Saturday, May 10, 2014

St Patrick Goes to the World's Fair - 1893

St. Patrick tapestry, St Patrick Church
February, 1893- Early in February, preparation was made for the exhibition of the children’s work at the “World’s Fair” held in Chicago.  The higher classes of the Parochial School and Academy of Lowell sent several elegantly bound volumes of specimens of class work- both written and illustrated.  Needlework and drawings were also a particular feature of our contribution.
The exhibit of the Sisters of Notre Dame was highly commended and at the close of the “Fair,” which lasted six months, a diploma and medal were awarded to fifteen of our houses in Massachusetts, Lowell’s parish and day schools being among the favored.     From the Annals of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Lowell, MA, 1893.

The whole country was abuzz about the news that Chicago would host a World’s Fair, also called the Columbian Exhibition, in order of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.  The city prepared by building over 200 buildings that would house the exhibits that would show the best of America.  As soon as news of the Fair was announced, Catholics around the country rallied that they should play an active role.  There was much being discussed about Columbus being Catholic and how Catholics helped build the foundation of the country.  This was also the period of massive European immigration and many of them being Catholic.  There was growing fear that Catholics educating their children in parochial schools was not American enough and possibly a plot for a Catholic takeover.  The goal of hosting a Catholic Educational Exhibit was one way of showing what was going on in the Catholic schools and how students were being prepared to be future citizens.  Even Pope Leo XIII gave his blessing to the venture.

The exhibit was shown in the massive Manufacturers and Liberal Arts building.  Catholics were given 10,000 sq. ft. to show the work of all the Catholic schools of the entire country who wished to send in materials.  Tables filled the area and every square inch of wall space was covered with artwork, illustrated manuscripts, needlework, vestments, musical pieces, and anything else that could demonstrate the viability of Catholic education.  Pieces of religious artwork were kept behind wire in fear of anti-Catholic vandalism.  To balance the religious entries, bunting and American flags filled any empty space.  A Chicago newspaper reported that the Catholic schools looked more American than the public schools.

As stated in the Sisters’ journal the girls of the academy at Lowell sent examples of their art and
written work.  A newspaper account stated that a certificate was received by the girls with much excitement at the close of the exhibit.  It showed a tell engraving and was signed by many Catholic dignitaries.  The Lowell community was accorded an extra commendation for their fine work.

Photos taken during the Chicago exhibition show one of the tapestries produced by the Lowell academy.  It is of St. Patrick shown as a bishop with crosier and miter banning the snakes from Ireland.  That tapestry is still in possession of the church.  At one time it hung in the rectory.  Hints of the scarlet red of his cope and emerald green of the landscape are still present.  Years of priests’

Photo from Fair, showing the St Pat's tapestry.
(SND Archives)
smoking and being open to sunlight have taken some wear.  The family of a former pastor thought it wise to reframe it with glass, not the best archival treatment for a tapestry.  It is one of the myriad of projects that awaits a benefactor to come to its aid.  A good cleaning and a new backing, and Patrick would be in fine shape.  Still he looks pretty good for being about a hundred thirty years old and having traveled to Chicago to see the World’s Fair!

No comments:

Post a Comment