Hildreth Meiere

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Reconstruction of an ammonite by mosaicist Hildreth Meiere (Nebraska State Capitol)

Hildreth Meière (1892 – 1961), was an American artist, architectural artist, muralist and mosaicist. Born in New York City, her Art Deco style and prolific career helped define the aesthetic of New York City and contribute to monuments across the United States. Her designs include the medallions on the façade of Radio City Music Hall, the Municipal Center and the Resurrection Chapel of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, and multiple pieces at the Nebraska State Capitol, among over 100 total commissioned works she completed in her life.[1][2]

Biography[edit]

After studying at New York's Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Meiere studied in Florence. Upon studying the works of the Renaissance Masters, she is quoted as saying, "After that I could not be satisfied with anything less than a big wall to paint on. I just had to be a mural painter."[3]

She furthered her studies at the Art Students League of New York, California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco (now San Francisco Art Institute), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, New York School of Applied Design for Women and the Beaux Arts Institute of Design.[4] After training as a mapmaker, Meière served her country as a draftsman in the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Finding work in a man's world was difficult for her, so she began her career as a costume designer for theater actresses, a field more common for women at the time. Her big break came in 1923 when she was commissioned to decorate the dome of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue.[5] Meiere and sculptor Lee Lawrie became members of the loose "repertory company" of artists assembled by Goodhue, and she came to work on many different projects with him. One of these, the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, which she began before the NAS dome was even completed, became her pièce de résistance featuring eight separate examples of her work.[6]

During Meiere's successful career, spanning 30 years and working on over 100 commissions, she became well known for contributing well-integrated public art mosaics to many landmark buildings and is most closely associated with the Art Deco movement. Some of Meiere's best work is visible throughout her hometown of Manhattan, although reportedly she was proudest of her work on the Nebraska State Capitol.

When World War II broke out, Meiere served on the Citizen’s Committee for the Army and Navy, providing portable altar pieces for military chaplains. This campaign created over 500 mobile 4’x6’ triptychs, 70 of her own design which could be used on base-camps, battleships, and hospitals worldwide. She taught first aid for the Red Cross after the US entered World War II.[1]

Asked how to say her name, she told The Literary Digest (which spelled the name Meière) "It is of French origin and I pronounce it mee-AIR. My father's family anglicized the pronunciation to meer, but I have always used the more proper form." [7]

Hildreth Meiere died in 1961.

Professional organizations[edit]

In Meiere's autobiography, she states, "Having begun at the top with the National Academy of Sciences and the Nebraska State Capitol, the long list of commissions, well over a hundred, have come of themselves. For the past thirty-five years I have maintained a large studio and have supported myself by my work. . . . I have [also] been active in professional organizations, believing that we owe some of our time and energies to them."

Her artistic merit was well recognised by her peers, but what makes her career most notable was the groundbreaking influence she had as a woman in a time where men dominated every profession. She was the first woman ever appointed to the New York City Art Commission, and she came to found the Liturgical Arts Society in her 57th Street studio in New York, serving as the organization's first president. She served four terms as President of the National Society of Mural Painters; six terms as First Vice President of the Architectural League of New York; Director of the Municipal Arts Society; Director of the Department of Mural Painting at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design; member of the Architectural Guild of America; and a board member of the Art Students League, the Municipal Arts Society, the School Art League, and the Advisory Committee of the Cooper Union Art School, all in New York.[6]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Hildreth Meiere received many awards during her life. Her first major award came in recognition for one of her first major projects. In 1928, a full six years before the Architectural League of New York admitted female members, the organisation awarded Meiere with a gold medal in Mural Decoration for her work at the Nebraska State Capitol.[citation needed]

The U.S. War Department gave her an award for the work she did with the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy during World War II. In 1956, she became the first woman to win the Fine Arts Medal of the American Institute of Architects. Manhattanville College, Meiere's alma mater, presented her with an honorary doctorate in 1953, and in 1959 the school presented here with a distinguished service award.[6]

Selected works[edit]

  • Mosaics for the Great Hall dome of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC (with Goodhue)
  • Extensive evolution-themed floor and ceiling art within the Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln, Nebraska (with Goodhue)
  • Floor mosaics at the Baltimore Trust Building, circa 1929
  • Mosaics and four stained glass clerestory windows for St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York City (with Goodhue)
  • The 75-foot mosaic arch over the sanctuary, and mosaics surrounding the Torah-shaped bronze ark, for the 1930 Temple Emanu-El, New York City, 1930
  • The three metal rondels called "Song", "Drama" and "Dance" on the 50th Street facade of the Radio City Music Hall building at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, designed by Meiere with metalwork executed by Oscar Bach
  • Also at Rockefeller Center, the recently installed 13 by 17 ft wall sculpture in the underground concourse called "Radio and Television Encompassing the World" that was inspired by a drawing by Meiere,
  • Extensive mosaic work for the Red and Gold Banking Room on the ground floor of Bank of New York Building (formerly the Irving Trust Company Building, also known as One Wall Street), New York City (covered)
  • 1933 Chicago World's Fair Century of Progress, 60' long x 8' high painted mural called A Century of Women's Progress Through Organization for the National Council for Women's Exhibit in the Social Science Building
  • Washington National Cathedral, "The Resurrected Christ" in the Resurrection Chapel in Washington, DC
  • SS United States, over-all art consultant (with Austin Purves, Jr.); Cabin Class Lounge, Map of the Mississippi in gesso and metal-leaf, 1952
  • Mosaics at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis (New Cathedral), St. Louis, Missouri, one of 20 artists engaged in assembling the largest collection of mosaics in the world
  • Painted, carved, and gilded altarpiece at St. John's, Beverly Farms, Massachusetts
  • Mosaic of "Christ the Judge" at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, NY, as the reredos in the chapel of the Bishop's Crypt
  • Glass mosaics behind the altar at St. Aloysius [Catholic] Church, Detroit, MI

Books[edit]

  • Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meiere, by Catherine Coleman Brawer, edited by Elaine Banks Stainton, illustrated by Hildreth Meiere Dunn, St. Bonaventure University, distributed by Franciscan Institute Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-1-935314-00-4
  • The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meiere, by Catherine Coleman Brawer, Kathleen Murphy Skolnik. New York, NY : Andrea Monfried Editions, 2014. ISBN 978-0991026302

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b International Hildreth Meiere Association, Biography, from "Hildreth Meière - Her Life and Times," written by Hildreth Meière c. 1955.
  2. ^ Jennifer Maloney, Recalling Art Deco Stylist Who Defined City, Wall Street Journal, 30 January 2012
  3. ^ Don Chandler, Hildreth Meiere Profile
  4. ^ McGee, Celia. If These Walls Could Speak, They'd Say Her Name. New York Times, May 2, 2014. C19, C28-C29.
  5. ^ Lauren Knapp , Slide Show: New Exhibit Brings Mosaic of Hildreth Meière's Life Out of Obscurity, PBS, 5nApril 2011
  6. ^ a b c National Building Museum, Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meière, 2011
  7. ^ Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.

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