A life-size crucifix towers over a flat-screen TV in the back of Lusso Cosmetics. A pair of angels dwarfs a nearby couch, and historic religious figures gaze across a desk piled with papers.
This is Louis McClung’s studio, a space filled with statues rescued from shuttered Catholic churches. One day, he hopes, the pieces he’s so laboriously restored will rest in a museum devoted to religious statuary.
Most incongruous is the 38-year-old McClung himself, a burly guy in a fitted black T-shirt with a 5 o’clock shadow, visible tattoos and three earrings. After making a name for himself in the realm of women’s beauty, he’s taken on the painstaking work required for statue restoration. Turns out he’s the perfect guy for the job. McClung spent his Catholic childhood visiting the statuary-filled homes of Italian relatives.
“They had small shrines set up in the house,” he recalls. “It wasn’t odd for my great-grandmother to have 10 2-foot statues on her dresser.”
McClung became a photographer then decided he might as well do the makeup for the models he was shooting. That led to Lusso Cosmetics and the light-filled former greenhouse that he’s converted into his storefront and studio.
A beat-up Catholic statue he found in an antique store four years ago was his first restoration project. Soon McClung was renovating statues for clients throughout the United States, including churches and private collectors. Catholic churches typically don’t sell artwork to the general public, so McClung created a nonprofit organization as a show of good faith.
Today, he has a collection of almost 40 statues and hopes to gather 100 pieces by the time he opens his museum. As the statues are completed, McClung finds sponsors for each as a way to raise money for his museum. He bubbles with enthusiasm as he describes his plans for interactive kiosks, meditation areas and a cafe.
“Our goal is to actually get one of [Cleveland’s] closed churches,” he says. “Because in my opinion, there’s no greater use for a decommissioned church than for it to be a Catholic museum.”