Saturday, April 21, 2001

Murals at old church in need of a miracle

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Tom Lippert is looking for an angel who can help him save two massive religious murals from destruction.

        The Evendale resident, grandson of famed local artist Leon Lippert, is afraid two 9-by-15-foot murals his grandfather painted on the walls of the old Corpus Christi Church may be lost if he can't find someone to help him pay for their removal and restoration.

[photo] Standing atop a confessional, Tom Lippert can get a closer look at a depiction of Jesus giving St. Peter the keys to the kingdom.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        The murals — one of St. Peter receiving the keys of the kingdom and another of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments — were painted in 1915 by Mr. Lippert, who created numerous murals and religious works for churches throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

        Leon Lippert was also a noted portrait artist, painting Cincinnati's famous families, well-known Catholic clergy and Civil War generals. His 1905 portrait of Ulysses S. Grant hangs at the former president's birthplace/museum at Point Pleasant, Ohio.

        Mr. Lippert's impressionistic landscapes preserve images of Cincinnati in the early 20th century, and his commercial work for clients including U.S. Playing Card of Norwood is characteristic of the style of Gibson and Norman Rockwell, who also worked for ad agencies during the time.

Talented immigrant
        Leon Lippert came to the United States from Germany in 1880, a teen-ager already dreaming of being an artist. He studied 20 years under Frank Duveneck, whose religious and portrait work is considered some of the best of any Cincinnati area artist and can be found in many museums and galleries.

[photo] A second mural at the church portrays Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God.
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        Mr. Lippert also was a contemporary of Henry Farny, another well-known local artist.

        Mr. Lippert became a member of the Cincinnati Art Club in 1884 and was voted an honorary life member in 1938. He lived in Newport from about 1900 until his death in 1947 at the age of 84.

        “At a time when most artists struggled financially, my grandfather was able to make a good living as a painter working out of his downtown Cincinnati studio,” Tom Lippert said.

        Tom Lippert, who with his brothers wrote an art book on his grandfather, is worried he may not be able to remove the two Corpus Christi murals before the site is converted into housing.

        The Newport Housing Authority's $26 million Hope VI project is expected to take over the church and adjacent school, which closed several years ago. A tentative plan calls for the the gymnasium to be demolished and the main church structure to be converted to apartments.

   An exhibition of 50 of Leon Lippert's paintings opens today at the Cincinnati Art Club on Parkside Place in Mount Adams.
        There would be no place for the murals. It is unclear when construction would begin on the project.

        The Hope VI project is supposed to find new dwellings for approximately 200 low-income families now living in another federally-financed housing project on Fourth Street, which will eventually be demolished. That land will be sold for development.

Estimate: $40,000
        Tom Lippert has consulted two companies that remove and restore large paintings, and the cost has been estimated at nearly $40,000.

        “The paintings are on canvas, and are affixed directly to the walls with white lead,” he said. “That is now considered a hazardous material that must be handled with extreme caution by companies that are licensed to do it.”

[photo] Corpus Christi Church in Newport will be extensively remodeled and converted to housing.
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        Tom Lippert hopes he'll find a buyer for the murals.

        “We are seeking a new venue for the murals, and someone willing to share the expenses,” Mr. Lippert said while standing in the now-empty church at Ninth and Isabella streets. “The alternative is that they will be lost.”

        Mr. Lippert pointed out that the Corpus Christi murals are important not only as part of the body of work his grandfather created over some 60 years, but because of their singular artistic significance.

        “We've been told by art critics and people who have studied my grandfather's work that these murals are among his best works,” he said. “They are some of his most life-like paintings.”

        Cincinnati art dealer Bill Taylor, known for his abilities in restoring old paintings, said he had worked on dozens of Leon Lippert pieces since the 1960s but rarely sees one for sale.

        Pat Weiner, who operates a gallery in Montgomery that specializes in antique paintings, said she had seen perhaps four Leon Lippert paintings come up for sale in the past 15 years.

        “I've seen other Lippert paintings, including some owned by the Lippert family, and he was very good although not a major artist,” Ms. Weiner said. “If you don't see the paintings coming up for sale, that usually means they are special to the people who own them.”

        Tom Lippert and his brothers, Lawrence and Robert, have published a book about their grandfather, Leon Lippert: Remembering the Art and the Man, with research by James Schwartz, an art writer and researcher from Fairfield.


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