21039Re: [TexasCzechs] Long forgotten masterpieces rediscovered in Fayetteville parish
- Dec 1, 2003Thankyou 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@...>
Sent: Saturday, November 29, 2003 2:06 PM
Subject: [TexasCzechs] Long forgotten masterpieces rediscovered in
> 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
> 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
> 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
> "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
> 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
> "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
> 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-
> 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
> 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
> "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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