Francisco Villareal was just a young student trying to get ahead, when he read in a local newspaper that the government was offering scholarships to learn art in Poland. Without knowing the language and only with the notion that it was a communist country, he undertook the trip. It was a challenge that he was not going to let go. Francisco, a native of Tulcán (north of Ecuador), fell in love there and brought his wife to live in Quito. He was professor - founder of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito where he worked for 30 years. He is the link between Father León Juchniewicz, custodian of the Pilgrim Icon of the Virgin of Czestochowa in Ecuador, and Mrs. Nelly Peralta Viera, a native of Ambato (center of Ecuador) and restorer.
Nelly Peralta, on the other hand, knows perfectly of restoring document and pieces of art. She was lucky to be trained by Dr. Ewa Wolska, from Poland. With her she learned precisely the technique used in the Pilgrim Icon, which is the technique of egg painting, or egg tempera on wood. Ewa Wolska was a renowned restorer who visited our country on several occasions, within the framework of a brotherhood agreement between Poland and Ecuador, when Quito and Krakow were declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 1978.
Mrs. Nelly remembers that Ewa was very generous in sharing her knowledge with her disciples, especially with a small group, where the teacher-student bond became a true friendship. It also brings to mind that between her mentor and Pope Saint John Paul II there was an intimate link, surely linked to art. So the Icon of the Black Madonna has a wide meaning for her, which is why she did not hesitate for a second in accepting the challenge that Francisco and Fr. León proposed to her: to help with its restoration.
“The Virgin Mary took care of me since I was born. I got polio when I was 4 years old and I was totally paralyzed. My grandmother and my aunt asked the Virgin to restore my health, and they told me that I was the daughter of the Virgin, so I took that very seriously and entrusted myself to her in any adversity”, comments Nelly with great fervor.
At first, Mrs. Nelly spoke by phone with the author of the Icon, Ewa Kowalewski, with the help of Fr. León's translation. Mrs. Nelly, together with her daughter Paulina Moreno Peralta, who is also an art conservator, carried out exams and tests to write a detailed and documented report on the state of the Icon, just before the start of the pandemic that locked us all up. Although the Icon does not present major problems, there is a detachment of the pictorial layers, due to the changes it has undergone in its different trips through America. Then, to document the report that was sent to Poland, Francisco did the translation.
Right now the Virgin is consolidated, fumigated, conserved and restored in some degree, as Mrs. Nelly explains, "It was necessary to restore, above all, the part of the halo, it was time to consolidate and iron, because the color had to be set at an adequate temperature, with equipment and suitable materials. I used the same materials as the author so that everything is perfect”.
For her and her daughter Paulina, having the Pilgrim Icon in their home has been a true blessing, but at the same time a lot of responsibility. She has hardly gone out, barely to two or three specific places such as a nearby parish, but yes, many people have visited her, from very old persons to small babies. Entire families have come to sing and pray to her, and that, indicates Mrs. Nelly, is very moving.
The Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa is ready to continue its journey, since the sanitary restrictions are already more flexible, but as Mrs. Nelly indicates, the technical recommendations that she has indicated should be followed so that the process that has been carried out in the Icon last. These recommendations are: do not make sudden changes in temperature, if possible, do not visit places that are too humid or too hot, and do not receive direct natural light.
We hope that very soon the Icon can continue visiting places and meeting people who are enthusiastic about defending life from conception to natural death.