The Madison Cooper family angel got her arms back this week, and the surgery was declared a success.
Waco sculptor Rolando Saenz was at Oakwood Cemetery this week putting the finishing touches on the human-size marble monument that was damaged in a rampage of cemetery vandalism in January.
The process required two chunks of prized Colorado marble, two brass rods, a bucket of epoxy and about 100 hours of artisan labor by Saenz, who owns a monument shop around the corner.
By Tuesday afternoon, the angel’s delicate white forearms once again stretched out toward the graves of the prominent Waco family, and it would take a keen eye to discern that they were replacement limbs.
“I really liked it,” said Roane Lacy Jr., a family member who helped pay for the operation. “It puts the balance back. Hands are not easy to do with the tendons and veins and muscle, but he did a good job. It’s as close to Michelangelo as we can come by locally.”
The angel, made in Italy of white Carrara marble, has stood guard over the family plot of Madison A. Cooper since the early 1930s and has become a cemetery landmark.
Cooper was regionally prominent as a wholesale grocer, while his son, Madison Jr., won fame as founder of the Cooper Foundation and the author of the epic Waco-inspired novel “Sironia.”
Lacy, great-grandson of the senior Cooper, joined with other descendants in contributing several thousand dollars to the restoration project in the form of a Cooper Foundation grant to the Oakwood Cemetery Association.
Lacy said the family weighed the option of having the broken hands and forearms reattached to the angel. But some of the original fingers had been broken and lost years ago, and the family decided new arms would be better.
Lacy said the family was fortunate to find Saenz, a stone artist with 36 years of experience in sculpting stone, including nearly two decades at Dietz Memorial Co.
He started his own business in 2006 and now does public art as well as cemetery monuments.
Saenz used Colorado marble that he has been storing since attending a sculpture symposium in Colorado years ago.
Colorado marble, which was used in the Lincoln Memorial, differs from Carrara marble in that it has a defined grain. It is harder to carve than the Italian marble, but it is a stronger material if you carve with the grain instead of against it, Saenz said.
Saenz carved the forearm and hands freestyle, using diamond saws and small rotary die grinders, knowing a single mistake could ruin the whole project.
“Doing hands is a delicate job,” he said. “They tend to break. That’s why the original fingers are gone.”
On Monday, he sanded down the arm stubs and installed brass rods inside the arms to reinforce them. He cemented the pieces together with strong epoxy. On Tuesday, he sanded the joints and airbrushed on a lithochrome paint to blend the old with the new.
Lacy researched the angel’s history in preparation for the restoration project and discovered that it is the oldest of three roughly identical angels in the cemetery.
He interviewed former Dietz Memorial owner Henry Dietz, who said his father sold the angel to M.A. Cooper for about $1,500 in the late 1920s or early 1930s. M.A. Cooper Sr. died in 1940.
The Cooper angel was in place long before Madison Cooper Sr. died, Lacy said.
He said the angel’s gaze is directed at the grave of one of the Coopers’ children, Christine, who died in 1894. Christine’s younger brother, Madison Jr., was born that same year and lived until 1956.
The Lacy family plans in the next couple of weeks to celebrate the restoration as part of its annual family picnic at Oakwood.
As usual, Lacy plans to take the children on a tour of the cemetery, with the Cooper angel as a highlight.
“It’s a great tradition,” Lacy said. “The whole point of the family day is to remember those who’ve gone before and acknowledge that soon we’ll be where they are.”