Art at St. Paul's
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
The art found in The Church of St. Paul the Apostle was initially curated by a group of artists hired by Paulist Father George Deshon. The church has been consistently growing it's collection ever since, under the guidance of many different artistic influences, and has accumulated religious works representing a wide variety of styles, mediums, and cultures.
In 1898, muralist William Laurel Harris (1870-1924) was placed in charge of the decoration of the church. For fifteen years, he lived with the Paulist Fathers and created or curated much of the art that can be seen in the church today. This depiction of Saint Patrick was one of many of Harris' murals that were once displayed in the church. Sadly, many of his pieces were destroyed during a disastrous cleaning accident in 1958, but the Saint Patrick Altar, and the Saint Catherine Altar, seen below, survived, and provide an excellent representation of his work.
Harris was heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a secret society of artists in London who valued maximum realism and classical elegance, and placed special significance on nature, which can be seen in the leaf and vine motifs on both of these altars. Harris's work is also representative of the "City Beautiful" movement, which saw aesthetics prioritized over functionality in urban spaces.
The St. Catherine Altar is also notable for it's inclusion of "Resurrection", a sculpture by Alan Detrich, pictured here at the bottom of the frame. In this piece, Jesus is depicted using Tyrannosaurus Rex bone fragments bound together by gold, silver, and other valuable materials. The use of these materials is, according to the artist, meant to "explore connections between time, origin, and spirituality." By using "God's first creations" in his art, Detrich hopes to "let God's light shine forth".
This statue of Mary at the time of the Annunciation was created by noted sculptor Bela Pratt (1867-1917), and currently sits in the church's Annunciation shrine. Pratt was the student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and was heavily influenced by his mentor's penchant for understated works that conveyed strong emotion.
During his life, Pratt lent his talents to dozens of notable memorials and monuments, and created the exterior facades on the Library of Congress. He later followed in Saint-Gaudens' footsteps, and tried his hand at coin design. The half and quarter eagle coins, which were in circulation until the 1930's, and worth $5.00 and $2.50, respectively, were dubbed "Pratt coins" after him.
"The Angel of the Resurrection" by Lumen Martin Winter (1908-1982), has a special place at St. Paul's. It rests above the tomb of the founder of the Paulist Fathers, and our first pastor, Father Isaac Hecker, Servant of God. The statue depicts the Angel of the Resurrection standing watch over Fr. Hecker, and our church's namesake, St. Paul.
Lumen Winter Martin, a Kansas native famous for his work depicting the American west, carved this piece from Botticino marble while temporarily residing in Pietrasanta, Italy. It arrived at St. Paul's in 1959, the same year that Fr. Hecker's remains were transferred to the church. During his time in Pietrasanta, Martin focused primarily on religious subjects, creating sculpted recreations of da Vinci's The Last Supper and Montoforno Frescos, as well as producing the massive "Conversations with St. Paul" facade (pictured below), which is prominently displayed on the outside of our church. Both pieces are representative of Martin's early style, which featured clean lines and clear representations, and hint at his later, more modernist work.
"The Martyrdom of St. Paul" depicts the Apostle kneeling before an executioner, prepared to be beheaded for his faith. Impressionist painter Robert Lewis Reid (1862-1929), more widely known for his paintings of young women resting among flowers, portrays this scene with an incredible softness. St. Paul sits in the light, while the crowds around him are hidden in shadow, and faces God, rather than his executioner. Were it not for a partially obscured sword, and a woman crying in the background, it would be impossible to tell that something horrific is about to occur, a testament to Reid's impressionist style. This sensitive depiction allows St. Paul to remain peaceful, while the stark and powerful words written on the frame- "I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith"- remind us of his strength.
This post covers just a small fraction of the incredible works we have on display at St. Paul's. If you'd like to learn more, and are unable to visit us, you can check out our entry in the Architectural Record, linked below. A big thank you to Kent G. Becker for the wonderful photos we featured in this post. Check out his website "Not My Day Job Photography", linked below. We will be posting more Catholic Art soon. Stay tuned!
Not My Day Job Photography