Skip to Main Content

A Tradition to Restore with Swiatek Studios

December 2, 2022

A sunburst, newly restored, on the ceiling of the Sculpture Court in the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building. Photo: Jeff Mace

There’s a lot of care going into construction of the new Buffalo AKG Art Museum, and not just in the new Jeffrey E. Gundlach Building. An amazing team of contractors and experts is at work on the Robert and Elisabeth Wilmers Building, completed in 1905, to make sure that every detail shines. One of our partners is Swiatek Studios, experts in historic restoration located in Clarence, New York, who specialize in making the classic shine like the contemporary. We asked one of the members of the Swiatek Studios team, Shanel Lamson, to tell us a little more about their craft.

Buffalo AKG Art Museum: So what does Swiatek Studios do?

Shanel Lampson: We do art restoration, mural work, anything that has to be done architecturally for buildings that need to be touched up or restored to their original form.

AKG: What are some of the other projects Swiatek has worked on?

SL: We're kind of all over the place. We do a lot of churches in Western New York as well as travel out of state. We do stained glass as well. We had a big glass job for Our Lady of Victory Basilica recently. And Westminster Church. We've done local theaters as well. Shea’s, the Palace Theatre in Lockport. Yes, we've been everywhere, seems like.

AKG: What's your official title?

SL: So I'm an apprentice painter. I’m a commercial painter through District Council Four, but I was placed with Swiatek Studios as a contractor, because I have an artistic background and went to school for art. I went to Villa Maria College and got my BFA.

AKG: What’s a typical job that you would do?

SL: I've done a lot of stenciling, which is where you take like a piece of Dura-Lar, which is a kind of plastic film, and using an X-acto Knife you cut a custom design into. Then you roll on paint. I've done faux block, faux marble, gold leafing, which is what we're doing here.

AKG: Can you describe what’s going on here?

SL: All of these murals were covered up by a layer of white paint, and it was naturally starting to fall off of the underlying surface, so we had to then scrape with razor blades the rest of the white paint for each one of these panels.

Once we’ve removed the paint, we check for any damage to the mural itself. Then we mix custom colors to match the original mural color and we just detail—it's called infill—we go back in and inject that color back into the mural. The last step is basically putting on sizing material [another word for glue] and then putting the gold leaf onto that.

Various tools and bags of materials
Tools of the trade. Photo: Jeff Mace

AKG: How does Swiatek know how to do all this?

SL: The owner is just very knowledgeable with this kind of work and restoration work, because they've been doing it for so long, and it's a family business, so it's kind of been passed down.

AKG: When you see the original mural, these sunburst patterns, what do you think the mural was trying to express?

SL: This is such a beautiful space. The marble was already so gorgeous, and it's so intricate. I think it's a subtle design that wasn't meant to draw your eye directly to it. It just complements what's already happening architecturally in this space. With the windows above, your eye is naturally drawn upward. And gold is a very grand color, so it’s playing off this grand space.

AKG: Did you grow up around here?

SL: Yeah, I grew up in South Buffalo.

A scaffold rises to a white plaster ceiling in a columned room with a window up above
Photo: Jeff Mace

AKG: So what do you think about working to help open the new museum?

SL: I go home feeling really good at the end of the day, because ultimately this is for the community, so I feel very satisfied knowing that I'm doing something to improve the community’s experience when they walk into this gallery. It’s just something for them to enjoy and admire, whether that is subtly or whether it’s very in your face.

AKG: And you're an artist!

SL: Yes, I am. I do photorealism, so that's my genre, and I mostly work with oils, so I'm really good at copying things.

AKG: So all of these sunbursts really are going to be exactly alike.

SL: Yeah! Yes, they are all going to be exactly the same.

Sign that reads, "Swiatek Studios: Restoration in Progress" hung on an orange scaffold
Photo: Jeff Mace