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Maurice Ferris restores priceless works of art

By Tim Farley

Maurice Ferris has been called a magician, but he doesn’t work with top hats, rabbits or beautiful assistants who act as if they’ve been sawed in half. He offers no sleight of hand or secret card tricks with his work.

Instead, he uses an artistic ability that allows him to restore high-end paintings, china, fine statues, crystal and much more. His skill and techniques put him into the shoes of the original artist as he pieces together broken or torn objects that, when finished, look like new.

In one case, Ferris’ work was almost too good.

“I had a client who owned an Oriental grandfather clock that was done in black lacquer with Oriental characters all over it. It had been stored in a garage with no heat or air-conditioning protection and most of the lacquer was chipping off,” he recalled.

Still, enough of the design existed allowing Ferris to sketch it on paper and later onto the clock itself.
“It took me six months to complete. When I was finished and delivered it to the owner, the appraiser who had originally contacted me said I made it look too new,” he said, with a smile.

Typically, Ferris works on high-value items such as a Majolica nativity scene priced at $45,000, but he doesn’t disregard the sentimental objects that are of little monetary value, yet carry priceless memories for some of his customers.

Regardless of the job, Ferris puts the same amount of time and attention into every object he restores.
“I had one lady who brought a dinner plate that had been broken into three pieces. She said it was important because she had plates from the other 49 states and this would round out her collection,” he said. “I found out later she could have ordered a new one for less than she paid me.”

Since Ferris works out of his northwest Oklahoma City home, his living room and dining room serve as a gallery and showroom while his converted garage is used as a workshop. Although Ferris has worked as an art restoration expert since 1986, he’s content to stay where he is and not expand – at least for now.

“The first year I was in business I averaged about $150 a month, but if you bring me something today I probably can’t get to it for five weeks,” he said.

The reason for the long delay is his work outshines any competitors, although Ferris himself won’t say that. However, he does acknowledge that his restoration projects – for some unknown reason – never reflect the tears or damage that was done before he received them.

“Anything that has been restored, the restoration portion, will show up under a black light, but my work will not show up. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s by happenstance,” he said.

Yet, Ferris claims his success as a restoration guru has come the old-fashioned way through trial and error.

“Over the years, I’ve had artists and manufacturing suppliers give me tips. In the beginning when I ran into a problem, I would call a supply house and they would suggest different things for me,” he said.

Possessing an art background hasn’t hurt either. Ferris earned an art degree from the University of Oklahoma.

“You have to have some art ability and some mechanical ability,” he said. “To restore a painting, you have to be able to paint. To restore a sculpture, you have to be able to sculpt a finger or arm that was broken off. I really enjoy what I do.”

Lost fortune

Ferris’ success in art restoration might not have occurred if not for the 1980s economic bust and the collapse of Penn Square Bank.

At the time, Ferris and his father were operating a $20 million company that had holdings in real estate, shopping centers, restaurants, banks and theaters. Like many other executives, Ferris went from millionaire to the unemployment line.

At the time, art restoration was nothing more than a hobby that eventually turned into another successful business.

Ferris’ hobby actually started more as a challenge from his father-in-law when a collection of bisque statues fell from a shelf and shattered.

“The statues were in a big pile and they were expensive pieces,” he recalled. “But then I started looking at them and saw a little hand and then an arm and I thought these would go together. I remember my father-in-law telling me ‘you can’t do that’ and that was I needed.’”

Within one week, Ferris had restored all the statues.

“That’s how I started doing this,” he said.

Almost 20 years later, two of the larger statues sold for $35,000 each at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City.

After proving his father-in-law wrong, Ferris found himself restoring a few items for $20 each. Now, about 80 percent of his business is repeat customers, but the charge is no longer $20 for the magic he performs.
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