St. John's Lutheran Church
425 Jefferson Avenue
Scranton, PA 18510
The Rev. C. Albert Wagaman, S.T.M., Pastor
The Renovations of 1999-2000
including the work of Robert A. Ritterbeck Painting
In 1998, the Property Committee became increasingly aware of the shabbiness of the interior, with much of the ceiling water stained and sparse lighting hiding much deterioration and inadequate for contemporary needs. Upon the recommendation of the Property Committee and the Council, the congregation voted to engage Robert A. Ritterbeck Painting & Decorating to paint the church interior. Knowing that Mr. Ritterbeck is an artist, the congregation agreed to have him "decorate" rather than just "paint" the church. Mr. Gene Metschulat was engaged as electrical contractor. Rambusch Studio was engaged to design and provide additional, inconspicuous lighting and Mr. Richard Leonori was engaged as architect for the project. The results are what you see today!
Before any painting was done, the the ceilings and walls were all covered with U.S. Tasso, a fiberglass barrier to strengthen and protect the old plaster. Previously, the church had been essentially monotone, difficult as that is to imagine. A master of the Renaissance technique of trompe l'oeil (fool the eye), Mr. Ritterbeck's "tricks" abound, from the sense that the church is "timbered" (when in fact it is simply selected plaster moulding painted to look like wood timbers), to the "framing" in the ceiling panels (which are flat, but painted to appear to be three dimensional). Perhaps most striking is the stenciled gold leaf dome, in which, on each side, a centered Cross Trefflee (the trefoil ends of which suggest the incorporation of the fullness of the Trinity into the primary symbol for the Son) is slightly stretched beyond its bounds, forcing the eye heavenward to contemplate the eternal significance of the crucifixion for all people.
The apse is divided between "heaven" and "earth". The "earth" is divided into three sections and the windows are given special attention, all tied to the rest of the building by using a stencil pattern also found on the Chancel Arch. The cross of 1972 has been raised to an even more prominent position, and is now surmounted by the Victorious Lamb in "heaven", vividly relating Crucifixion and Resurrection
Mr. Ritterbeck envisioned the ceiling as ten individual panels, at the center of which would be a Christian symbol. As new symbolism was discussed, several principles emerged: the symbols would be informed by (if not directly based on) the writings of St. John (thus, for example, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany symbols were rejected); there would be no letters or texts (the free use of Greek and Latin in the Tiffany symbols speak of a time when these were common subjects in schools); the artistic style would not attempt to recreate but would not be out of keeping with a late nineteenth century style. All are centered on a background of distressed gold leaf. All are given heightened significance by their location.