WWII Art Restoration

The Dominican University New York Art Restoration Project 


In December 2018 Dominican University New York received the special gift of two very rare World War II art pieces from the Orangetown Historical Museum & Archives.  The purpose of the donation was to provide a proper venue for the permanent, public display of these two artistically significant artworks by two major twentieth-century American artists.  After more than 80 years, both pieces are showing their age and need restoration before they can be publicly displayed. 

The History 

As the United States entered World War II, a private organization Citizens Committee for the Army, Navy, and Air Force formed with the purpose of providing leisure material to boost morale and inspire victory for those who were charged with fighting the war.  In the summer of 1941, the Committee took on a new project of commissioning portable altar pieces by major American artists that could be used by soldiers and sailors as they deployed around the world to fight the war.  Louise Morgan, the daughter-in-law of the famous U.S. businessman and banker J. P. Morgan, led this effort.  In total 460 altar pieces, each of them numbered and catalogued by the Committee, were produced and sent to five continents during the war, although sadly only about 100 are known to still exist today.  Dominican University is now the proud owner of two of these artistically and historically significant works. 

The Artists and Artworks 

Produced for the U.S. Army, Triptych 182 by C. PaulJennewein is a stunning work that radically transforms some of the oldest motifs in Christian art.  In traditional renderings of the Holy Family, Joseph is presented as the protector and supporter, fulfilling these duties as a carpenter.  In keeping with the reality of millions of civilians now being drafted into military service, Jennewein has Joseph laying aside his civilian tools of his trade and in their place he has adopted the dress and weaponry of a U.S. Army Soldier.  The message is clear.  There is a moral duty to leave home and fight in this war.  Mary appears as a devoted American housewife, providing support and stability at homewhile the Baby Jesus does not rest as a helpless babe in a manger but hovers majestically above the scene, demonstrating his spiritual power to transcend his mortal frailty.  Visually, this triptych serves a call to serve and to seek victory and glory despite whatever physical and familial limitation one might have.

Produced for the U.S. Navy, Triptych 423 by Hildreth Meière is an equally stunning work that departs from traditional motifsAs with the Holy Family, the Crucifixion remains one of the oldest motifs in Christian art.  In traditional renderings, Jesus is depicted on the cross in the depths of his human suffering and the height of his human frailtyRarely is Jesus depicted in his glorious, resurrected state while still hanging upon the crossYet, this is exactly what Meière has chosen to depict on this triptychJesus appears in full glory, having overcome the cross with all of its attendant ghastly sufferings to redeem the worldHere, too, the artist seeks to inspire viewers to focus on the glorious victory that awaits and not upon the necessary but momentary suffering that must precede it. 

The Art Restoration Project

Dominican University is committed to restoring and presenting these two magnificent art pieces that have been damaged over the passage of time. The target is to raise $25,000 for this purpose. Once restored and preserved, the goal is to display both pieces prominently on campus. Tax-deductible donations are most welcome to help the University raise the necessary funds for this noteworthy project.

For more information regarding this project, please contact Dr. Christopher Libertini at christopher.libertini@duny.edu or call (845) 848-4069.