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21039Re: [TexasCzechs] Long forgotten masterpieces rediscovered in Fayetteville parish

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  • Lidia
    Dec 1, 2003
      Thankyou so much for posting this Vanessa. I missed the Sat. Chronicle &
      the tv feature as well, as I was on the road. Lidia Kellum researching:
      Hovezak, Schramek, Sramek, Janecek
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Vanessa Burzynski" <burzynsk@...>
      To: <TexasCzechs@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Saturday, November 29, 2003 2:06 PM
      Subject: [TexasCzechs] Long forgotten masterpieces rediscovered in
      Fayetteville parish

      > This article appeared in today's (Saturday) Houston Chronicle. It was
      > also featured on the Channel 11 news here in Houston, Texas.
      > Nov. 28, 2003, 10:52PM
      > Long-forgotten masterpieces rediscovered in Fayetteville parish
      > By TARA DOOLEY
      > Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Religion Writer
      > FAYETTE County has long been known for its four churches with painted
      > interiors that showcase the influence of 19th-century Czech
      > immigrants on the rolling countryside leading to the Texas Hill
      > Country.
      > But if Ammannsville, Dubina, High Hill and Praha were home to
      > the "painted churches," Fayetteville had the church with the
      > paintings, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
      > Except the paintings were nowhere to be found. For 35 years, six
      > works painted in the late 1800s in the homeland of the Czech
      > immigrants who inhabited Fayetteville were mere rumors of a colorful
      > past.
      > But with the help of a new parish priest, church members dedicated to
      > preserving the town's ethnic heritage, and art professionals in
      > Houston, the paintings have been rediscovered. Church officials are
      > not saying how much they are worth, but it's enough to start locking
      > the church doors.
      > Returned to the walls of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, these
      > works have attracted tourists to this old-fashioned town of 261
      > residents.
      > "This thing fascinated me from the time they found the (first)
      > painting," said church member Tom Pearson. "I was just in awe, the
      > beauty of it. The blessing that we found it. This is the church's
      > heritage."
      > It's a story that would turn any Antiques Roadshow junkie green with
      > envy. It begins shortly after the Rev. Jack Maddux Jr. took up his
      > post in Fayetteville in June 2002.
      > Maddux decided to "make a nest" for himself in a previously unused
      > part of the rectory. As he cleared out an extra bedroom, he
      > discovered a 36-by-49-inch painting hidden behind an old dresser and
      > mirror.
      > "I pulled it out and said, `This is beautiful,' " Maddux said. "I set
      > it up and admired it for a few days."
      > Though no art historian, Maddux had taken some painting classes as a
      > college student. He could tell that the faded blue Madonna holding
      > the Christ child and handing a rosary to St. Dominic had been put to
      > canvas by a painter of skill.
      > Before deciding what to do with the painting, which some are calling
      > Holy Mother of the Rosary, Maddux asked a parishioner to see whether
      > it was worth cleaning up and framing.
      > It wound up in the hands of Jerry Avera of Houston's Allart Framing
      > and Gallery. Avera looked up the artist, Johann Ignaz Berger, in a
      > French reference book and discovered that he was a prolific Czech
      > ecclesiastical painter of the 19th century.
      > Avera called in Antonio Loro, a painter, appraiser and restorer who
      > with his wife runs St. Mark Fine Arts Conservation on West Alabama.
      > Loro looked beyond the age and neglect of the painting and recognized
      > dark, rich colors typical of Moravia, once part of the Austro-
      > Hungarian Empire. He was impressed with the artist's sense of
      > composition, balance and symbolism. After five other paintings were
      > found at different locations, he paid a visit to the parish to let
      > its members know that they had discovered treasures.
      > "To me, this painting belongs (in) a museum," said Loro, a native of
      > Italy and a third-generation art restorer. "They are very lucky to
      > have them."
      > The paintings may be good enough to hang on museum walls, but their
      > history connects them to Fayetteville and the church, and they belong
      > in their original home, longtime parishioners said.
      > Indeed, the paintings were tied to the founding of the church in
      > 1870, a labor of devotion by a small farming community of Czech
      > immigrants.
      > When Czechs arrived in the area in the mid-19th century, they joined
      > a community made up predominantly of German speakers, said Irene
      > Polansky, a church member who founded the town's history museum with
      > her late husband, Louis. After negotiating with the Catholic bishop,
      > then seated in Galveston, the small congregation was promised a Czech
      > priest. In 1872, he arrived from Moravia.
      > As the church was being built, members of the Catholic community
      > donated items for it, including the paintings. How and when the
      > paintings found their way to a small Texas town remains unclear.
      > Loro's wife, Gretchen Van Atta Loro, believes that one of the Czech
      > immigrants probably knew the painter back in the old country and
      > commissioned the works.
      > "It is so rare to find original artwork in any American church," she
      > said. "To find this small country church with original art is mind-
      > boggling."
      > Over the years, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church changed forms. A
      > new building was consecrated in 1912, according to a history of the
      > church researched by Louis "Buddy" Polansky, who died last month. The
      > Czech paintings were hung in the new building.
      > In 1969, a new building was constructed to conform with the
      > prescriptions of the recently completed Second Vatican Council.
      > Statues such as the large angels offering holy water were removed.
      > The six gold-framed paintings disappeared.
      > When Maddux found the painting in the rectory, artworks that had
      > spent decades stored on church property and in the hands of other
      > church organizations began to emerge, often covered with the grime of
      > age.
      > One painting -- the 56-by-89-inch painting of St. Martin of Tours --
      > was found behind the altar of St. Martin's Catholic Church, a little
      > wood church in Warrenton. The other rediscovered paintings included a
      > 49-by-104-inch depiction of St. John the Baptist and Jesus, a scene
      > of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, another of St. Peter and St. Paul,
      > and one of Our Lady Queen of Heaven.
      > "It is so unlikely that any of this happened," said Gretchen Van Atta
      > Loro. "That is what makes it so interesting."
      > And expensive.
      > The church paid Antonio Loro to restore the paintings and Avera to
      > make 22-karat gold leaf, hand-carved frames. Avera said the
      > tabernacle frame for St. John the Baptist measures 6 by 11 1/2 feet
      > and weighs 600 pounds. The restoration involved two to three people
      > working two months on each of five of the paintings, Loro said. One
      > painting could not be restored and had to be re-created.
      > The church also reconstructed the wall behind the altar to display
      > the rediscovered treasures, and that led to hefty costs for mold
      > remediation and air-conditioning work. The total cost of the project
      > was about $500,000.
      > "It was a strain, because I was the one who had to sign all the
      > checks," the parish priest said. "Every time I turned around, there
      > was a bill."
      > Not everyone in the parish of nearly 300 families was convinced that
      > this was the best way to spend church funds, church members said. But
      > others were inspired by the paintings' connection to the town's and
      > the church's proud Czech past, said longtime church member Helen
      > Mikus.
      > "I think it will make people aware of the heritage of their
      > grandparents, because they sacrificed to send over for the
      > paintings," she said.
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