“These guys are the next best thing to Michelangelo” is the way Father Bill Casey, superior general of the Fathers of Mercy, extols the work of Andrew Hattermann and Robert Hill, partners in Murals by Jericho. The artists painted all the sacred images and murals for the order’s new Chapel of Divine Mercy in Auburn, Ky., plus added decorations, all in the tradition of old masters.
“Our association with them was absolutely providential,” says Father Casey. “Their work gives people a sense of the transcendent beauty and majesty of God’s creation and truly a heightened sense of the sacred.”
That was evident from Hattermann and Hill’s first church project in 2003 in their home base of Peoria, Ill. With several of their outstanding murals in the style of Fra Angelico (the Italian Renaissance painter who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982) gracing the sanctuary and side shrines for the renovation of St. Mark’s Catholic Church, a pleased Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria quickly named the church the diocesan shrine of Blessed Fra Angelico.
St. Mark’s pastor then, Father Ben Reese, discovered Hattermann and Hill’s mural work at a restaurant. Both struggling artists were family men. Hattermann had a Masters in Fine Arts from Illinois State University and worked as a painting contractor and taught figure drawing; Hill, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Eastern Michigan University, labored for an advertising company.
Their masterpieces after Fra Angelico transformed the church and their lives. Both realized “how we could use our abilities for the Church,” says Hattermann. “Working with priests and focusing on sacred imagery in a place of worship affects you.”
Murals by Jericho became dedicated full time to preserving the traditional relationship between the artist and the Church, helping lift hearts and minds to God. They have adorned churches and chapels as far away as Texas and Florida with their murals and paintings, often replicating old masters or doing original work in the traditional style.
“The more realistic and representational it is, the larger amount of people will respond to that work,” explains Hattermann.
At St. Mark’s, Father Reese saw the beauty of the artwork’s spiritual fruit on children and students from a nearby college. People came for more private prayer; people returned to the faith.
“It not only catechizes, but helps transport people into the heavenly worship,” he witnessed. “It was a work of God, not just about art.”
Although during Fra Angelico’s time that realistic style wasn’t yet developed, Hattermann explains, “That saintly artist himself tended more toward realistic interpretation of the human figure and the event. He was starting to pioneer toward that more realistic style. His work has a supernatural look and is very inspiring.”
Replicating the old masters presents a different challenge. It’s not unusual for the artists to add details because sometimes there’s a lack of detailed references in available photos or portraits of the original.
One challenge was working from a few digital images to translate Raphael’s “Disputation of the Holy Eucharist” (in the Vatican) to a huge 36-by-24-feet painting filling the apse of St. William Church in Round Rock, Texas.
“We had to draw a lot of things in our own,” says Hattermann. “And the dimensions of it allowed us to add extra figures to the sides of the painting ... a half dozen for each side. We added the figures seamlessly.”
Other times, with no references available, the artists use models. They did so for some saints and blesseds of the Americas that adorn Peoria’s Sacred Heart Church. A parishioner stood in for St. Martin de Porres, and Hattermann’s nephew was the model for a child standing by Blessed André Bessette.
Hattermann describes how divine Providence is ever present. “At St. Mark’s, with two paintings left, a parishioner asked me if we could use ‘Charlie’ in one of the paintings. He was a deacon for 40 years at the church and had passed away. The next day his widow came with his pictures. Bob and I still needed a good reference for the burial scene of Jesus because the Fra Angelico painting was damaged there. We told her we’d use him in the burial scene as Nicodemus. She told us, ‘Do you know what my Charlie did for a living? He was in charge of Catholic cemeteries for the Peoria Diocese.’
“With that and the fact he was a deacon handling the body of Christ — we understood there are a lot of things we have no control over. That whole project went like that. We’re not amazed anymore. It’s more of an understanding. There are no coincidences.”
The Church’s patron of artists, Fra Angelico, offers Murals by Jericho constant inspiration. “He prayed constantly while he was working,” says Hattermann.
“Being at prayer while you are painting inspires the works,” he explains. “We’re concentrating and focusing on a sacred image or aspect of Scripture, and it gives us a lot of time while working on that specific scene or studying a specific saint to contemplate the lives of saints or the scene being portrayed.”
The outcome is more than a sacred mural or painting. Says Hattermann, “To do this kind of work and have it affect people and us in the way it has gives a real meaning to the work. It helps to build peoples’ faith, opening their eyes to the mysteries. It has also opened our eyes.”
“We didn’t pursue this,” he affirms. “This vocation found us.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
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