Tuesday, January 14, 2003

From the NYTimes (LRR), a former hairdresser finds a new vocation and revitalized faith in restoring historic Texas churches

Mr. Esparza started his business restoring the art in these unusual churches in 1994 after a 20-year career as a hairdresser in Austin. Known back then as Fast Eddie, he had clients like the golfer Lee Trevino; Bob Denver, who played Gilligan on the television series "Gilligan's Island"; and John Connally, the former Texas governor. Now 53, Mr. Esparza said he sold his chain of three hair salons because he was not happy. "I was living a little too fast, you know what I mean?" he said. "And it was all make-believe stuff — your hair, how you look."

In an effort to change, he turned to church restoration. Even when he was a wayward hairdresser, Mr. Esparza painted religious art. His salons were decorated with the mystical images of Mary and Jesus that he started painting while attending Catholic grade school. Religious publishers printed some of his works on prayer cards and sold them in Catholic bookstores.

Mr. Esparza has also helped his older brother, Genaro, do metal work for churches, like restoring tabernacles and chalices. During those jobs, Mr. Esparza would sometimes offer to touch up the church's crucifix or maybe replace the gold leaf that had worn off Mary's halo.

"That's how the whole thing got started," Mr. Esparza said of Sacrada Familia, his Austin-based ecclesiastical restoration and design business. His commissions come mainly by word of mouth, and he has specifically sought jobs restoring the richly painted churches in the south and central parts of Texas. "Those churches are forgotten treasures," he said. "I want to be a link with the past, to restore them and to do something that is everlasting."





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