St. Anthony of Padua Church; Custom Built Side Altars with Carved Tracry Trim and Gold-Powder Paint

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 07-30-2007 01:21 AM 6504 views 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was a commissioned project, and so they have been sold.

If you would like something similar, or need an artisan to create something unique for your place of worship, please email me for more information:

[email protected]

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This project is located at the St. Anthony Catholic Church in Strong City, Kansas, USA. If you are ever going through this area and want to stop and see the church you are welcome to enjoy the building, and meet with Father Nick if you choose. I live about 16 miles West from town, so stop and see me when you are going through, just call first please.

Project Story:

The goal of this commissioned project was to build two Side Altars that would match the existing center Sacrifice Altar which would be restored and modified slightly (another project to be uploaded soon).

The wood is Red Oak, using solid wood, veneered plywood, & veneered MDF, Poplar, and Polytek Polyurethane Resin Casting material to accomplish the entire design. The carved trim is painted with a gold powder mixed with a clear carrier (shellac, lacquer, and polyurethane) depending on the location of the trim.

Since I had the original center altar in my shop, I was able to tear it apart for it’s restoration work, and then utilize the original parts to layout and build the duplicate crown moldings, turnings, carvings, and carved panels.
Every piece of trim and molding had to be made in my shop. I also had fun using my Oliver Lathe and Legacy Ornamental Mill to do the turned portions of the project.

There were many challenging steps in this project, and one of the most difficult was trying to match the original old finish which has aged by about 120 years. I have not been an expert in matching old finishes in the past, but I learned a lot on this project.

My goal for the project was simple really, a person entering the front doors of the church would think that the Side Altars have always been there. I feel I accomplished that goal.

You see, the Side Altars had originally been in the church. The story goes that during a night time remodel 40-50 years back, the church Priest took the Side Altars outside and burned them without anyone’s approval. Everyone told me that he must not have wanted any committee approval for his redesigning of the church interior.

The outside of the building is a wonderful Kansas Limestone building, but it had been remodeled to current standards 40-50 years ago, and it was showing it’s age. Instead of modernizing the interior, the congregation decided to restore it to its former granduer, and so they needed two more matching Side Altars to be built.

Nobody on the committee knew who to turn to for the required woodworking feats to do this project. I have spent the past few years in my little isolated shop in the country, and not enough local people had heard of my work at that time to think of me when brainstorming about the project and the resources available.

They first contacted a firm on the East Coast of the U.S. that specializes in restoration work of old churches. The team never heard back from them.

After another brainstorming session, one of the committee members remembered meeting me at the County Fair. I had entered the County Fair for the first time with my Maloof-Inspired Rocking Chair, and made quite a splash, winning the top award of the Fine-Art/Craft award. The woman on the committee just happened to be the lady that checked in/out the entries for that category. She suggested me, and then some research was done to find out who I was, and how to contact me.

A few phone calls later, and some emails, I had given my proposal for the project, and accepted the down payment and started work the last week of December 2006. I finished up this project the 3rd weekend of May 2007.

There are a lot of details to a project like this, and I am hoping to soon have BLOG entries showing the details of what was done.

Here are the posted projects from this Commission:

I would love to get the chance to build more church and faith-art related original pieces. Please consider me for your church furnishing project.
Email me: [email protected]

Thanks for looking,
Mark DeCou


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Want to See More of my Furniture Work?:
If you go to my Mark DeCou Website you will find that I have not updated my website in quite some time. I realize that I need to invest in improving my website, but until that is accomplished, here are some more Lumberjocks related lilnks with updated postings of my furniture work, sorted into categories. Thanks for your interest in my work, and your patience with my website.

Arts and Crafts, Mission Style Related Projects:
  1. Arts & Crafts Entry Table; with Carved Oak Leaves
  2. Arts & Crafts Orchid Stand w/ Wine Bottle Storage
  3. Arts & Crafts Style Morris Inspired Chairs
  4. Arts & Crafts Display Top Coffee Table
  5. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired End Table Set
  6. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired Prairie Couch
  7. Table Lamps
  8. Arts & Crafts Carved Entertainment Center
  9. Mission Entertainment Center
Church & Worship-Art Related Projects:
  1. Carved Communion Table
  2. Carved Roll Top Sound Equipment Cabinet
  3. Fancy Church Side Altars
  4. Processional Cross
  5. Fancy Speaker's Lectern
  6. Church Hymn Number Board
  7. Communion Chalice (Cup) and Paten
Art-Furniture Related Projects:
  1. Sam Maloof Inspired Walnut Rocker
  2. Original Art Carved Tilt Front Desk, inspired by Birger Sandzen
  3. Natural Edge; Nakashima Inspired Coffee Table
  4. Decoratively Painted Box End Tables
  5. Birch China Cabinet for Cut Glass Collection
Rustic, Western, Cedar Log, and Cowboy Related Projects:
  1. Naughty (Knotty) Refined Rustic White Oak & Black Walnut China Hutch
  2. A Kansa Indian and Buffalo Accent Art-Chair
  3. Refined Rustic Dining Chairs
  4. Refined Rustic Dining Table
  5. Cowboy-Western Style Suitcase/Luggage Support Racks
  6. Fun With Cedar Logs #1; Sitting Stool
  7. Fun With Cedar Logs #2; Coat/Hat/Spur Rack
  8. Fun With Cedar Logs #3; Western Style Hat/Coat Rack
  9. Fun With Cedar Logs #4; Entryway Stool
Outdoor Furniture Related:
  1. Kennebunkport Style Adirondack Chair
  2. Outdoor Garden Wedding Arbor
  3. Outdoor Project: Cedar Wood Double Settee

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

18 comments so far

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4962 days

#1 posted 07-30-2007 01:33 AM

Such wonderful work Mark. It is so great to see all these pieces you made. Such talent.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View john's profile


2383 posts in 5182 days

#2 posted 07-30-2007 01:51 AM

Beautiful work Mark.
I am sure they will be admired for years to come including from the big guy upstairs.
Nice work

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6869 posts in 4780 days

#3 posted 07-30-2007 02:03 AM

Hi Mark;

Very, very nice work! Truly a work of art. I’m curious, do you feel like someone is watching you while building these church related items. I believe someone mighty powerful is.

I’d be spooked building them, like if it wasn’t perfect, I’d be in big doo doo.

Great stuff ;


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 5045 days

#4 posted 07-30-2007 02:17 AM

Very nice Mark – look forward to your blogs on how you accomplished you project.

Susie and I may find time this fall to visit you again, I will call ahead make sure you are home. We will set aside time to go see the church and you work you have put into it to bring it’s past back to life.

-- Joel Tille

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4978 days

#5 posted 07-30-2007 02:21 AM

That’s not as funny as it sound, Lee.

I’d be very surprised if Mark didn’t answer a big YES to your question. As a matter of fact, I’d be surprised if Mark didn’t credit that same Someone for the artistry and unique skills this commission required.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your blogs on this project, Mark. I would where you will be led after this is complete?

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 4961 days

#6 posted 07-30-2007 02:23 AM

you must be very proud.. very very proud.

totally amazing.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Karson's profile


35224 posts in 5201 days

#7 posted 07-30-2007 02:57 AM

Mark: A great big Applause. Nice job and having so many I won’t say worship it but use them in their worship.

They are great.


-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

657 posts in 4934 days

#8 posted 07-30-2007 03:11 AM

I’m with Deb on this one.. totally amazing!! Very nice works of art. I do believe this church and their projects you have made will put your name on the map as one of the top custom furniture makers for churches in this great land of the USA. There is no better place to have a good name than in a church because church gossip travels fast. Thanks for sharing Mark!

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5206 days

#9 posted 07-30-2007 03:15 AM

Thanks John & Bill, your encouragement is truly appreciated. I have come to respect you, not just in what you build, but also in who you are. Thanks for being here together with me.

Hey Lee: Your work astounds me, and I get scared to even look at your postings, always a wow! Thanks for your comment, and since you asked, I’ll share a little more of the inner workings of this lone operation I call “DeCou Studio.”

I built my first church piece several years ago, and at the time, it was pretty scary. I constantly had questions about what to do, what to design, etc. I knew it was important. It was also that first church piece that I received my first newspaper interest, and then more publicity, and soon I had enough work to think about doing this full time.

I learned during the first project to pray and seek a plan for the design and process to accomplish it. Since that time, I have seen things in my mind that just need to built in wood, plainly said. Often, I have no idea how to go about doing the work, but the path is always laid out for me, the tools show up in my shop, and sometimes as unexpected gifts, such as with my Legacy Ornamental Mill and my Grizzly 12” spiral jointer. I have had this style of “communication” on non-church work also, but it seems to be clearer and more prononced on the church commissions. I can clearly say, that it is not me, but Him.

Since that time of the first project, I have encountered many times where it felt like what was coming out of me wasn’t me. How did I know? I just know. I know me, and I can sense the involvement of a presence that is not me, It is loving, compassionate, and comforting. All things that I am not normally without Him.

I once saw a drawing someone did of Jesus working at his father Joseph’s woodshop. He was a small boy in the drawing, playing on the floor with shavings while Joseph worked on a bench above Him. You could sense the love between them, the comforableness, the teaching, the patience, the compassion.

I have often enjoyed the image of that drawing in my mind as I work, as it closely resembles the feeling I get when I think about what to do next on a project. It is sort of like playing at the feet of the Master Woodworker, and He always stops His important work to help me out a little. Sometimes, most times I guess, He requires me to do things I’m not capable of doing, nor have experience with. But, when I am finished, I gain the humbled confidence that I didn’t do this alone.

On this project alone, I have never done most of what was required to do the commission. Was I scared? Of course I was. I didn’t know how to carve the gothic panels, match the finish, do gold powder painting, make resin castings, etc., etc. But, in that fear, there was that confidence, that sitting at His feet, on His floor, I could manage the work. I don’t know how else to describe it. It isn’t the type of thing I can write up and sell books on. It doesn’t come from me.

In two instances, I had dreams in the middle of the night after several days of praying for a plan. The dreams came with a clear picture given of what I was to do, waking me from sleep, and then I knew I had heard from the Master. The next morning I started to build what I had seen in the dream.

Other times, the idea of what to build and how to design a project comes more as my pen is moving on blank paper. However, often, I am stuck, like with a writer’s block. When that happens, I sit and wait on the design, and move onto another project that I already have a plan for. Sometimes the wait is a few hours, sometimes a few days, and in some cases a few weeks.

The project I am building now, the Hymn Number Board is like that. I waited for 3 weeks for the answer, and when it came, it blew me away. I kept thinking as I sketched it out, “I can’t afford to do all of that work!” “I don’t know how to do that work…”. Still, I only heard, “Trust Me.” Short phrase, but it was enough, so I started the work.

The plan has always come, sometimes a few days later than would be convienent to me, and the client. For those that know me best, they seem to eagerly wait, paitently, hoping for me to get moving on their work. And when I do finally start work, it has always seemed to surprise them, happily.

I don’t mean this to sound like a weird-subconsience thing. I can tell you as a former athiest, it isn’t from me. I know me, and “this” isn’t me..

My first incidence of this came in the midst of another love of mine, Harley’s. I was in the process of a complete restoration/customizing of an old 1974 Shovelhead FLH Harley when I came to see that God was real.

During those crazy, scary weeks of cautious new faith, I had tried to finish up the motorcycle. I had started this ground up restoration with absolutely no experience, or instruction manual. Just dumb confidence that I could figure it out.

While I type this, I see this same dumb confidence finding it’s way into many situations in my past. For instance, I dated my wife for a week, proposed, and then married her the next week. When you find the right one, why wait, right? Right. This is sort of a side note, but it helps you understand who I am, and what craziness I have accomplished in the past. We celebrated 15 years this past summer.

Back to the Motorcycle story. The motorcycle was all finished and gorgeous, but it wouldn’t start up.
I worked, worked, and reworked trying to find the problem, but nothing would fix it. I was to the point of loading it up in my truck to take it to Swede’s Harley Davidison in Hutchinson, KS to get it fixed. But, thinking about the embarrasment was too much, so the bike just sat there in the garage, quietly. I figured that at some point I had to admit to Augie (shop owner) that I wasn’t a “bike builder” after all. Remember, this was before all of the cable motorcycle building shows were on.

Then, about a week after I had gotten baptized on Sept. 1st 1994, I was out pushing my lawnmower around our large yard, sweating. I thought to myself, “well, I’m supposed to pray about problems now, so here it goes….God, I need help fixing that motorcycle.” That was honestly, as simple as it was. I can picture in my mind where exactly I was in the yard, when I prayed that prayer. Did I expect to get an answer? Not really, but why not try?

I continued mowing for about 45 minutes, and then put the mower in the garage. I sat down beside the motocycle on my little stool with my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands. I looked at that beautiful motorcycle.

Then, at that moment, it happened, not more than about 15 seconds after sitting there staring at the bike. “Looking” back at me, was an electrical wire terminal with no wire on it. I had been over and over that area of wiring many times, and had never noticed it before. I grabbed the old owner’s manual and traced out the wiring diagram. Sure enough, I had a missing wire. I made a wire, attached it in about 3 minutes, and hit the start button.

My wife came running out to the garage when she heard the rumble, and with an excited voice said, “you fixed it!” I shook my head. Even as a new Believer, I knew it wasn’t me. That Harley restoration was my first, and it got me my first major furniture commission. I tell that story in my Birch China Cabinet project story.

From that one experience with the Harely 13 years ago, I have seen dozens and dozens of situations like that.

But, at other times, I can see that what came out of me, was only me…...mistakes, bad designs, etc. Projects built in pride and arrogance. I had an experience on this project like that which I Blogged about while building the Crown Molding.

There have also been times when my heart wasn’t right to do the work I was commissioned to do. I have underbid nearly every project I have ever done, and the church work is not an exception to this. However, in almost every case, when I invoice the amount I bid, I get a check for more.

Why the “wrong heart”, mostly it is in those times when I see my wife waving another bill at me through the shop window as I work with that frustrated look on her face like, “how am I going to pay this one?”,

What gets me the most frustrated at times is how what I love to do comes with a cost that is sometimes hard to pay. We don’t live extravagantly, as those that have been here can attest, but what we have works and is paid for, and in that I feel blessed and provided for.

Why the underbidding? I seem to bid the work without a clear understanding of what I will build, or how to do it. Then, when I get started, I “get” the plan and then I can’t talk myself out of doing it, eventhough the design goes way beyond what I have bid upfront.

From this I conclude that I am a poor businessman. It is in those times that my heart searches for the reasons. The answer I get back, “trust Me.” So, I press on, and somehow those “waving” bills get paid, often by miracles, and often by unexpected ways. I really think my best projects have been for people that only wanted the price after I delivered the piece. I just need more clients like that, huh?

There is a totally humbling attitude that comes along with doing something that will be used specifically for church worship. On one hand, I know that people will see it for many years during sermons, and day dreaming during sermons. On the other hand, I know that the Master Woodworker wants my best work each time.

Here is a photo from the “DeCou” archives. The bike was sold, the dog has since died, we have moved to the country, but the wife is still the same. Praise to Him!

Thanks for asking Lee,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5206 days

#10 posted 07-30-2007 03:17 AM

Thanks Don, Debbie, Karson, and Roger. You added your comments while I was sweating at my keyboard. You folks are a constant smile to my face.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View TomFran's profile


2964 posts in 4795 days

#11 posted 07-30-2007 03:50 AM

Mark, you are an incredibly gifted woodworker. I hope you can stay humble with all of this praise being heaped upon you. Great work!

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View cajunpen's profile


14578 posts in 4867 days

#12 posted 07-30-2007 06:15 AM

Mark, you obviously have God given talent – maybe it’s just His way of making use of what He gave you. Your work in inspiring. The Parishioners of that Church have a very serene environment to give Him thanks.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 5112 days

#13 posted 07-30-2007 06:24 PM

Spectacular work and design! Now, the rest of the church needs to be brought to these standards.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4978 days

#14 posted 07-31-2007 01:00 AM

Quote Mark DeCou:The bike was sold, the dog has since died, we have moved to the country, but the wife is still the same. Praise to Him!

Don’s paraphrase: But the wife – as beautiful as ever!

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View mot's profile


4927 posts in 4837 days

#15 posted 07-31-2007 07:11 PM

Mark, you are doing amazing work in this church. I was showing some friends from church, your work. I have to fix the dents in my hardwood floors from where their jaws hit and dentures fell out. Just awesome work!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

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