DAYTON — Alexandra Grammatikaki, of Crete, Greece, carefully wetted a cloth rag with a solvent and then ever so gently rubbed a small section of the altar painting at Emanuel Lutheran Church in Dayton.
She worked in small circles, cleaning one area at a time.
Her "office" is near the top of the scaffolding set up so she can reach every brush stroke on the work.
She has another "office" set up at floor level, covered with jugs of solvents, linseed oil, fresh rags, gloves, masks and paints.
They are the tools of an art restoration expert practicing her craft. Grammatikaki works for Religious Arts Corp. of Rock Island, Illinois.
She tries to keep her trips up and down to a minimum.
"I go up and down eight or nine times a day," she told The Messenger. "If I forget something. In the morning I take with me all the materials."
Under her bright LED work lights, it's easy to see where she's cleaned and where a century's worth of "stuff" needs to be removed. The clean parts are shiny.
She said the painting, other than being dirty, is in very good condition.
"This is OK," she said, glancing over at the beaming Jesus that's the center of the work. "It only has dust and smoke from the candles."
It only takes a few wipes in an area the size of a dinner plate to leave a black spot on her solvent-soaked rag. A hundred years of candle-burning creates a lot of soot.
She's only found a few pieces of physical damage.
"Maybe one or two small spots," she said. "From here you can see the spots."
There are several steps that Grammatikaki takes to clean a painting. She works with clean rags, paint brushes and solvents to clean. A final coat of linseed oil helps keep the paint in good condition.
She always follows the same pattern.
"You work in small circles and go from down to up," she said.
Barb Peterson, a member of Emanuel Lutheran's 150th anniversary committee, said they decided to have the painting cleaned as a way to help celebrate the occasion in June 2018.
"It goes with our 'Preserve the Past, Invest in the Future' theme," she said.
She said the painting was completed in 1915. It was painted by Prof. Olaf Grafstrom of Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. The painting was paid for and donated by the church's Ladies Aid Group and dedicated on Oct. 3, 1915.
Peterson is amazed at how much nicer the cleaned sections of the painting look.
"It shows what 100 years of candle soot can do," she said.
Grammatikaki would like to see the church add lighting to the painting so its full range of tones and colors is more visible.
"It's very dark," she said. "This canvas, you want light on it."
To demonstrate, she crawled down from her scaffold and unplugged her work lights. In the much darker illumination of the church, colors muted, details disappeared and the painting appeared almost drab.
"It's another picture with the lights," she said.
Peterson said the church committee is interested in adding lights and is happy with Grammatikaki's work.
"She even suggested some colors for painting around it," Peterson said.