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The Triptychs at Christchurch

Did you know that we have two triptychs at Christ Church?

Well, you might ask, what is a triptych?

So the Wikipedia says, A triptych is a work of art (usually a panel painting) which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and folded.

So, where are they?

One is blue and is in the parish hall above the small altar. (An altarpiece is one of the primary functions of this art form.) The other is newly re- installed on the east wall of the parish hall near the stained glass window.

So you may now ask: How did we come into possession of these objets d’art?

An excellent question. Here is what we know. During WWII there was a group called the Committee for the Army, Navy and Air Corps that commissioned art works for use by the armed forces. One goal of this organization was to provide settings for military personnel to worship. These triptychs were two of over 500 of those commissions. While many were made of wood, some were made of metal for use on ships. Their acquisition dates to 1973 during the rectorship of Reverend Edward Story. However their mounting on the walls of the parish hall did not occur until the arrival of Father LeSage who, when advised they were stored in the basement, asked for their placement on the walls of the parish hall.

Why were they in the basement?

One parishioner says that Fr. Story never liked them and banished them.

Well if he did not like them why were they acquired during his term?

When these art works were released by the military, some were offered to churches at no cost. They were being stored at an estate on Long Island. Reverend James Simpson, the rector at Christ Church Middletown, went to the estate accompanied by Reverend Story and Reverend Jaynes, the rector at St John’s in Little Silver. They returned with 11 triptychs by various artists. Two each were distributed to Christ Church Middletown, Christ Church Shrewsbury, and St John’s.

As a curiosity what happened to the other 5?

A mystery.

OK, how do we know all this?

In 2009 we were contacted by The Quick Center of Art at St Bonaventure University. They were mounting an exhibit of the works of Hildreth Meiere (pronounced mere) and one of the triptychs is one of her works commissioned by the above mentioned Committee. They asked to borrow it for the exhibit.

And?

At that point there was no knowledge at the church about any of this! There was nothing in the vestry minutes or in the memories of long time parishioners. The Quick Center learned about this through the family of the artist who have established a Foundation to promote her art. There is also a record of the Committee’s commissions that is kept at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Who is Hidreth Meiere?

She is a mid-twentieth century artist specializing in various forms of Art Deco style renditions. Her work can be seen throughout the country including major elements at the St Louis RC Cathedral, St Bartholomew’s in New York City, and Rockefeller Center.

Did we lend it to them?

We did. It is our policy to share our heritage with the broader community. The exhibit opened in September 2009.

Have we learned anything further about our other triptych?

We have. The artist for the triptych with the blue background is by Nina Barr Wheeler. It is identified as No. 48. (Our Meier triptych is listed in the records as No. 63.)Nina Barr Wheeler was an associate of Hildreth Meiere. This information was acquired through the records at the American Art Archives by a Friend of Christ Church. She is Bob Kelly’s sister in law, Catherine Kiser, who lives in the Washington DC area.

Do we know how these triptychs were used in the military from their inception?

The Meiere triptych served as an altarpiece in the chapel at Dow Airfield in Maine and then went to Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco Bay. The Wheeler altarpiece went to Fort Ontario, New York and then to Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.

Do we know how much these are worth?

Not at this point. They have not been on the public market and so comparables are not available. In addition large-ish religious art works have a narrow and specialized market. In 1974 a significant number of these altarpieces were sold to a New York art dealer. At that time they were informally appraised with the values in the $3000-4000 range.

~ Information on Triptychs was supplied by Robert M. Kelly, Jr., Parish Historian