Artist Henry Wingate has just completed a large-scale commission for St Mary's in Piscataway in southern Maryland.
Based in rural Virginia, Wingate studied with Paul Ingbretson in New England and with Charles Cecil, in Florence, Italy. Both Ingbretson and Cecil studied under R H Ives Gammell, the teacher, writer, and painter who perhaps more than anyone else kept the traditional atelier method of painting instruction alive. His website is henrywingate.com.
The academic method, which Wingate uses, was first developed in Renaissance Italy and was the standard for art education and nearly every great Western artist for the next 300 years. It almost died out altogether in the first part of the 20th century but is gaining ground again now.
For this commision, Wingate writes: 'The subject was the baptism of the Tayac, or chief, of the Piscataway Indians by the Jesuit, Father Andrew White. This took place on July 5th, 1640. It is well documented because the Jesuits were required to send a yearly report on their efforts here in the New World to their superiors in Rome, and those documents are available to read.
The church that asked me to do the painting is Saint Mary's of Piscataway. The baptism took place in the Piscataway Indian village which was someplace near where this church stands today, possibly even on the land owned by the church. The painting is in the entrance way to the church, and above the new baptismal font. I finished the painting after about seven months of work, in time for an Easter unveiling. At the Easter Mass their were three baptisms using the new font. Two of those baptized were descendants of Piscataway Native Americans. One of the most interesting things I learned while doing this project is that most of the Piscataways, to this day, are practicing Catholics. Father Andrew White's efforts, and those of his fellow Maryland Jesuits, were very effective.
The painting is 16 feet across and nearly 13 feet high. It is on canvas that is glued to panels. I had to cut a slot in my studio wall just to get the painting out and into a truck to get it to Maryland.
I used models from around Madison mostly. The Native Americans were a little more difficult to find. I did have two real Piscataways pose for me, the older man in the background and the young wife of the chief. The Piscataways were very helpful in lending me articles of clothing, headresses and so on.'
The photographs show the completed painting and preliminary studies.