Friday, March 05, 2010

The Other Modern: Hildreth Meiére, Hiding in Plain Sight

One of the great joys of being an enthusiast of recent art history is the rediscovery that is under way of much of the twentieth century's heritage of traditional art and architecture. There are the big, dominating figures such as Comper and Goodhue, who did not so much disappear from memory as drift to the peripheries, and there are the numerous "minor" artists, architects and craftsmen who might not have towered in their day and age, nonetheless produced handsome portfolios of work that are worth revisiting. One of these artists, a muralist and painter, is emerging back into the light in the form of the first major exhibit of her work ever. Her name is Hildreth Meiére, and she is one of those folks who seems to have had the uncanny knack of hiding in plain sight. Her existence was just pointed out to me by Stuart Chessman at the Society of St. Hugh of Cluny; he has a great post on her here. There is a vast website dedicated to her here.

When I say she has been hiding in plain sight, I mean her work is immediately recognizable, though you would have never put a name to it, or assumed it all flowed from the same genius, yet when you finally realize it, you wonder how you could have never wondered, who came up with it? New York is just about encrusted with her work--the big metal tondi on the side of Radio City Music Hall, the altarpiece in Fordham's university church, the mosaics in St. Bart's narthex and the Torah ark in the synagogue across the street from the Central Park Zoo, even the front of the altar in the Lady Chapel at St. Patrick's Cathedral where, during my Manhattan days, I frequently attended a "young adult" mass featuring, as a pleasant surprise, good hymns, Gregorian chant and polyphony. Her funeral was at St. Vincent Ferrer, a twenty-minute walk from my old apartment, and possibly the most perfect church in North America. She did the mosaics at another Goodhue favorite of mine, the Nebraska state capitol. She is even, to my astonishment, responsible for some of the doll-sized furnishings in the miniature Gothic church interior on display in the basement of the Chicago Art Institute, which I have often admired, though perhaps questioning the historicity of a full-fledged Tridentine tabernacle in a fourteenth-century English Gothic church.

The exhibit sounds quite promising. It is at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University in St. Bonaventure, New York, and is in the midst of a ten month run that began back in September.

Image sources: here, here and here.

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