The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meière by Catherine Coleman Brawer and Kathleen Murphy Skolnik is an enlightening and desperately needed book. Most people today have never head of Meière, though millions walk by her work every day. This book and the recent exhibit on Meière’s work at the Museum of Biblical Art represent a new day for artists whose work pervades the streetscape though they have been forgotten, most recently Rafael Guastavino. Hildreth Meière was a distinguished Art Deco muralist, mosaicist, painter and decorative artist and on top of that was one of the few women in her field.
In New York City, Hildreth Meière’s commissions can be found throughout Manhattan. Her banking room at the former Irving Trust Building at 1 Wall Street presents a brilliant array of reds and golds creating a light-filled (though closed to the public) wonder. Temple Emanu-El and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church were decorated in an Eastern or Byzantine style that makes visitors feel as if they have been transported to Europe. Alternatively, colorful Art Deco roundels that grace the façade of Radio City Music Hall demonstrate Meière’s strength at forging a connection between history and modernity.
Throngs of people walk by these on a daily basis and most are unaware of their provenance. In addition to her prominent New York City commissions, Meière’s works can be found throughout the United States, including Saint Louis’ Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington D. C., and Nebraska State Capitol Building, designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, with whom she worked closely, and completed with Guastavino tiles.
Saint Louis’ Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Source: Tim Hamilton
Before delving into the artist herself, Brawer and Skolnik present an informative history of the American Mural Tradition. Notably it was only in the 1890s that mural painting was finally recognized as a unique art form and it was not until the 1920s that the medium came into its own. Meière, who decided to become an artist by the age of 16, found her calling through her mother and time in Italy. The artist’s passions, coupled with some early failures, resulted in a unique Neo-Gothic or Neo-Byzantine style, which has striking Art Deco flourishes.
Radio City Music Hall
Brawer and Skolnik have produced an incredible book detailing the life of one of America’s greatest muralists. Their book provides insightful explanations into how Hildreth Meière achieved her artistic success and how, unfortunately, she was forgotten, relegated to a back shelf as the winds of change moved through the art world. In addition to enabling a new generation to appreciate Hildreth Meière herself, the book provides wonderful photographs that should sate even the most ardent admirer until he can visit them all.