brass rubbing castle

St. Luke's brass rubbing room is full of participants last year.

Art and history will soon intersect at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. From Oct. 16 to Nov. 10, the church will open its Brass Rubbing Medieval Arts Center to the public. This will be the Center’s 32nd year of operation.

Gail Mutke, co-chair of the event, is one of 30 volunteers who run the program. Mutke said that many of St. Luke’s docents are retired teachers.

From Tuesdays through Fridays, groups can book brass rubbing workshops at the center. Individuals can drop in, without reservations, on Saturdays.

According to Tea Chairman Barbara Newton, the Long Beach program began in the 1980s, when a St. Luke’s parishioner visited the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Intrigued by the history of brass rubbing, the parishioner wondered if St. Luke’s should host its own rubbing event.

St. Luke’s decided to partner with Richard Etches, an East Coast expert on the practice and an owner of dozens of brass plates. After a successful launch, St. Luke’s decided to buy its own brasses and make the program an annual tradition. In 1987, the Long Beach church purchased 63 brass plates from Etches. Since then, the church has continued to acquire pieces; it now owns more than 100 brasses.

Brasses first appeared in the 13th Century, when Europeans placed panels in the floors of their churches to memorialize the dead. Brass figures were often sculpted in elaborate detail, providing a clear picture of Medieval life.

During the 17th Century, church visitors began to replicate brass images by covering them with paper and firmly rubbing implements over the top. Rubbing continued through the 20th Century, when historians noticed that carvings were being worn down by the practice. Facsimile panels, cast from original brass plates, now allow enthusiasts to make brass rubbings without harming the actual artifacts. All of St. Luke’s plates are duplicates, made in this manner.

Because brass rubbing incorporates history and art, many schools participate in St. Luke’s program. Group visits begin with a 30-minute presentation, where students learn the background of the practice, along with tips to make rubbings of their own.

Mick Gronek, a visual artist and art instructor at Foothill Country Day School in Claremont, said he has been bringing youngsters to St. Luke’s for years. He described the field trip as a very positive experience for students.

“It’s kind of a living history, with the castle and the costumed docents,” Gronek said. “The kids get to create beautiful pieces of art, but they also become immersed in the culture and come away with a lot of knowledge.”

Gronek said that parent chaperones are often fascinated by the process and ask to make rubbings of their own.

The group price for rubbings is $8 per person. Individual fees range from $8 to $15, depending on the size of the plate. Materials, which consist of black “rag” paper and wax “heelball” crayons, are included in the price. Finished pieces are hung with twine and matting can be purchased for an additional fee.

Those wishing to further enhance their Medieval experience can reserve space in the Tea Room. Tea is served with sandwiches and freshly made scones for $16 per child and $26 per adult.

St. Luke’s Church is at 525 E. Seventh St. Reservations can be made by phone at (562) 439-9496 or online at

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