Evanston couple restores 70-year-old Mary statue

Craig and Catherine Holt stand next to a restored statue of the Virgin Mary. Catherine Holt has been restoring art pieces for 35 years, and her husband Craig, whom she refers to as her “third hand,” helped her with the project. A major part of this particular restoration was rebuilding Mary’s hands. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Catherine “Cat” Holt has been restoring priceless art for 35 years and had a successful studio in Draper, Utah, for 25 years. In January of this year, she and her husband, Craig Holt, moved to Evanston, where she is rebuilding her studio and practicing her art.

“We chose Evanston because it is close to the Utah valley where I still have clients and my husband still does concrete work there. We love Wyoming; I was born in Riverton so I have a strong connection with the state,” Cat said.

Cat said she is self-taught and years ago studied her craft with an Austrian woman in Chicago. She is a skilled conservator and her talent is not limited to statuary; she also restores ceramics, porcelain, pottery, antique frames, oil on canvas and dolls. She is an avid rock hunter and brings out the hidden art in stone through her skilled carving. Cat said she taught her two granddaughters how to carve on stone when they were only 4 years old.

Her scrimshaw work on an old ivory piano key is breathtaking. Her artistic skills cross over many genres.

Cat shared pictures and stories of some of her former restoration projects, including an 8,000-pound marble Kuan Yin statue for the Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Rose Park in Salt Lake City; an antique frame repair; a china vase that was in pieces; a Jesus statue for the Carmelite nuns in Holladay, Utah; a 300-year-old oil painting she is cleaning and restoring; nine statues that were vandalized and in pieces at Our Lady of the Lourdes Catholic Church in Magna, Utah, which she rebuilt and restored; and restoration of two statues at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Evanston. Some of her work and more information about her can be viewed on saltlakechinarepair.com

“The largest piece I’ve worked on was the Buddhist temple statue and the most expensive piece I’ve ever worked on was a million dollar Meissen Porcelain mirror for the Grand America in Salt Lake City,” Holt said.

Cat has been working on and recently completed restoring a 70-year old statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This particular statue resided for all 70 of her years at the front of the Trappist Abbey of the Holy Trinity in Huntsville, Utah.  She is called, “Our Lady of Confidence” and came to the Abbey in the 1950s.

Salt Lake City attorney Bill White and his wife Alane are the current owners of the Huntsville monastery farm and the statue. For ten years, the Whites had been friends with the monks and when most of the monks either had passed away or were in nursing homes, the Whites bought the property. The statue had been placed in the Holy Trinity Abbey cemetery to watch over the three dozen Huntsville Trappist monks laid to rest there. 

The Whites saw that the statue had lost both her hands and was badly in need of restoration and weatherproofing.  Pleased with Cat’s restoration of two vandalized statues for the Catholic Church, Deacon George Reade, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, gave a referral for her to Bill White.  White then hired her and brought the statue to Evanston.

Cat said her husband Craig has assisted her with the restoration of the Mary statue. She said that with his 40-year background as a contractor and in concrete work, his expertise has been invaluable.

“My husband is now my third hand. He has been my partner in the restoration of this statue,” Cat said.

Salt Lake City attorney Mike O’Brien, who is a friend and colleague of Bill White, has written a pending blog on the history of the Mary statue.  Together, he and White researched the origin and meaning of the statue’s name, “Our Lady of Confidence,” and found she has an interesting history. 

They interviewed the surviving monks and found one who remembered that the statue was bought from a fellow Trappist monk in France. The sculptor’s name was Louis Richomme, known as Father Marie-Bernard (1883-1975), an artistic ironworker who entered the Abbey of LaTrappe de Soligny in 1907 at age 24. LaTrappe is one of the most important of the worldwide Cistercian Abbeys. 

Father Marie-Bernard worked as the handyman at the famous monastery, but also was an artist and sculptor who became famous for his sculpture of Saint Therese of Lisieux. In the middle of the emerging World War in 1940, Father Marie-Bernard sent a new, large sculpted image of Mary to a neighboring Trappist Abbey in the hopes she would protect the monks. He called her “Our Lady of Confidence.”  The monks there prayed for protection and promised to place the statue on the hill above the monastery if they emerged unscathed from the turmoil.  They did and in October 1947, the Trappist monks erected the large sculpture of “Our Lady of Confidence” on the hill, where she can still be seen today.

Information about the LaTrappe Statue, said sculptor Marie-Bernard, once explained the meaning of his unique image of Mary this way, “The blessed Virgin is the incomparable model of trusting prayer to which God can never refuse anything.”

Utah’s smaller version of this famous statue of Mary is 70 years old this year. In less than a month, the Holts have given Mary new hands and a complete restoration. Soon, “Our Lady of Confidence” will once again be placed in the Holy Trinity Abbey cemetery in Huntsville, Utah, to watch over the monks.

Editor’s Note: Mike O’Brien is a writer and attorney living in Salt Lake City. His book “Monastery Mornings” about growing up with the monks at the old Trappist monastery in Huntsville, Utah, will be published by Paraclete Press in the spring of 2021. O’Brien was kind enough to allow the use of his research on the statue for this story.

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