and Church Almanac for 1847, and one number of the Missionary and Gospel Messenger (whatever that may be?).  If found, it will be a great reason for celebration as part of the completion of this restoration project.

Thank you for your continued financial support and perhaps more important, your anticipated prayers that we get colors and the restoration right. Anon!

Posted by Ron Machtley with