Sacred Art

Diocesan artist restores statues,  churches all for glory of God

     Managing Editor

HILLSBORO — While he was still a very young man, Joseph Williams’ talent and his  love of art took him to various destinations around the United States and Europe. Now with those traveling days mostly behind him, he feels blessed that art helps to support his young family in the small town of Hillsboro, where he and his wife, Sarah Williams, own and operate JWS Artistic Inspirations. Moreover, he believes his artistic journey has been led by God.

A member of St. Agnes Parish in Hillsboro, Williams grew up in California in a Catholic home that encouraged his creativity.  His path to becoming a fine artist who restores statues, paints murals, does decorative and faux painting, and more was both long and interesting. He took Advance Placement art in high school and then went on to earn  his bachelor’s degree in studio art, at Azusa Pacific University. He also studied abroad for two semesters in Europe, first in England at Oxford University and then Ovieto in Italy.

“I studied Renaissance art and art history and traveled to churches and art museums all over Europe to see first-hand the famous works I had studied,” he said. “It was truly an enriching experience for a young Catholic artist.”

Returning to the States, Williams completed his art education with a master’s in fine arts, with a special interest in illustration, from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He then served as an adjunct professor of art and history for two years at Franciscan University in Steubenville, but eventually moved back to California.

While he was in California, Williams met his future wife — who is also a devout  Catholic and lived in the Springfield diocese — on, and they married and moved to California. “My devotion to and personal connection with the lives of the saints, which was fostered in part through the children’s book idea I was developing from grad school, was strengthened through my relationship with Sarah,” he said.

After marriage and the birth of their first child, the couple moved to Illinois, close to Sarah’s family. There Williams taught some art appreciation classes at Lincoln Land Community College. “With full-time positions still hard to come by, I began  looking at opportunities to use my art in service to the Church,” he said. He found work with a few companies in the Edwardsville/St. Louis areas doing church restoration, decorative painting, and faux finishing. “One of my favorite projects was being a part of a team that restored the ceiling of the old St. Louis Cathedral by the Arch,” he said.

Eventually travel time and seasonal layoffs led Williams to take side painting and restoration jobs — and to opening his own business. “It was definitely a leap of faith, but when such big life transitions are required of us, God is good to supply the encouragement and peace of mind to reassure us that everything is going to work out OK — one step at a time,” he said. He and Sarah started their company in October 2021. He does the painting, and she manages the scheduling, bookkeeping, correspondence, and the website. “We’re a good team. I couldn’t do it without her,” he said.

Williams does painting and restoration work in various settings. Over the past few years, he has completed restoration projects in St. Francis Church and St. Clare Chapel at the Evermode Institute  in preparation for the arrival of the Norbertine priests, who reside in the priory now. He has done some painting and restoration at St. Agnes Church in Hillsboro and at St. Mary Church in Assumption.

“The thing I love about working in churches is the feeling of being close to Jesus, reserved in the tabernacle nearby. When it comes to work environments, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said. “But it is humbling as well.  Though I always strive to do my best, I feel obliged to hold myself to a higher standard when I’m working in God’s house. Even the details up high that no one can really see too well, I know God sees them and that keeps me accountable.”

“I also get to work with a lot of religious statues,” he said.  “Some of them are from churches; others have been for individuals, and some from Catholic schools. I don’t necessarily even have to go looking for them; they come to me, often from referrals.”  Father Zach Edgar, a friend who  is a diocesan priest, has been a great advocate of  his statue work, he said.

“At times God knows I need to focus on a certain saint. The timing couldn’t really be planned the way it has worked out, but I have marveled at the appropriate moments I have been asked to work on particular statues,” he said. For example, he once finished the artistic restoration of a statue of St. Agnes for his local parish on her feast day. 

Additionally,  he’s worked on two statues and two crucifixes for St. Mary in Elmo,  the infant Jesus with cherubs at St. Francis in Springfield, the Lenten crucifix and lectern at St. Clare in Altamont, the Nativity set for St. Maurice in Morrisonville, a few statues at the Catholic Pastoral Center, the Nativity set at Our Mother of Dolors in Vandalia, and various statues at  Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry chapel in Vandalia.

“I love the prayerful, reflective nature of statue work. It isn’t simply about restoring it to exactly the way it was before, but also breathing new life into it — through the soulful sparkle in the eyes, or perhaps an expression that is warmer and more inviting to the viewer to take a step closer and consider the life of this inspiring role model,” he said. “There is often an aspect of struggle to get there, a sharing in the cross so to speak, which gives me something to offer up in my prayers, particularly for the individuals who commissioned the work.”

His home studios are in the basement and garage of the family’s home, which Williams said  “is not an artist’s dream but small businesses often have humble beginnings.”  “I am praying that one day God will provide a more permanent space for my statue restoration work,” he said. “I am sometimes able to work on location, if necessary, when statues cannot be moved.  The restoration process can get messy when plaster repair is required.”

Some of the most challenging projects are the most satisfying, Williams concludes. “I really enjoy being able to take something  that is broken beyond the point of being appreciated as an object of beauty, especially something that is meaningful to a church or family for its history and giving it back to them to appreciate and enjoy again to help rekindle their devotional life.”

Williams liked to tell his former students that making art is a fundamental expression of our sharing in the image and likeness of God, the Creator. When it comes to art, images are powerful, and can be a great vehicle for reflecting, beauty, goodness, and truth.  When artists create, he concludes  “ … it is not just a fitting imitation of the beauty of creation, but also a unique expression of their identity as a son or daughter of God, who inspires the kind of art that is able to touch hearts and change lives.”

How can you get in touch with JWS Artistic Inspirations?

If you have a statue to be repaired, a mural painted, or need some restoration or painting completed, there are many ways to contact JWS Artistic Inspirations.  Call (217) 313-5974, email, find them on Facebook or Google, or visit  the website