June 5, 2011

Walls Speak: Narrative Art Hildreth Meière - First Major Retrospective Exhibition to Feature the Work of Prominent Art Deco Muralist and Mosaicist

Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière 
National Building Museum, Washington, DC 
Through November 27, 2011

Hildreth Meière at the Pűhl & Wagner Factory, 1928; Berlin, Germany. 
Photograph courtesy of the Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum fűr Moderne Kunst, Fotografe und Architektur; Architecture Collection, Berlin, Germany. Meière’s glass mosaic designs for St. Bartholomew’s Church, Temple Emanu-El, and One Wall Street (all in New York City), as well as for the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis were all executed by Pűhl & Wagner.   

WALLS SPEAK: THE NARRATIVE ART OF HILDRETH MEIERE, the first major retrospective of Hildreth Meière, a twentieth century Art Deco muralist, mosaicist, painter, and decorative artist is on view at the National Buiding Museum, Washington, DC. The traveling exhibition features multiple works, including sketches, studies in gouache, full-color cartoons, and a selection of models, mosaics, and painted altarpieces. In her lifetime (1892-1961), Meière was considered the most famous, distinguished, and prolific Art Deco muralist in the country. She received over 100 major commissions from leading architects for projects throughout the United States. Her work can be seen today at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière brings together Hildreth Meière’s sketches, studies in gouache, full-scale cartoons, and models. In her 50-plus-year career, Hildreth Meière received over 100 major commissions from leading architects for projects throughout the United States. She created works for churches, government buildings, commercial buildings, world’s fairs, restaurants and cocktail lounges, and even ocean liners. “Hildreth Meière’s work is of particular interest to the National Building Museum because it is an integral part of the structures where it is installed. Her work not only complements the buildings, but also enhances the space making it a more beautiful and moving place to inhabit,” says Chase W. Rynd, president and executive director of the National Building Museum.

In her lifetime (1892-1961), Hildreth Meière was considered the most famous, distinguished, and prolific Art Deco muralist in the country. She was also one of America's leading practitioners of the art of mosaic and one of America's most gifted embellishers of architectural environments. She is an important figure in the history of American liturgical art and one of its most ecumenical practitioners. "The challenge in presenting the work of Hildreth Meière has been in making her mosaics, murals, ceramic tile decoration, stained glass, and exterior metal and enamel sculptures come alive for the visitor. We do this through preparatory sketches, painted cartoons, models, large mosaic samples, and painted altarpieces," said Catherine C. Brawer, the curator of Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière, who assembled the exhibition's materials which represent 25 of Ms. Meière's most important commissions.

The exhibition contains some 100 works, nearly half are on loan from seven private collections, including  two finished mosaics and  a number of altarpieces. The works on view demonstrate the full scope of Meière's creative process from her exquisite studies on paper to the magnificent final work executed by craftsman upon whose skill she depended to realize her original conception," Ms. Brawer added. Though Ms. Meière's specialty was the ancient art of mosaic, she created designs for painted wall murals, marble floors, glazed terracotta tiles, metal relief sculpture, stained glass, leather doors, and wool tapestry. 

Genius of the Air, rotunda floor, Nebraska State Capitol, 1927; Lincoln, Nebraska. 
Design by Hildreth Meière. 
Photograph ©2009, Hildreth Meière Dunn.
Architect: Bertram G. Goodhue; 
Marble floor mosaics: De Paoli Co. 


Meière worked all over the country including in the Nation’s capital. She was commissioned to do the ceiling decorations for the interior of the dome at the National Academy of Sciences Building (2100 C Street, NW in Washington, D.C.; currently undergoing an extensive restoration) in 1924. The National Academy of Science’s rotunda displays eight figures which represent the sciences as they were defined in 1924. The dome’s pendentives represent the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. These works were done in a technique invented by Meière, which involves painting gessoed tiles to look like mosaics. Meière was also commissioned to create a mosaic for the Resurrection Chapel of the National Cathedral in 1951 and to create an exterior frieze for the Municipal Building (now the Henry J. Daly Building on Indiana Avenue NW. All of these works still stand today.  


In New York, her most famous designs are the mixed-metal and enamel roundels of Dance, Drama, and Song for the 50th Street limestone façade of Radio City Music Hall. Ms. Meière's metal decoration for the no-longer existing RKO Theatre at Rockefeller Plaza was recreated by artist Gary Sussman in 1989 and is now visible below ground in the Avenue of Americas Concourse of Rockefeller Center. Ms. Meière's major commissions outside of New York include the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, considered by many to be her largest and most outstanding work; the Travelers Insurance Company in Hartford, Connecticut; and The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (which has one of the largest installations of mosaics in the world). During World War II, she supervised the creation of over 500 portable altarpieces for military chaplains of all denominations—seventy of which were her designs. In the era of transatlantic ocean liners, she created murals for the USS America and the USS United States. 

Meière’s murals also appeared in Chicago's 1933 Century of Progress Fair and the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. With one exception, the abstract red Banking Room at One Wall Street in Manhattan, for which Ms. Meière was color consultant, all of her designs were narrative. 

Drama, exterior sculpture, Radio City Music Hall, 1932; NYC, New York.  
Design by Hildreth Meière. Photograph ©2009, Hildreth Meière Dunn. 
Architect:  Edward Durrell Stone;
Metalsmith:  Oscar B. Bach 


Hildreth Meière’s career was launched in 1923 when architect Bertram G. Goodhue (1869-1924) commissioned her to decorate the dome of the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Her last executed commission was in 1960 when she designed three marble mosaic panels, recounting the legend of Hercules for the lobby of Prudential Plaza in Newark, New Jersey. Hildreth Meière was the first woman honored with The Fine Arts Medal of the American Institute of Architects and the first woman appointed to the New York City Art Commission. She served as president of both the National Society of Mural Painters and the Liturgical Arts Society (the latter founded in her studio). She was first vice president of the Architectural League of New York (and one of its first female members), a director of the Municipal Arts Society, and an associate of the National Academy of Design. For five years, she was the director of the Department of Mural Painting at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design. She also served on the boards of the Art Students League, the Municipal Arts Society, the School Art League, and the Advisory Committee of the Cooper Union Art School.

New York City born, Ms. Meière began her education at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville and studied art in Florence, Italy. She continued her studies at the Art Students League in New York, the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, the New York School of Applied Design for Women, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York.

Walls Speak is organized by the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University, and Catherine Coleman Brawer served as the exhibition’s curator. Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the International Hildreth Meière Association, the New York Council for the Humanities, and the New York State Council on the Arts.


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