Expand Menu
Close Menu
Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel
Home | What's Going On | Blog

The Use of Decorative Paint in College Chapels & Churches

A church provides a safe haven, a quiet place to think and to pray, to step away from the worries of everyday life and worship God. The architecture and decoration including decorative paint of a church is extremely important since the aesthetic of a building is very influential in providing an environment conducive to its purpose. King Solomon of the Old Testament understood this importance when he set out to build a temple for the Lord. He proclaimed, “Send me now a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron. That man was Taubal Canin, the first known artificer of metals.  He was a descendant of Cain who slew his brother Able. Taubal, together with his brother and sister embellished the Temple.  With metals and with purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Juda and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided.”  This emphasizes not only the importance of beauty, but the importance of skilled craftsmen in facilitating that beauty. Beauty and order in churches are just as important now as they were then, and since college chapels and churches minister to young adults, those seeking to grow spiritually and mentally, it is crucial to provide and maintain beauty and decoration in churches on college campuses.

Decorative Paint

While the architectural layout of a church is important for order, color scheme and decoration give life to the space. For this reason, it is important not only to restore existing decorative schemes in historic churches, but to implement design in new churches, and in those which are plain and void of such decoration.

Decorative paint is a broad term including a number of different techniques such as mural painting, stenciling, trompe l’oeil, wood graining, faux marble, and glazing, all of which can contribute greatly to a church interior.

  • Murals have a profound influence on viewers by guiding them to reflect on particular people and events. The vast majority of chapels and churches will have murals depicting scenes from the life of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or perhaps saint to which the church has been dedicated. The most famous example of this is the incredible Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, elaborately illustrating the progression of the church from creation to the life of Christ and his saints. John Canning & Co. has performed restoration and conservation on a number of murals as well as the creation and installation of new works of art.
  • Stenciling is a beautiful way of decorating walls, ceilings, borders, and other elements of a church interior with a simple and orderly design. Stenciling is especially common in churches because of its ability to elevate a surface to something extraordinary. Gold and silver are often used in stenciling to add to the richness and nobility of a sanctuary which signify the richness and nobility of Christ the King.
  • Illusionistic Painting also known as Trompe l’oeil which is a French word meaning “deceives the eye.” It is a type of decorative painting which uses highlights and shadows to appear three dimensional. It may be done with any color scheme to give the appearance of any decorative element and is often situated somewhat far from the viewer in order to make the illusion even more believable.
  • Wood graining (Faux Bios) and Faux Marble are also types of illusive art which use paint to give the appearance of authentic wood or marble. The art of woodgraining came into practice because it is more cost efficient than using the material itself while also giving a controlled consistency throughout. The same is true for faux marbling as well as the bonus of avoiding transportation of heavy slabs of marble.
  • Glazing is the art of combining the transparent with then opaque. A certain substructure is painted over with a somewhat transparent pigment in order to give depth to the material. Glazing is a valuable art in churches because it is both dignified and simple. Its transparency elevates the surface while its opaque substructure gives simplicity and consistency.

Our Decorative Painting Work on College Campuses

Here are a few examples of chapels and churches the company has worked on for educational institutions:


Faux finishing was performed in Christ Chapel at Hillsdale College, MI including detailed woodgraining and faux limestone of the entablature to perfectly match the classical columns lining the nave. Gilding of lettering on both the interior and exterior of the building was also accomplished with great success.

Decorative Paint at Christ Chapel by Duncan G. Stroik Architect

Christ Chapel, Hillsdale College by Duncan G. Stroik Architect

St. John Church is a newly designed and built classical building at which Canning was commissioned to complete fine art within the sanctuary. The design drew heavily from the early Christian style with significant inspiration from St. Ambrose in Milan, San Clemente in Rome and many others. The artwork harkens the writings of Revelation with carefully considered symbolic details woven into the composition. As the church is associated with a university and subsequently many young people, the many saints depicted on the sanctuary wall intend to inspire the youth to lead good and holy lives with the ultimate goal of becoming saints.


While universities are built in many architectural styles, gothic architecture is very popular among collegiate institutions since it gives an impression of regality and sophistication, perfect for creating an environment conducive to higher education. The gothic style is particularly suitable for churches, for its long dimensions and high steeples cannot help but direct the eye toward the heavens and facilitate contemplation of extraordinary things.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel at Thomas Aquinas College was built in 1909 in the country gothic style. Its stone exterior is striking and powerful amidst the surrounding foliage and rolling hills. The interior, once simple and plain, has been transformed by the company to a vibrant and colorful Catholic aesthetic by designing and installing a color palette and decorative scheme. The scope included gilding and glazing, a unique stenciling and new design in the sanctuary, and faux stone finish. This is a perfect example of the power decorative paint has to transform bare and drab spaces into elaborate and glorious works of art.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel ,Thomas Aquinas College Decorative Paint

Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel,Thomas Aquinas College

St. Mary’s Chapel at Boston College was built in 1825 in partial fulfillment of the bishop’s dream to have a college in the city of Boston which would fill both the civic and spiritual needs of the city dwellers. Canning completed restoration of many elements of the building, including gilding, glazing, and inpainting of the interior.

St. Mary's Chapel, Boston College Decorative Painting Restoration

St. Mary’s Chapel, Boston College

Battel Chapel at Yale University was built in the Victorian Gothic style and dates all the way back to 1874. The decorative scheme of the building had undergone much deterioration since its initial construction and was therefore in dire need of restoration. Canning researched the  building and performed investigation and interpretation of the existing colors and design in order to restore the decoration and decorative paint to its original glory.

Battell Chapel at Yale University Decorative Painting Restoration

Battell Chapel, Yale University


Since decoration and decorative paint should at all times compliment architecture, and decoration is especially important in college chapels and churches due to the purpose of such buildings, it is important that decorative paint be implemented and restored properly with the attention to detail and craftsmanship they deserve. When this is accomplished, all types of decorative paint have the power to come together and form a beautiful, structured whole which elevate the minds and hearts of all viewers to higher things.  If you have a project you would like to discuss, contact us.

Canning C

February 21, 2023

Featured Projects

Yale -Battel Chapel

Battell Chapel, Yale University

The John Canning & Co. process of archival research, hands-on investigation, scientific analysis, and interpretation led to the successful restoration of Battell Chapel’s original Victorian-era decorative painting scheme.

Thomas Aquinas Chapel

Thomas Aquinas Chapel

Thomas Aquinas College’s Campus Chapel project required the conversion of a once protestant interior to one of unapologetic Catholicism.

St. Mary’s Chapel, Boston College Restoration

St. Mary’s Chapel, Boston College

The St. Mary’s Chapel restoration involved conservation cleaning without damaging the surface or altering the color of the historic cast stone.

Hillsdale Christ Chapel PHOTO CREDIT: © Francis Dzikowski/OTTO

Christ Chapel, Hillsdale College

John Canning & Co.’s scope of work in Christ Chapel at Hillsdale College largely entailed faux finishes and gilding.

Higher Education Restoration Guide
John Canning & Co. Resources

As a conservation studio and restoration contractor, our team of highly skilled craftsmen, artisans, and conservators are experienced in the use of traditional methods and materials. We understand the importance in sharing our expertise and knowledge in our field.

Check Out Our Higher Education Restoration Guide