It must, in justice to the padres, be confessed that, holding the common notions on decoration, it is often harder to decorate a house than it is to build it; but why decorate at all? The dull color of the natural adobe, or plaster, would have at least been true art in its simple dignity of architecture, whereas when covered with unmeaning designs in foolish colors even the architectural dignity is detracted from.
One writer says that the colors used in these interior decorations were mostly of vegetable origin and were sized with glue. The yellows were extracted from poppies, blues from nightshade, though the reds were gained from stones picked up from the beach. The glue was manufactured on the spot from the bones, etc., of the animals slaughtered for food.
As examples of interior decoration, the Missions of San Miguel Arcangel and Santa Ines are the only ones that afford opportunity for extended study. At Santa Clara, the decorations of the ceiling were restored as nearly like the original as possible, but with modern colors and workmanship. At Pala Chapel the priest whitewashed the mural distemper paintings out of existence. A small patch remains at San Juan Bautista merely as an example; while a splashed and almost obliterated fragment is the only survival at San Carlos Carmelo.
At San Miguel, little has been done to disturb the interior, so that it is in practically the same condition as it was left by the padres themselves. Fr. Zephyrin informs me that these decorations were done by one Murros, a Spaniard, whose daughter, Mrs. McKee, at the age of over eighty, is still alive at Monterey. She told him that the work was done in 1820 or 1821. He copied the designs out of books, she says, and none but Indians assisted him in the actual work, though the padres were fully consulted as it progressed.
At Santa Barbara all that remains of the old decorations are found in the reredos, the marbleizing of the engaged columns on each wall and the entrance and side arches. This marble effect is exceedingly rude, and does not represent the color of any known marble.
In the old building of San Francisco the rafters of the ceiling have been allowed to retain their ancient decorations. These consist of rhomboidal figures placed conventionally from end to end of the building.
At Santa Clara, when the church was restored in 1861-1862, and again in 1885, the original decorations on walls and ceiling were necessarily destroyed or injured. But where possible they were kept intact; where injured, retouched; and where destroyed, replaced as near the original as the artist could accomplish. In some cases the original work was on canvas, and some on wood. Where this could be removed and replaced it was done. The retouching was done by an Italian artist who came down from San Francisco.
[Illustration: INTERIOR OF MISSION SAN MIGUEL FROM THE CHOIR GALLERY.]