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Full text of "A vision realized : a life story of Rev. J.A. Oertel, D.D., artist, priest, missionary"

Cfte Librarg 

of t^e 

CHnitiet^itp of iSortI) Carolina 




Collection of jRottfi Catoliniana 
3o|)n feptunt l^ill 

of t|)e Claeis of 18S9 



le.y\<^'^r,H.C .cJUaos Vin.X 



UNIVERSITY OF N.C. AT CHAPEL HILL 



00032690464 



FOR USE ONLY IN 
THE NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION 



THIS TITLE HAS BEEN MICROFILMED 



A VISION REALIZED 




PORTRAIT OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 



A VISION REALIZED 



A LIFE STORY OF 

REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 

ARTIST, PRIEST, MISSIONARY 



BY 

J. R OERTEL 



MILWAUKEE : 

THE YOUNG CHURCHMAN COMPANY 

1917 



COPTBIGHT BY 

THE YOUNG CHURCHMAN CO. 
1917 



"Unskilful he to fawn, or seek for power. 
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour ; 
Far other aims his heart had learned to prize 
More bent to raise the wretched than to rise." 

— Oliver Goldsmith's "Deserted Village* 



00 

cr 

m 



DEDICATION 

This book, now offered to the world to perpetuate the memory 
of J. A. Oertel, has been compiled rather than written. 

Much has been taken from his own writings, much from those 
of his wife. Without the latter the record would have been 
incomplete as his own life would have been without her. 

His most ardent admirer, yet his most severe critic, the 
mother of his children and the mistress of his home, she was at 
the same time his guide in business affairs. 

His comfort and stay in all the many trials and disappoint- 
ments that beset his career; she cheered him in adversity and 
with dauntless courage and an implicit faith in his genius sus- 
tained and inspired him until at last the great purpose of his 
life was realized. 

To her, OUE MOTHER, this record is reverently dedicated. 





PORTRAIT OF MRS. JULIA ADELAIDE OERTEL 
From a drawing by J. A. O., 1854 



PREFACE 

[Extract from letter dated February 29, 1896.] 

J. A. Oertel to his wife. 

"At this moment comes to me what a pile of material the 
fellow will have who, after we are gone, undertakes the thankless 
labor of trying to rescue our names from oblivion by compiling 
a biography, no inconsiderable part of which is noted in my 
letters. 

"I pity him beforehand, i. e., if so foolish a fellow could be 
born. Let's burn them all and prevent so inconsiderate an under- 
taking." 



The letters were not burned, and the "foolish fellow" (or 
fellows) were born, and in a spirit of duty to their great father 
have undertaken to give to the world the following record of his 
life and works. This is given as a simple story of his life, much 
of it autobiographic, his aim and purpose in art, his struggles to 
maintain the standard set and to reach the goal he had in view 
and his ultimate success. 



J. F. Oertel 

T. E. Oertel, M.D. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Preface vii 

Introduction xiii 

Chapter I ^ 

Chapter II ^ 

Chapter III 32 

Chapter IV 39 

Chapter V 5^ 

Chapter VI 61 

Chapter VII 75 

Chapter VIII 81 

Chapter IX 108 

Chapter X 120 

Chapter XI 1^8 

Chapter XII 155 

Chapter XIII 165 

Chapter XIV 169 

Chapter XV ^ 190 

Chapter XVI 205 

Chapter XVII 210 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

PAGE 

PoRTKAiT OF Rev. J. A. Oertel, D.D. . . . Frojitispiece 

Portrait of Mrs. Julia Adelaide Oertel . . . vi-vii 

Battle at the Pass of Thermopylae .... 2-3 

The Descent into Hell 8-9 

The Dispensations of Promise and the Law . . 14-15 

The Redeemer 24-25 

The Dispensation of the Holy Spirit . . . 26-27 

The Consummation of Redemption .... 28-29 

Steel Engravings made for Bank Notes . . . 34-35 

Cattle at Rest 46-47 

The Rock of Ages 66-67 

A Rough Sea 112-113 

The Walk to Gethsemane 142-143 

Figure of Christ 154-155 

Reredos and Altar 160-161 

"The Sands of Dee" 162-163 

Ezekiel's Vision 162-163 

Charlemagne 166-167 

Successors to Royalty 170-171 

In the Studio, Bel Air, Md 174-175 

Evening Meditation 174-175 

The Death of Saul 212-213 

Credence Table 218-219 

Reredos in the Cathedral, Quincy, III. . . . 222-223 



INTRODUCTION 

"The imagination of Fra Bartolommeo glowed with religious 
and poetical exaltation, with the love of God, and enthusiasm for 
art." — Poetry of Christian Art, Page 280. 

"In our day it (art) is nothing but an accessory, a pleasing 
talent, whereas of old, and in the Middle x\ges it was a pillar of 
society, its conscience and the expression of its religious senti- 
ment." — Jean Francois Millet. 

In the art of to-day, reaching so far as it does 
toward perfection in the glorious possibilities of 
technique and outward expression, the inner life, 
the soul of the work, is too often forgotten, or 
rather not thought of or looked for at all. 

If the figure be arrayed in gorgeous raiment, if 
the draperies be of exquisite shadings and richest 
harmonies of color, what it may say to the beholder 
is of small moment ; lovely without, the critical eye 
of the period is satisfied, and cares not for the spirit 
beneath the folds, nor asks for anything more from 
the canvas than the sentimental and sensuous 
delight this harmonious perfection affords. 

The subject, as can be seen by reference to the 
walls of our exhibition galleries, is apt to be quite 
inferior to the manner of its execution, and any 
subject painted in accordance with the ruling taste 
of the day is accepted, no matter how trivial, or in 
some cases even repulsive, as in the gladiatorial 
pictures, or scenes from vulgar life. 



xiv A VISION REALIZED 

Those olden times when art was ^^the pillar 
of society, its conscience, and its religious 
enthusiasm'' have passed, and while it remains 
intellectual and sensuous, it has lost the grandeur 
of being the exponent of a people's faith, and the 
power of lifting the thoughts to higher and better 
things, of being a purifier, an element of religious 
education and advancement, and a spiritual force 
to draw man nearer to his God. 

It is not pertinent to the subject to inquire how 
this state of things is but the natural outgrowth of 
the onward rush of the present century, as is 
claimed ; the fact is patent, but it may be of value 
to stop and consider what is lost by the change, and 
to ask whether the result to the world of all this 
acute study of artistic excellencies is worth the 
effort it costs, when not joined to an art that has a 
higher and holier motive. This should not be 
understood to underrate in any way the value of a 
perfect technique. A worthy subject is worthy of a 
perfect expression, and if this perfection of execu- 
tion might only be thrown around the noblest 
subjects it would give life to an art worthy of the 
advanced times in which we live. 

That art ''of old and in the middle ages" 
enchains to this day not only the intellectual facul- 
ties but the affections are drawn out to it, and it 
finds a responsive echo in the holiest recesses of the 
Christian soul and life. 

Why should modern art drift away, feeding the 
mind and eyes only and leaving the soul to starve ? 

Why should not this outward excellence be 
studied with careful motive to clothe with winning 



INTRODUCTION xv 

beauty a holy and helpful thought, as the wonderful 
shrines are covered with silver and gold and en- 
riched with precious gems, not for their own sakes 
but for the value of the sacred relic lying within'? 

In so far as the wonderful loveliness of the 
Creator's works is shown and the soul dwelling in 
flower or landscape revealed, or when the great 
heart of humanity is touched by an artistic render- 
ing of the toils, and joys, and woes, and the rude 
poetry of the life of the common people, as by 
Millet, a high plain has been reached and a most 
worthy object attained, but there are still grander 
ideas connected with man's spiritual development, 
with his downfall, his redemption, his hopes of 
immortality which ought to be first as themes for 
the artist's mind and hand and rank high above all 
others, as the sun shining in his strength is beyond 
all lesser lights in glory. 

If art, as has been said, must be purely emo- 
tional and its province be altogether exclusive of 
ideas and the fewer the ideas contained therein the 
finer the art, there is surely nothing in it to satisfy 
the craving of an immortal soul; and froth and 
foam and husks only must leave unappeased the 
hunger which craves the wine of truth and the fine 
wheat that nourishes to eternal life. 

The art of the great Past was always ^^the 
expression of the religious sentiment of the people" 
from whom it had birth ; pagan as well as the true 
faith crystallized itself in artistic forms, and it has 
remained for this later age, so full of monstrosities 
in religion and philosophies, to divorce art from the 
people's faith and make it purely subservient to 



xvi A VISION REALIZED 

the world and the uses of this mortal life, polluting 
it by dragging do^^^l to earth what should be a pure 
spiritual guide leading up to Heaven. 

Alas that the time has gone by when the artist 
believed himself a seer, an interpreter of God's 
mysteries ! 

He no more feels ennobled by the knowledge 
that he ministers at the altar of his God, and that 
he ^^ paints for eternity'' ; his pictures now stand on 
a level with the embroideries on a portiere, if 
indeed they have not a tendency to lower the mind 
and soul by their influence. 

There are some signs of an awakening in the 
increase of art decoration in the churches, though 
in many of them the same rule prevails as in the 
picture world; they are made glorious in har- 
monious chords of color but in senseless and 
unmeaning forms, appealing only to the same 
faculties of sensuous emotion and with no motive 
to make them worthy of the place they hold. In a 
few instances, however, an art which teaches finds 
a place, and enrichments, memorial or otherwise, 
are introduced which will stand silent preachers 
for many generations. 

There are other indications too, now and then, 
which show that lovers of aesthetics are becoming 
anxious for an art that is not all mere color and 
subtlety of handling and that the will of the relig- 
ious public is a strong and controlling force. 

The time for Christian art of the highest kind 
may be approaching, and the rendering of truly 
noble thoughts find appreciation and encourage- 
ment in this country. 



INTRODUCTION xvii 

With this idea is brought before the reader an 
old name that is almost crowded out of the artistic 
list by the multitude of new names that have risen 
on the waves of popular favor as they sailed with 
the prevailing winds of fashion and technical 
ability, a name linked in the minds of those who 
remember it at all with so many different styles of 
work they scarcely know where to place it, and 
which would be immortal as the painter of ^^The 
Rock of Ages" if the name of the artist was known 
—as, strangely enough, it is not— wherever the 
reproduction of this most popular of modern works 
has gone. 

In considering the material in hand from which 
to compile an account of the life and works of the 
Rev. Johannes A. S. Oertel, D.D., one leading idea 
is impressed upon the mind— that here was a man 
who battled for a principle through a life of vicissi- 
tudes and changes and of many failures and disap- 
pointments, but who always kept his eye fixed on 
the goal he was striving to win and in whose artistic 
career there was no variation of purpose notwith- 
standing the stern necessities of daily life com- 
pelled him to a variety of departures from the path 
he would have chosen. 

In a letter written in 1896 he says : 

^*I have just read a sketch of Lord Leighton's 
life, and my mind drew the contrast of such a career 
and mine from beginning to the end ; every advan- 
tage given of station, money, teachers, travel, 
training, and abundance of facilities, and with 
marked success all along— and my experience; in 
poverty, an object of charity for years; confined 



xviii A VISION REALIZED 

within narrow limits of travel, of seeing, of helps 
for study; with only such training as persistent 
half -blind effort supplied; hampered by want of 
facilities ; cramped by Care ; forced aside by multi- 
plicity of pursuits ; discouraged to intimidation by 
failure and cold public sentiment, my faculties split 
up by efforts at making a living in a variety of 
directions, from the start as a boy of 14 to this date, 
seven years older than Leighton, one continuous, 
long almost uninterrupted conflict. 

^^I do not overdraw. To this very day I have to 
create my own tools, as it were. In this line I have 
done nearly everything but manufacture my o^vn 
canvas, paints, and brushes ; for as to models, the 
glass has served me much more frequently than 
other people's figures. 

^^ Reading of such a different life, of course, 
brings some reflection. Of course, also, I ap- 
preciate the value of such training for inde- 
pendence, self-reliance, self-help and increase of 
resources. 

^^That I have not a greater amount of all these I 
almost regard as a blame. 

*^In all probability the incessant cold water of 
neglect over me has kept down more vigorous work 
and squeezed me into a shrinking attitude. 

^^But let it pass. It matters not what man's 
position is in the mouths of men. Human estimate 
is at best a fickle and very deceitful thing. To the 
struggling man it is of inestimable comfort to have 
the knowledge of the existence of bookkeeping by 
double entry— one for this world, another for the 
next ; a view of that, and a striving for lofty aims. 



INTRODUCTION xix 

has alone supplied me energy when outward fail- 
ures would have crushed every effort. 

'^ 'Fly your fancy into the clouds, and from 
this imaginary height take a view of mortals here 
below' said even pagan Marcus Aurelius! and why 
should not I, a Christian, with more exalted knowl- 
edge r' 

These very vicissitudes, much as they are to be 
deplored, show him to have been possessed of a 
versatility of talent most remarkable though they 
divided his faculties, frittered his strength, and 
made his life a battle for existence rather than 
an opportunity for the development of the great 
natural and spiritual gifts with which he was 
endowed. 

His principle was that art worthy to be made 
the life work of a man with an immortal soul and 
God-given intellectual powers should be teaching 
art and not a mere manufacture of the beautiful, 
his desire and aim to lay all he could do at the feet 
of his Divine Lord and through his art to preach 
Christ and tell the story of salvation to the world. 

In the following chronicle it will be necessary 
to speak much of the man and the circumstances 
surrounding him at various times because his art 
life was shaped by those circumstances as the 
course of the stream is turned by the configuration 
of the country through which it flows and its waters 
either placid or lashed to fury by the character of 
the bed beneath it, whether it be sandy and smooth 
or full of jagged rocks and bowlders. 

But in speaking of these circumstances and 
conditions the aim will be to mention only such as 



XX A VISION REALIZED 

had direct bearing and influence on his artistic 
career and as such be of interest to the world at 
large. 



CHAPTER I. 

Johannes Adam Simon Oertel was born in 
Flirth, near Nuremberg, Bavaria, on November 3, 
1823. 

From his infancy the ruling talent of his life 
was apparent; inventiveness showing itself at a 
very early age. Not only did his baby hands draw, 
but his baby brain invented forms and com^DOsed 
them in groups; and in the pencil he found the 
chief amusement of his early youth. Some small 
drawings, both figure and animal, bear the words 
**from my 6th year." Although of course he was 
often compelled to copy, it was exceedingly dis- 
tasteful and in his later 3^ears became positively 
repulsive to him, his mind being so filled with 
images of his own that it could not endure the task 
of reproducing the work and thoughts of others. 
When about 9 years of age he executed two elab- 
orate pieces of caligraphy which are still in exist- 
ence in a fair state of preservation, ''The Lord's 
Prayer" and ''The Ten Commandments." They 
are 3 feet by 2 in size and contain much ornamenta- 
tion and even figure drawing. They were done in 
india ink and with quill pens made by himself from 
crow quills gathered in the woods. He was a small 
and delicate child and could only execute them by 
lying flat upon the table while he worked. 



2 A VISION REALIZED 

His parents always testified to the earnest per- 
severance with which he pursued this work when 
out of school, even late into the night. 

He seems, notwithstanding the prominence of 
his artistic tastes, not to have intended to follow 
them, as in his thirteenth year he went to study 
with the Rev. Mr. Loehe, an eminent clerg}Tiian, 
with a view to giving himself to the work of foreign 
missions. 

While he studied he traced one fancy after 
another upon the broad margins of his class books, 
and the good and wise pastor soon saw that his 
pupil had mistaken his vocation, and that if he had 
a message to declare to the world it ought to be 
by form rather than words. He advised the boy 
to change his plans and become a student of art. 
After a year with Mr. Loehe he acted upon this 
judicial advice and became the pupil of Mr. J. M. 
Ensing Miiller, a noted artist and engraver of 
Nuremberg, taking up the study of art in general 
and steel engraving in particular. 

This excellent teacher was himself a man of 
superior and poetic mind, of large inventiveness 
and refined ideality, and he guided the young and 
ardent mind of his gifted pupil most judiciously, 
only directing it, and leaving it free to work out 
its own individuality. 

This connection continued, with some inter- 
ruptions and the change from the relation of pupil 
to that of friend, until his twenty-fifth year. 

The tedious and laborious art of steel engrav- 
ing was distasteful to a mind so full of active 
thought, but he worked on unflinchingly. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 3 

In 1838 and 1839 he was, with his master, in 
Munich. Surrounded by the works of Cornelius 
and Kaulbach, whose style and influence then con- 
trolled the Munich school, the boy's mind was filled 
with a new and powerful impulse; especially the 
works of the latter artist seemed to give him wings, 
and he commenced more extended efforts in com- 
position than he had before attempted. He was at 
that time an enthusiastic student of Grecian his- 
tory, from which several bold designs dating from 
his eighteenth year are still preserved. These were 
executed in cartoon and in his leisure hours, but 
he could not lay aside the steel plates from which 
he derived his support. One of the cartoons, ^^The 
Battle of the Granicus," embodying an incident in 
the life of Alexander the Great, is 8 by 12 feet. It 
is vigorous in treatment and skilful in composi- 
tion. Though damaged by age and by frequent 
removals, this hung on the walls of his various 
studios until his death. It was also done in color 
about the same time, 13 by 20 inches. 

Another of these compositions, ^^The Battle at 
the Pass of Thermopylae, " is in monochrome, 2 feet 
6 inches by 3 feet. It represents the few remaining 
Spartans struggling against the opposing hosts; 
a bold composition and displaying a wonderful 
knowledge of the human form. 

All of his early works, as well as his writing- 
some of which almost required the use of a mag- 
nifying glass to read— showed his training as a steel 
engraver in the fine detail and exactness with which 
they were executed. 

His father, Thomas Frederick, was an expert 



4 A VISION REALIZED 

metal worker and, as was the custom at that time, 
had his shop in his house, where he worked with 
his helpers and apprentices. 

Johannes from him inherited marked mechan- 
ical ability and in the shop learned to do all kinds 
of metal work, a knowledge that was very useful 
to him in after years when obliged to '^create his 
owTi tools/' While thus training his mental facul- 
ties the physical were not neglected. 

As he grew up he gained in strength and spent 
considerable time in training his body at the gym- 
nasium, excelling in feats of strength and agility, 
and was classed as one of the best athletes in Ba- 
varia. He was also an expert in fencing, both with 
the foils and with broadsword. These gymnastic 
exercises he continued until late in life and in his 
studio could always be seen dumb-bells, some of 
50 pounds in weight, which he handled as if they 
were toys, his foils, and huge ^'Indian clubs." 
With these the iron muscles were kept in perfect 
condition to perform the severe labor he imposed 
on himself and continued unremittingly to the last. 

He was very fond of running and leaping and 
had a good record in both. One of his perform- 
ances in this line was to go ^4eap-frog'' over seven 
men standing in a row face to back with bent heads 
only. 

He also studied music and took up as his instru- 
ment the flute, which he played well; though he 
often expressed regret that he had not selected the 
violin or 'cello, complaining that the flute was too 
limited in its capacities and admitted of so little 
display of feeling. He played the organ ; but only 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 5 

for his ^^ Chorals," of which he was very fond, 
hymns, or in improvising, was it used, though for 
some years he had one in his studio. He planned 
some 20 years before his death to have a pipe organ 
in his studio and began to make it, constructing 
several stops of wooden pipes, but this, being for 
himself, was never finished. 



CHAPTEE II. 

In 1848, in company with his master and some 
other friends both artistic and musical, he bade 
farewell to his native land and with a heart full of 
hopes and undefined anticipations he set out for 
America, coming over in a sailing vessel which 
required 10 weeks to make the trip. During the 
voyage he quite astonished the sailors by his ability 
to go aloft— anywhere they could— and, as the 
quarters below were none of the best, he spent most 
of his days on deck or in the *Hop" and at night 
slept on deck with the anchor chain for a pillow. 

Nought awaited him here but disappointment. 
He found at that time little knowledge of art, no 
defined public taste, and a people who seemed to 
care nothing for ideals. The whole state of society 
was indeed foreign to him. He had been living for 
many years an idyllic sort of life in a quaint Ger- 
man village, his master and the group of pupils 
making his world, the gymnasium, the woods 
ramble, and the evening readings at the master's 
house supplying the recreation from study and 
labor; and when thrown loose on the rushing tide 
of American life his sensitive nature was shocked 
and hurt at every turn and he found himself in 
entirely unexpected surroundings and was as a 
child in his ability to meet them. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 7 

Another painful fact, which had to dawn upon 
him by degrees, was that he was no painter. Edu- 
cated as a steel engraver, he had all materials with 
the point in full subjugation— pen, pencil, crayon, 
graver, but not the brush. This was a difficulty 
with which he had a life struggle and to which some 
of his failures are doubtless attributable, and was 
overcome only by persistent and continued effort. 

He was advised during his first months in this 
country to turn his attention to teaching, and he 
obtained for a time a situation in a young ladies' 
seminary in Newark, N. J., although his knowledge 
of the language was very inadequate to the per- 
formance of his task. 

He had studied English before leaving Ger- 
many, and knew much as learned from books, but 
found he had nothing practical at his command 
when he landed on these shores. That difficulty 
was soon mastered, for with constant study and 
an immediate putting in practice what he learned 
the lack of an avenue of expression was not a draw- 
back for any great length of time. 

He eventually obtained a command of English 
equaled by few even of those born and educated 
in this country and exceeded by none entirely self 
taught. 

He was told that it would be useless to make 
Christian pictures, that they would find no sym- 
pathy or sale; so, as the next best thing, he 
attempted as his first important painting in Amer- 
ica a theme from ^^ Paradise Lost,'' thinking that 
the English-speaking people must have sjnupathy 
with their own classics. It was called ' ' The Lament 



8 A VISION REALIZED 

of the Fallen Spirits'' and was founded on the fol- 
lowing lines : 

"Others more mild. 
Retreated to a silent valley, sing 
With notes angelical to many a harp 
Their own heroic deeds and hapless fall 
By doom of battle ; and complain that fate 
Free virtue should enthrall to force or chance 
Their song was partial, but the harmony — 
What could it be less when spirits immortal sing ? 
Suspended Hell and took with ravishment 
The thronging audience." 

It was a weird, original composition, full of 
thought and careful work, but it was poor and 
hard as a painting and as a whole a failure. It 
was exhibited at the American Art Union in the 
early months of 1850. 

He made other compositions from this poem, 
*^The Descent of the Fallen Spirits into Hell," a 
painting, and ''Satan Falling from Heaven," a 
drawing. 

Within a year after his arrival in America his 
parents and two brothers, Frederick and George, 
followed and all located in Newark, N. J. 

In 1851 he married Julia Adelaide Torrey, 
daughter of Asa and Mary Sandford Torrey, of 
Newark, the one woman, it would seem, in all the 
world best fitted to go with him through the years 
of struggle which followed ; guiding, cheering, en- 
couraging, and inspiring, as undaunted in the face 
of adversity and trial as himself, with a depth of 
feeling and true appreciation of art as great as 
his own and, though almost entirely self-educated, 
with talents both artistic and literary second only 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 9 

to his. The part she had in his work and her 
influence on all that he did can not be over esti- 
mated, and truly it may be said that this chronicle 
of his life must be hers as well. 

Four children were born to them, Mary Magda- 
lena, November 10, 1852 ; John Frederick, Novem- 
ber 3 (his father's birthday), 1856; Samuel Philip, 
November 28, 1859 (died Dec. 11, 1859), and Theo- 
dore Eugene, April 20, 1864. 

After his marriage he moved to Madison, N. J., 
the home of his wife's parents, built a studio, and 
commenced anew to study in Christian Art to 
which his life w^as pledged. 

A composition, a finished work in pencil, ^^The 
Death of Saul" (1 Sam. 31 : 3-6), made at this time 
shows the artist working with the conventional 
ideas unbibed in the' study of Kaulbach and the 
Munich school; still it is full of fine grouping and 
harmonious lines. The bodies of the three sons of 
Saul lying together are most skilfully rendered, 
and every line artistically placed. The fomi of 
the giant Saul, pierced by the sword, stretches 
through the middle of the picture, at his feet lies 
the coi^pse of his armor bearer, in the background 
the battle still rages around the falling standard 
of Israel, and in the sky appears the shade or spirit 
of Samuel testifying to the truth of the prophecies 
he had uttered in regard to the fate of Saul and 
which were now fulfilled. (1 Sam. 28 : 19.) 

No regular record of works produced was kept 
previous to 1854, and what became of this drawing 
is not known, but in later years the same subject 
was done in color. 



10 A VISION REALIZED 

During the winter of 1851-52 he made a series 
of designs illustrating the redemption of mankind, 
which he set before him as his life work. On the 
ultimate production of these his veiy soul was 
centered. From this date until the completion of 
the works— nearly 50 years— eveiy effort was put 
forth to place himself in position to enable him 
to undertake them. Every move was made with 
this possible end in view. As the years rolled on 
and plan succeeded plan only to end in failure it 
seemed that it would not be permitted, and there 
were those who urged him to abandon art entirely 
and make his living in some other way. 

Through it all he never flinched or quailed, 
always was his gaze upward and onw^ard. When 
failure of a plan came upon him he was still 
undaimted; and, instead of having the effect of 
diminishing his enthusiasm or causing him to 
waver in his purpose, it only spurred him on to 
renewed efforts, and as these designs were taken 
as his life work so the story of his life is the story 
of these works— a story of unremitting effort to 
attain the end in view, a devious path leading over 
bowldered hills, over many a sandy waste and 
treacherous bog, a path beset by many dangers and 
untold difficulties, where the foot must not slip, 
the eye grow dim, nor courage fail. And yet this 
path he trod, his step finn, his eye bright and clear, 
his courage unfaltering, and with a sublime faith 
that the Almighty God in whom he believed and 
trusted would protect and guide him and conduct 
him to the haven where he would be. 

And so he went on, giving his life and work to 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 1 1 

the great principle of bettering the conditions of 
humanity, helping and cheering those whom he 
met by the way, relieving the distressed wherever 
found, soothing the unhappy, giving from his 
slender purse to those in need, pointing the way 
to Heaven by word, deed, and work, and giving 
the credit and glory all to his Divine Lord and 
Master whom he served. 

He looked upon these designs as inspirations 
and his faith was firm that they were God-given 
and that the time would come when he would 
execute them. 

His plan was that of an enthusiast to be sure, 
and the practical man may smile at it ; but it was 
earnest and unselfish at least. It was this: He 
knew there was no hope of sale for pictures of this 
character and collossal size, so he determined that 
he would make them by his own exertions, and then 
he believed that if they were made successfully 
some one could be found to put up a proper build- 
ing to receive them and that he would make them a 
gift as a nucleus for a free gallery, hoping thereby 
to give an impetus to Christian art in this country. 

These compositions are entitled : 

1. ^^The Dispensations of Promise and the 

Law." 

2. ^^ The Redeemer." 

3. ^^The Era of the Holy Spirit." 

4. ^^The Consummation of Redemption." 

In the case of the first one, so complicated and 
full of figures and meaning, he had been reading 
the Old Testament for some time seeking a subject 



12 A VISION REALIZED 

comprising 10 or 12 figures, but finding nothing to 
suit him, until, sitting and thinking of what he had 
read, a voice seemed to say audibly to him, ''Why 
not make the whole Old Testament in one picture T' 
—and inmiediately this composition rose up before 
him in its entirety. 

After he had secured it on paper in charcoal 
scrawls he read for days to obtain his references 
and authorities but found no reason to change it 
in the slightest particular. 

The second of the series, ''The Eedeemer," in 
the same remarkable manner stood upon the bare 
white wall of the Methodist church during the ser- 
mon, at which place the small band of Episcopa- 
lians in Madison at that time held their services ; so 
that on coming home he was able to note it down 
in all its wonderful completeness of logical thought. 
On returning from service that day he said to his 
wife, "If I can put on paper what I have seen on 
the wall over the preacher's head just now I shall 
have one of the greatest compositions ever made for 
its terseness, and containing so much in a few 
figures." 

The other two followed in a similar way. His 
mode of thinking seemed ever to be a bringing out 
of the spiritual and hidden truths rather than a 
rendering of the outside of things, as is partic- 
ularly noticeable in this series— and in all his better 
works. 

The following description of the intention of 
the great series is from his own pen : 

"These compositions are designed to delineate 
the outlines of that great scheme of Redemption, 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 3 

which God has been carrying on since the Fall, for 
the recovery of ruined man. 

''And as in that plan Christ is the central object, 
toward which all things point and concentrate, 
and in which at last all things are completed and 
consmnmated, so also in these pictures it is designed 
that all shall point to Christ. 

''Christ through the sin of man became needed 
and, through the mercy of God, promised and 
typified in the whole ceremonial law and worship: 
then revealed, fulfilling the promise and the type, 
obtaining for man the conquest over sin, Satan, and 
death ; then ascended to His mediatorial throne the 
possessor of all power in Heaven and upon earth, 
sending forth His Word and His Spirit to enlighten 
the nations ; then glorified in the final and complete 
separation of the evil and the good, in the destruc- 
tion of the evil, and the gathering together and 
perfecting of His redeemed in His heavenly and 
eternal Kingdom. 

"Each picture is distinct in itself' and yet each 
one supplements all the others. 

"They are designed to illustrate and make con- 
spicuous the unity of all God's dealings with man; 
the grand harmony of His plan of redemption in its 
peculiar development, from the suggestive outlines 
drawn in the first promise made after the Fall 
(Genesis 3:15) until the triumphant consumma- 
tion in eternal glory; pointing, from Genesis to 
Eevelation, continually and only to Christ, the 
Lord Jehovah and Saviour of man." 



14 A VISION REALIZED 

DESCRIPTION OF THE SERIES. 
1. The Dispensations of Promise and the Law. 

In this composition there are three points 
prominent, namely, Sin, Prophecy, and Typical 
Sacrifice. 

They are devoloped from a center, and carried 
in streams of figures and groups to the foreground, 
or near it. 

The center is Moses, from whom Prophecy 
stretches to the left; Typical Sacrifice, in a semi- 
circle to the right; while Sin and its punishment 
occupies the middle from the altar to the imme- 
diate foreground. 

Besides there is an upper part to the picture, in 
the clouds, dividing the time of simple promise 
from the time of the law. 

The Shekinah of God's Glory,' surrounded by 
angelic heads, is the true center and the light of 
the picture. Jehovah's presence was the life and 
the light of the Old Dispensation. 

The fall of man in Eden, and the sentence of 
sin drew from the mercy of God the promise of a 
Saviour, which promise expanded subsequently 
into prophecy and found visible expression in the 
divinely appointed sacrifices of the Mosaic dis- 
pensation. Under these three heads the whole Old 
Testament ecclesiastically is comprised. 

The old dispensation was a preparation for the 
new, and foreshadowed it. In this manner, also, 
the composition is treated. It embraces the 4,000 

^Ex. 13: 21; 14: 19-20, 24; 40: 34-38. Numb. 9: 15-23; 10: 34; 14: 
14. Deut. 1: 33. Ps. 78: 14; 99: 7; 105: 39. Is. 4:5, 6. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 1 5 

years before Christ as a time of prophecy, of types, 
and of figures. It makes use of the cardinal facts 
of the ecclesiastical history of that period, so far 
as they relate to the coming of the Deliverer and 
the great sacrifice for sin to be accomplished by 
Him. The justice and the mercy of God are in it 
united. 

The angels on either side of the Shekinah first 
show these. Upon the side of the law, the flaming 
sword does its full work upon the daring sinners ' ; 
but where the smoke of sacrifice ascends acceptably 
to the Lord, though the law is still in force, the 
sword lowered signifies that God is just and yet 
can be ''the justifier of him that believeth." 

But while punishment overtakes the transgres- 
sors of God's holy law, salvation is also provided 
to them who in faith will avail themselves of the 
means of God's own appointing ; and whereas death 
entered into the world by reason of sin, promise' 
extended to fallen man even while he was judged, 
opened to his faith a vision of the Redeemer. Of 
this Adam and Eve, on the left of the Shekinah, 
remind us, and the sacred line behind these, with 
Abel, the first eminent type of Christ's sacrifice, 
leading. Next to these is Enoch,* in his translation 
without seeing death, the type and pledge of 
Christ's triumph over death and the grave. Beside 
him sits Noah ' and his three sons, saved by faith 
from the over^vhelming flood, typifying the salva- 
tion of the redeemed in Christ, ^Hhe like figure 

2 Cor. 10: 10. 2 Sam. 24: 16. 1 ^ Gen. 3: 15. 
Chron. 21: 16. 2 Kings 19: 35. Acts * Gen. 5: 21-23. Heb. 11:5. 
12:23. »Gen. 7:7, 13: 8:18. Heb. 11:7. 



16 A VISION REALIZED 

whereunto, even baptism' doth also now save us, 
by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. ' ' 

On the right are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob 
and his sons, patriarchs of the 12 tribes, Joseph, 
the feeder of his brethren, and Benjamin, and 
Judah, the progenitor of our Lord, being promi- 
nent. With Abraham was the covenant' estab- 
lished; Avith him the visible church began. The 
^'Father of the Faithful"' invokes the blessing of 
God [El Shaddai] upon his children. 

These, represented in the clouds, belong to the 
Dispensation of Promise. 

The Dispensation of the Law occupies the lower 
and larger space. Moses, the giver of the law, 
stands prominent upon the steps of the temple. 
The shadowy promise now expands into prophecy, 
which develops as centuries advance, until it spoke 
in clear, explicit language of the ^^Man of Sor- 
rows" treading the winevat alone, bearing our 
iniquity and transgression.' That which in the 
prophetic line is foretold is t}T3ified by the sac- 
rifices to the right of Moses, and thus these two 
sides correspond in prophetic expression as also 
they form a continuous stream of figures. 

Prophet himself," Moses gave his name to the 
dispensation which began with him. Though the 
great deliverer of Israel from Eg}^pt, he could not 
bring them within the borders of the promised 
land. This was accomplished by the typical Jesus, 
(Joshua,) his successor," the warrior before whom 

• 1 Peter 3: 20-21. « Isaiah 53. 

'Gen. 15: 1-18; 17: 1-14. ^^ Deut. 18: 15, 18, 19. 

•John 8: 39. Heb. 11 : 8, 9, 10. "Deut. 31:23. Josh. 1 : 2-9. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 7 

fell the enemies of the chosen people, and who 
divided to them their inheritance. Next him, the 
head only visible, is Samson, type of the strong 
deliverer, even in his death vanquishing;" then 
Samuel,'' prophet and judge; the line of judges, 
Baruch, Deborah, Jeptha, being visible; then 
David, the sweet Psalmist and poet king of Israel, 
progenitor of the Messiah ; " then Solomon, the wise 
and opulent, reigning in peace and prosperity; 
type of the King of Peace (Note A), whose blessed 
dominion should extend to the ends of the earth, 
to endure forever and ever. Somewhat isolated, as 
the mighty, 'zealous prophet was in the period of 
Jewish history to which he belongs, stands Elijah," 
like Enoch of the preceding generation (directly 
above him) , a type and pledge of the conquest yet 
to be given over death, of life and immortality to 
be brought to light. Over his shoulder looks 
Elisha," laying hold upon the mantle of Elijah, by 
importunate faith obtaining a double portion of 
his prophetic spirit. 

Beneath and more in the foreground are the 
prophets of a later period. On the right sits 
Micah," pointing to David, whose birthplace should 
also be that of the coming Saviour; next to him, 
seated upon a fragment of ruin, Jeremiah " is 
bewailing the sin and captivity of his people, and 
the widespread desolation of Zion. Inmiediately 
above him, Isaiah," the evangelical prophet, is fore- 
telling, in lofty visions, and sublime, rapturous 

"Judges 16: 30. "2 Kings 2: 13; 2: 9-10. 

" 1 Samuel 2 : 35. " Micah 5:1. 

"^* Isaiah 11: 1. "Lam. 1: 1-3. 

"2 Kings 2: 11. "Isaiah 53; 60: 6; 52: 13-15. 



18 A VISION REALIZED 

strains, with historic minuteness and fidelity, the 
atoning death of the Messiah, and the glory which 
should follow; a prophecy which could be recon- 
ciled and explained only in its fulfillment. Then 
Daniel, proclaiming the exact period of the Mes- 
siah's coming,'" his death and the subsequent en- 
largement of His Kingdom, ^^till the kingdom and 
dominion and greatness of the kingdom under the 
whole Heaven, shall be given to the Saints of the 
Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting king- 
dom, and all dominions shall serve and obey 
Him."'' Next to him is Ezekiel, distinguished by 
his measuring-rod as he who so minutely described 
the spiritual temple" to come, filled by the glory 
of the Lord, and His abiding place for ever ; then 
Nehemiah and Ezra, intent upon their plans for 
the rebuilding of Jerusalem, in their looking away 
to the future, seeming to catch with the prophets a 
glimpse of the glory which should cover the second 
temple, through the coming of the Holy One." In 
the background are seen the prophets of lesser 
note. 

To the right of Moses is depicted the ceremonial 
worship of the church, a worship chiefly embodied 
in sacrifice, which, like prophecy, pointed onward 
to the future, being the '^shadow of things to come'' 
of the Divine Sacrifice yet to be accomplished. 

The Holy Place of the Temple opens to view, 
with its golden candlestick '' and the golden table " 
containing the shewbread, being seen. The curtain 
of the Holy of Holies is shrouded by a flood of 

20 Daniel 9: 26-27. "Ezekiel 43: 7. "Exodus 25: 31-40. 

" Daniel 7 : 27. " Haggai 2 : 1-9. " Exodus 25 : 23-30. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 19 

light from the Shekinah; but without stands 
Aaron/' the high-priest, his hands upon the head 
of the scape-goat, while making confession of his 
own sins and the sins of the people. Thus the 
Annual Sacrifice, or the great Day of Atonement, 
is represented. The Daily Sacrifice," offered each 
morning and evening, is shown in the smoking 
altar, with the officiating priest pouring out the 
victim's blood at the foot of it, the smoke rising up 
as a sweet-smelling savor unto the Lord, accepted 
through faith and obedience. 

Offering of First Fruits.— To the right is seen 
the high-priest pronouncing the blessing" of 
Jehovah over the faithful, who are thronging up to 
the temple with their votive offerings from the rich 
store of Jehovah's bountiful blessings. The first 
fruif of every thing was holy to the Lord and 
His portion; the first born male child had to be 
redeemed by a pair of turtle doves, offered instead. 
The firstlings of the flock, the vineyard, the field, 
must be given into the Lord's treasury. Thus was 
prefigured the Divine First Born, whom the 
Father, His greatest blessing, gave in infinite com- 
pasion for the Sins of man. 

Sin Offering.— Below the Altar steps, with 
contrite posture and humble petition, approaches 
a group of penitents.'" Absorbed and solemn 
they come, each conscious of individual unworthi- 
ness. Among them, the harlot, and the prince, on 
a level here as alike sinners, and alike needing 

"Lev. 16. "Exodus 29: 38-46. ^^Numb. 6: 23-27. 

"Exodus 13; 22:29-30; 23:19; 34:26. Lev. 23:10-11. Deut. 26. 
Lev. 12. ^° Lev. 4. Lev. 5. 



20 A VISION REALIZED 

remission, are seen with their prescribed sacrifices, 
and the old woman and man bent and hoary with 
years, form the contrast of far greater burden of 
soul with the child, carrying for them their sacrifice 
of turtle doves. 

Thank-offering.— Prominently conspicuous in 
the right foreground is a rich family group, with 
festive array of flowers, and palm and olive 
branches, rejoicingly entering the courts of the 
Lord with their many thank-offerings'' This 
group illustrates the joyful, sanctifying influences 
of true religion, even under the dimmer light of the 
Old Dispensation, and the abounding prosperity" 
with which God rewarded His faithful wor- 
shippers. Mark the serene aspect of the parents, the 
father, the priest and the proi3het of the family, 
(upon whose forehead we observe the phylactery" 
with its inscribed Scripture texts,) pointing 
out to his sons the deserved punishment of Sin, 
according to the Law, and also speaking of the 
heavenly glory and blessedness awaiting the right- 
eous"; the mother with matronly grace and love 
watching over her daughters. How beautifully 
does the little child, shrinking away from the un- 
wonted aspect of sin and its penalty, suggest to us 
childhood's innocence, nurtured and developed 
under the fostering influence of sanctified parental 
love. The whole group reminds us of God's word 
to His prophet, **Say ye to the righteous it shall be 
well with him; for they shall eat of the fruit of 
their own doings ; ' ' and again, ' ' From the uttermost 

"Lev. 3; 7: 9-34; 2. "Exodus 13: 16. Numb. 15: 38-41. 

"Lev. 26: 1-13. Deut. 28: 1-14. " Deut. 6: 6-9. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 21 

parts of the earth have we heard songs, even glory 
to the righteous. ' ' 

But in painful contrast we behold in the middle 
of the composition the delineation of Sin as the 
the transgression of the Law, and its dread punish- 
ment. The justice of God to unrepented, and there- 
fore unf orgiven. Sin, is here set forth. ^ ^ I the Lord 
thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of 
the fathers upon the children, unto the third and 
fourth generation of them that hate me." The 
signal punishment of the Law, beginning at the 
very Altar, and with the sons of the high priest, 
Nadab and Abihu," presumptuously offering 
before the Lord in their censers unhallowed flame, 
are here depicted at the moment of their destruc- 
tion by the descending fire of God's vengeance. A 
few incidents from Jewish history illustrate 
further the reward of Sin : the murmuring Israel- 
ite' stung by the jiery serpent; the stoned blas- 
phemer;^' the famishing mother;''' blindness and 
raving madness/' the curses so fearfully pro- 
nounced by Moses against the disobedient. 
Around the crumbling idol altar," built in the 
very courts of the Lord's house, now defiled by 
burning human bones, a fierce group of scoffers 
cling and vainly seek refuge from the wrath of an 
offended God. More in the foreground the dead 
bodies of other idolatrous Jews" are flung across 
the shattered images in which they trusted." 

"Leviticus 10: 1, 2. « 1 Kings 13: 1-3. 2 Kings 23. 

"Numb. 21: 1-9. 2 Chron. 34. 

"Lev. 24: 10-16. "Lev. 26: 30. 

"Lev. 26: 26. Deut. 28: 38-40. « Deut. 28: 26. 
" Deut. 28 : 28, 29, 35. 



22 A VISION REALIZED 

Dagon (Note B), the fish-god of the Phil- 
istines ; 

"Moloch (Note C), horrid king, besmeared with blood 
Of human sacrifice and parents' tears; 
Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud. 
Their children's cries unheard, that passed through fire 
To his grim idol ;" 

and Baal (Note D), the Sun-God, and Ashtaroth, 
the deity of the moon, are selected to represent the 
idol worship of the Jews. A group of captives 
closes the scene of deserved desolation, but not 
without an intimation of hope in the promise yet 
to be fulfilled, betokened by the child touching the 
harp of sacred song in glad anticipation, even while 
the parents despair; Aaron's iudding rod" 
signifying the priesthood and dominion not yet 
departed from Israel, which would yet see restora- 
tion, and that the voice of weeping be again ex- 
changed for ^thanksgiving and the voice of 
melody ;'' and the boy holding the scroll of the Law 
still unfilled as touching Him that should come to 
be its perfect accomplishment. 

The hope of the captives is thus joined to 
prophecy** in looking beyond for the coming of that 
Saviour, who had been the burden of all of God's 
promises, and of the Law and the ceremony. 

Thus we see foreshadowed in this composition 
Christ, the Messiah, the true sacrifice for Sin, the 
**Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,'' 
the *' Prince of Peace and Lord our Righteous- 
ness," whose appearing for man's salvation forms 

" Numbers 17. 

"Jeremiah 25: 11. Leviticus 26: 40-45. Jeremiah 29: 11-14. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 23 

the grand theme of all the sacred writings, His 
Divine Person the fulcrum of man's history. The 
Spirit of the Old Testament Dispensations is thus 
exhibited in these three points, into which the pic- 
ture naturally divides, namely : 

Sin, which drew down upon offending man the 
justice of a holy God ; 

The Promise, or prophecy, of a Saviour, which 
the mercy of God extended to man ; and 

Typical Sacrifice, also a prophecy and pledge of 
the coming Redeemer. 

Like the Old Dispensation itself, the sentiment 
of the composition breaks off unfinished. Every 
thing indicates the incompleteness of the present. 
As yet faith looks forward with yearning desire for 
the Consolation of Israel; the blood of sheep and 
goats could not take away sin; redemption could 
only be accomplished by the Son, whom the Father 
would send, and in Him the Promise, the Law, and 
the Sacrifice, would be fulfilled. 



NOTES. 

Note A. — Solomon, or "Shelomah'" (Hebrew), is identical in mean- 
ing with '^Friedrich" (Frederick), i, e., great, or rich, in peace, or a 
king of peace. 

Note B. — Dagon, the national God of the Philistines. He was rep- 
resented with the face and hands and body of a man or woman, and the 
tail of a fish. 1 Samuel 5 : 5. The fish-like form was a natural emblem 
of fruitfulness. Judges 16: 21-30. 1 Samuel 5:6. 1 Chronicles 10: 10. 
The Philistines dwelled on the seashore. The wars between them and the 
Israelites were frequent, and these suffered terribly at their hands. The 
prediction of Moses ( Deut. 28 : 25 ) , "The Lord shall cause them to be 
smitten before thine enemies," found its literal fulfilment in these wars. 

Note C. — Moloch, or Molech, the fireking, the tutelary deity of the 
children of Ammon. Among the rites with which this God was wor- 
shipped were human sacrifices, purifications, and ordeals by fire, devoting 
of the firstborn, mutilation, and vows of perpetual celibacy and virginity. 
Psalms 106: 37-38. Jeremiah 7: 31. 2 Chronicles 28: 3. According to 
Jewish authority, "This image of Molech was made of brass, hollow 



24 A VISION REALIZED 

within, and was situated without Jerusalem. His face was that of a 
calf, and his hands stretched forth like a man's who opens his hands to 
receive something. And they kindled it with fire, and the priests took 
the babe and put it into the hands of Molech, and the babe gave up the 
ghost. And why was it called Tophet or Hinnom? Because they used 
to make a noise with drums, (tophim,) that the father might not hear 
the cry of his child and have pity on him, and return to him. Hinnom, 
because the babe wailed and the noise of his wailing went up." 

Note D. — Baal, the supreme male divinity of the Phoenicians and 
Canaanitish nations, as Ashtaroth was their supreme female divinity. 
Numb. 25: 3 sqq; Deut. 4: 3; Judges 2: 10-13; 1 Samuel 7: 4; 1 Kings 
16: 31-33; 18: 19-22; 2 Kings 16: 3. Baal means master, owner, pos- 
sessor. Under his image, and that of Ashtaroth, the sun and moon 
were worshipped. Baal had numerous priests, 1 Kings 18: 19; and it is 
a priest that in the composition embraces this idol under the shield the 
young warror stretches protectingly over him against the smiting angel. 

REMARKS 

The limits and character of a composition like 
this dictate the necessity of omitting all that is not 
strictly essential for a lucid, logical representation 
of the fundamental idea. Hence it can lay no claim 
to historic minuteness, and embracing even every 
person and feature which has a direct bearing upon 
the main thought it endeavors to illustrate. It is 
by nature suggestive ; and on the other hand must 
confine itself to that which is capable of pictorial 
rendering. In regard to the sacrifices, for instance, 
there would be, theologically, more heads and divi- 
sions than the three of first fruits, sin offering, and 
thank offering, beside the annual atonement and the 
daily sacrifice. There would be the Paschal Lamb, 
burnt offering, trespass offering, etc., but they 
could not be pictorially distinguished. So there 
were signal punishments of sin, like that of Korah 
and his people, and acknowledged typical persons, 
like that of Jonah, which found no space in the 
composition. 

The spirit and design of Old Testament litera- 




THE REDEEMER 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 25 

ture, having the character of unity and singleness 
of purpose and aim, has been held in view by the 
author of this picture. It teaches the universal sin- 
fulness of man, the penalty of sin, and its remedy. 
It was the development, by successive revelations, 
of a plan for man's redemption, which has its 
center in Christ, the Messiah of the Old Dispensa- 
tion. As an epitome of this plan, so far as the Old 
Testament history is concerned, the composition 
stands; a suggestive outline of the grand general 
proportions, easily filled up by the diligent Bible 
student when once securely comprehended. 

May it please God to use it as an incentive to 
closer study of the pages of His holy Word, and as 
a means of instruction in the truths which concern 
every soul, leading the guilty to that Great Sacri- 
fice, the ''Lamb of God which taketh away the sins 
of the world." 

2. ''The Redeemer" 

By J. A. 0. 

With so simple a composition and all the parts 
and action so obvious an explanation is hardly 
necessary, both the figures and their interrelation 
being of common experience. 

There are three factors : (1) The Saviour, divine 
"High priest of our profession"; (2) Man, repre- 
sentative of our race; (3) The united trio, Satan, 
Sin, and Death, man's enemies. 

A belt of clouds, typifying earth, divides be- 
tween light and darkness, heaven and hell. 

During probation, connection of man with sin 
still exists, the possibility of yielding to temptation 



26 A VISION REALIZED 

and falling with his enemies ; the power of Christ 
and man 's affections turned to Him, keep up man, 
clothed now^ in purity, the rags of self -righteousness 
dropping off. 

Satan is a malicious but conquered enemy, 
allowed only wiles and deceit as means of ruin, the 
foot of the Crucified on his head and arm checking 
his assault. 

Death is here the spiritual reward of sin rather 
than the separation of soul and body. 

The outlines of all the figures, their relation to 
one another, the colors employed; the several em- 
blems, the symbol of our redemption behind Christ ; 
the serpent tying the infernal trio into one; the 
chain on Satan's feet; ^^Death's sting"— are used 
as sign language for the expression of essential 
truths in the story of man's redemption by Christ 
and man's position toward his Saviour and his 
enemies from day to day. 

3. ^*The Dispensation of the Holy Spikit" 
the new testament church idea. 

This composition is the keynote to the entire 
series of four, including the still prophetic part of 
the grand plan, ^^The Consunmiation of Redemp- 
tion". That work sets forth the three main divi- 
sions governing the Church idea. 

First. Its origin. 

Second. Its constitution and missionary char- 
acter. 

Third. Its works as fruits of the faith. 

The divine origin of the New Testament Church 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 27 

is shown in the upper part of the picture. Jesus 
Christ is the Founder, His apostles the first instru- 
ments for its propagation. 

The divinity of the Christ is emphasized by His 
position on the throne of glory and power ; by the 
adoration of the angel host, Seraphim and Cheru- 
bim; and by His present office as ruler of the 
universe and High Priest of His people. 

The apostles and evangelists go out from Him 
—to Jews on the right and to Gentiles on the left— 
inspired men and commissioned by His authority. 
They are the founders of the Church. 

This Church in its essential features is below 
them. In it the Holy Spirit is the presiding and 
ruling Deity. 

The division of clouds under the apostles is here 
taken away, for though absent Christ is yet ever 
present wdth His Church. ^^Lo, I am with you 
alway, even to the end of the world." 

Now from the first the Church has always con- 
sisted of three essential parts : 

First. The Faith, contained in the inspired 
Word of God, the Holy Bible, Old and New Testa- 
ments, upon the altar. 

Second. The lawful ministry in threefold 
order, bishops, priests, and deacons. 

Third. The sacraments as means of grace ; bap- 
tism and its complement confirmation; and the 
Holy Eucharist. 

This church had commission to go ^4nto all the 
world, and preach the Gospel to every creature"; 
hence representatives of all the principal races of 



28 A VISION REALIZED 

mankind are introduced as hearing the message of 
^^ Christ Crucified." 

But that faith is evidenced in works, the legiti- 
mate fruits of its divine regenerating power, and so 
the foreground is occupied by works of mercy and 
ministrations to the poor, the orphan, sick, and the 
fallen. Good works are the outgrowth of a living 
faith, organized by the Church and partaken in by 
all her members, official and lay. 

But at all times from the first there have been in 
the Church the enemies of Christ, as is evident from 
the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles, and so 
they could not be left out in the picture of a Dispen- 
sation ^^ still militant." They turn their back on 
the Christ and scorn His Cross. False, destructive 
philosophy and learning, pride of intellect, blas- 
phemy, wanton pleasure, the mad rush for gold and 
honor, hatred and violence, all especially active in 
our days. 

In a composition dealing with so comprehensive 
a subject, as nothing must be introduced not strictly 
relevant to the main idea to its confusing and over- 
loading, so nothing should be omitted that can— 
within certain limits dictated by a rigid adherence 
to sound logic— illustrate this idea. 

In conformity to this rule, in all the upper and 
central parts, colors are used for their symbolic 
meaning, red for love and ardor, yellow for divin- 
ity, blue for truth; and they are so distributed 
as to convey to each part of it its specific 
signification. 

The angelic ministration is also extended from 
the clouds into the Church below ; the adoration of 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 29 

the Divine Spirit; the ''Prince of thy people" 
(Dan) St. Michael, that does battle for the Church 
on the side where ''Soldiers of Christ'' are enrolled 
in Holy Baptism and their new name inscribed in 
the Book of Life. 

On the other side the archangel Gabriel, with 
his symbol, the Incarnation Lily, where the "God 
Man ' ' in the Eucharist is given to the faithful in the 
consecrated Bread and Wine ; hands in blessing ex- 
tended by angels over the believers, and the palm 
of victory. 

It should be kept in mind that art is a language 
capable of expressing thoughts and sentiments by 
form, color, and action. By these the artist has a 
wide field whither he" invites to follow him stu- 
diously, taking for granted there was a sufficient 
reason, in his mind at least, for choosing what 
is seen on the canvass in the order, number, 
and connection best suited to depict the subject 
undertaken. 

4. "The Consummation of Redemption or 
THE Triumph of Christianity." 

LAST OF THE SERIES— EXPLANATION BY J. A. 0. 

"Known unto God are all His works from the 
beginning of the world," is the declaration of St. 
James (Acts 15: 18). Therefore the Plan of God 
for the Eedemption of man is and must be 
conceived of by us as an absolute unit. God's 
revelation to man was made in three successive 
dispensations, each of them during two divine 
working days of a thousand years each ag fore- 



30 A VISION REALIZED 

shadowed in the six days of the world's creation 
(Gen. 1: 31), and on the seventh day God endeth 
His work which he hath made (Gen. 2:2). 

In this series of paintings we have now come to 
the beginning of this ^^ seventh day." During the 
three dispensations of Father, Son, and Holy 
Spirit there has been carried on, by successive 
revelations, the work of God for the redemption of 
the human race. When, in God's foreknowledge, 
the time is fulfilled of the completion of this work, 
this third period, the Dispensation of the Holy 
Spirit, will be closed by the coming again of Christ 
to judgment, when the great sabbath, the seventh 
day of rest and the reign of Christ on earth, is to 
begin. 

In this series of paintings the conflict of Good 
wdth Evil and the final triumph of Good is repre- 
sented. 

In the first and third, during Old and New 
Testament times, that conflict respecting mankind ; 
in the second the same conflict in each individual of 
mankind. 

The fourth picture then is the victory of Good, 
of Christ and His Church, over Evil. Good and 
Evil are here represented and the God is trium- 
phant over the Evil. During all these six thou- 
sand years since Adam and the Fall, the six 
working days of God for man's redemption, 
Good and Evil in conflict were to human eyes 
as it were mixed though radical opposites. Now at 
the last they are positively separate, in two separate 
hosts. 

The visible triumph of Good has come, Christ, 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 31 

and through and with Him His Saints are vic- 
torious. 

The basis for this painting is the nineteenth 
chapter of Eevelation, from the eleventh verse. 



CHAPTER III. 

A large cartoon was made of ^^The Redeemer," 
mounted on rollers, and sent to the Academy of 
Design in New York, but was rejected because it 
had no frame. It was never exhibited but hung on 
the walls of his various studios for years, until worn 
by age and damaged by frequent removals it was 
finally destroyed. 

Part of the time during the year 1852 Mr. 
Oertel was forced to leave his studio in Madison 
and go to Newark in order to make money on which 
to live. 

Here he did all kinds of work and resorted to 
various devices to secure the necessary dollars, liv- 
ing meanwhile in bachelor quarters and doing his 
own cooking. 

From here, under date of May 5, he writes his 
wife that the reason he does not go of tener to Madi- 
son is ^^on account of my boots, for to walk (15 
miles) I consider them, and to ride I consider the 
money." During his stay here he painted mostly 
animals and worked on portraits from daguerreo- 
types for another artist. 

To this kind of drudgery he was often reduced 
by pressure of circumstances. He could work un- 
ceasingly, but he could not bear to ask for pay. 
Before leaving Newark he wrote, ^'I shall have to 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 33 

make a few more calls for the purpose of collecting 
all the money I have due and wish to get, and then 
march off from Newark. Almost any kind of work 
I could do without much murmur, only I can not 
beg cheerfully." 

He had been brought up and was to this time a 
Lutheran, but in 1852 he became a member of the 
Episcopal Church and was confirmed by Bishop 
Doane in October of that year. 

In the spring of 1852 Mr. Oertel removed to 
Brooklyn, and the next year was spent entirely in 
making designs for steel engravings for use on 
bank notes, drawing illustrations on wood, or 
painting portraits, the only notable work of 
that time being the design for the Crystal 
Palace Medal, which was selected for the prize 
by the judges at the competitive trial. It rep- 
resented Industry led by Progress to receive a 
crown at the hands of the city. Only three figures 
—yet the whole story told— and again the quali- 
ties of terseness and comprehensiveness combined. 
He also made the model in wax for the diesinkers to 
work from. 

A design was made at this time bearing the title 
^^ Things as they were and things as they are." 
This was published as a lithograph by Goupel, of 
New York, and bears the signature ^^John A. 
Oertel Del. &Lith." 

On the left of the picture are the ^ things as they 
were," on the right ^^as they are," and these are 
divided by a pillar through the center the base of 
which rests on a snail shell (left) and the head of 
an eagle (right), and it is surmounted by the figure 



34 A VISION REALIZED 

of Gutenberg, a book under his right arm and in his 
right hand the compasses. 

To the left of the base is seen the courier gal- 
loping with his dispatch, and this is balanced on the 
right by the railway with train going over a high 
bridge toward a tunnel; above the courier sits a 
sandal-shod monk with an hourglass before him on 
the table, writing on parchment with quill pen; 
behind the monk, and forming the border of the pic- 
ture, are various ancient weapons, bow, spear, pike, 
etc., and through the vaulted and vine-clad window 
is seen the old feudal castle. 

On the other hand a man clad in modern gar- 
ments sits with his hand on a telegraphic instru- 
ment; above his head is the gas jet and from it 
hangs a watch ; behind him a newsboy is crying his 
^^ extras" and in the distance appears a huge fac- 
tory with towering chimney, a steamship, and 
telegraph poles with wires. It is finely balanced 
and beautifully drawn. 

*' Pulling down the statue of King George at 
Bowling Green, N. Y." was also made and pub- 
lished in a large steel engraving. 

In August, 1853, he began engraving for the 
''National Magazine" and ''Presbyterian Board of 
Publication," and early the next year exhibited 
at the National Academy of Design the following 
designs in pencil : 

"The Death of Saul." 

' ' Angel of Prayer. ' ' 

"Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock." 

In 1854 he again returned to his studio in Madi- 
son, N. J., where he remained about a year. Some 





STEEL ENGRAVINGS MADE FOR BANK NOTES 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 35 

of the time was lost engraving on steel for the 
American Bank Note Company, but he did more 
painting than in the preceding years. ''The Cap- 
tive SouP' dates from this time. This was painted 
to commission of Dr. S. J. Guy, of Brooklyn, N. Y. 
It was a life-size female figure, one hand chained to 
a rock on which she knelt, the other raised high 
above her head, while the upturned face was full of 
indefinable longing as she gazed up into the blue 
sky. All was light above, all dark beneath. The 
lower part of the figure stood in dark brown ragged 
drapery which was apparently slipping down from 
the form ; a white robe showed above it ; leaving the 
upper part of the figure nude as if it were stretch- 
ing out and away from the rags of earth. Around 
the base of the rock a serpent is gliding and a skull, 
barely visible, lies there in the shadow. Sin and 
Death. Whatever may be thought of this as a 
painting, as a composition and the presentation of 
an idea, it is extremely full of suggestive thought 
and must appeal to every soul alive to the struggles 
toward a higher and more perfect existence. 

He began this painting during the absence of his 
wife and thus writes her : 

''During my solitary days I work like a hero 
going out to conquer— and conquering— a moun- 
tain-like resolution, and big brushes do their work. 
Day before yesterday I painted, in a few hours, the 
color sketch. Yesterday I began the picture, cover- 
ing the backgroimd ; to-day all the flesh parts and a 
portion of the drapery marched on the canvas, and 
to-morrow, if God permits, the whole will be 
covered." 



36 A VISION REALIZED 

Always, when his heart was in his work, he 
painted rapidly. 

Being very much annoyed by the country lads 
who would very often intrude to see what was going 
on in that ^^ paint shop," he found his revenge in 
painting a satire which he called ^'The Country 
Connoisseurs." It was the interior of his studio; 
the back of a large canvas, supposed to be that of 
^^The Captive Soul," was seen, and before it stood 
a group of country worthies of various types, but 
all studied from life. A mongrel cur snarled at the 
Diana mask which stood against the wall. 

This picture made some sensation when it went 
to New York, as the critics thought it a sly hit at 
them; but the artist was innocent of any such in- 
tention. 

He also painted two other humorous pictures, 
^^ Coming home from Meeting" and '^Bob Singing 
a New Song." 

Again in 1855 he returned to New York and the 
next two years were spent mainly in ^^ miserable 
bread winning," steel engraving, portrait painting, 
and even coloring photographs. 

During this time he not only worked at odds and 
ends in art, but made other ventures and attempts 
to make the money he so badly needed for daily 
necessities and so much desired to enable him to 
carry out his cherished plans. 

He invented an electrical machine which he and 
his father made. This proved a failure. He also 
became interested in a process for making steel out 
of cast iron by electricity. It was the invention of 
a Pole named Mayrhof er. He demonstrated it re- 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 37 

peatedly before Mr. Oertel, his father, and others, 
and had several offers for the patent. 

Mr. Oertel says: ''If he will give me $10,000 I 
will guarantee to sell for more than three times the 
amount offered. Father went down to Mayrhofer 
to-day (April 3, 1856) and he accepted my offer of 
his own accord and promised me $50,000 if I made 
good my words." Mayrhofer offered him all he 
could get over $100,000 and of that he said, ''For 
the sake of my old debts and the sake of my art I 
am covetous— but I could not do that.'' 

Prominent men were interested and agreed to 
pay one million dollars if the process could be 
demonstrated to their satisfaction to be as claimed. 
Mr. Oertel was very much elated : Here at last was 
the money to enable him to have free hand in art 
and carry out all his plans. 

In the meantime some friend of Mayrhofer, a 
Pole, persuaded him to the belief that he was not 
going to get enough for his process, and that he 
could get him more and the extra money could be 
given Kossuth for the cause of Poland. 

He had such a hold and influence over Mayr- 
hofer that when the test was made he purposely 
failed in his demonstration. His friend could not 
help him as he had promised, nor could Mr. Oertel 
after this, so it came to nothing. Mayrhofer died 
soon after and with him the secret. Mr. Oertel 
tried many times to produce the result by what he 
knew of the process but never succeeded. 

As many hopes had been cherished and plans 
made on the success of this— which seemed to him 
so certain— the disappointment was great. He 



38 A VISION REALIZED 

wrote his wife : ^ ^ I speculate and toil. Art is almost 
gone from my thoughts ; it is a thing that was— and 
will be— but is not; it exists now in the chrysalis 
state; life is just perceptible by a few twitching 
jerks. In the meantime I endeavor to finish my 
machine. It is a new peg to hang hopes upon ; we 
have had others before this and will have more 
after, but God alone decideth our ways. 

''Is there no finger of God in the fact that all 
my works remain my property while things discon- 
nected with art are thrown into my hands ^ Or do 
I seek them?'' 

In the early days of 1857 Capt. Montgomery 
C. Meigs came from Washington, seeking among 
the artists of New York for one to work upon the 
decorations of the Capitol. Oertel was engaged. 
This seemed to him a great opening, to work thus 
on a national building, and as it offered a regular 
salary he saw the chance of being able to save some- 
thing for the furtherance of his darling plans of 
painting the gi^eat series. 



CHAPTER IV. 

On February 19 he left for Washington to take 
up the work, full of enthusiasm and true patriotic 
feeling for his adopted country. He wrote his wife 
(Feb. 20) ''I have been up to the Capitol. I shall 
inscribe my name on its walls either as a man who 
will live— or as a nonentity that does not deserve 
to live." 

The first work assigned him was the decoration 
of the Senate library. This evidently was decided 
at once, for in a letter to his wife (Feb. 21) he says : 
^^I have to make four allegorical designs for the 
ceiling of the Senate library, each 11 by 6 feet. 
These are for frescos. Mr. Brumidi has made 
a sketch for them, together with the ornaments, 
but I am not to mind his, but follow my own 
ideas." 

He made his design and at once began prepara- 
tory work. He intended to place allegorical figures 
on each of the four fields of the ceiling represent- 
ing Poesy, History, Law, and Commerce, and to 
group under them on the respective side walls the 
greatest American poets, historians, lawyers and 
merchants. 

He had worked some weeks on these prepara- 
tions when Captain Meigs came to him and asked 
as a special favor that he would put off his work in 



40 A VISION REALIZED 

the building and draw for him the designs of the 
State arms for the use of the glass stainers who 
were to make the ceiling of the Representatives' 
Hall. He showed him how important it was that 
they should be put in the hands of an artist of 
varied knowledge, as they contain figures, animals, 
plants, and a variety of emblems, and that all the 
existing authorities were stiff and badly drawn, and 
would have to be entirely remodeled. Much against 
his will he consented to undertake this task to oblige 
Captain Meigs. Nearly a year was spent in the 
producing of about 50 water color paintings each 
in a 20-inch circle, having to repeat some of them 
because he was furnished with incorrect designs for 
copy. He then turned with a sense of relief to the 
consideration of the frescos. He went up to the 
Capitol for material, and in talking with Mr. Kar- 
sten, the superintendent, he was asked what room 
he was going to paint. He replied, ''The Senate 
library." ''But,'' said Mr. Karsten, "Brumidi is 
painting that." It seemed impossible; he went up 
there at once and found it about half done. 

He turned to Captain Meigs for explanation. 
That gentleman professed to be surprised, himself, 
"regretted it had occurred, etc.," and wished Mr. 
Oertel would make another selection. This he did, 
choosing a suite of conmaittee rooms, and so notified 
Captain Meigs, when he was informed it was not 
proposed to decorate these rooms expensively, he 
must choose again. He then went over the plans 
with Mr. Karsten and found that every part of the 
building of importance was already in the hands of 
Mr. Brumidi, he having made designs which had 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 41 

been accepted by Captain Meigs, been photo- 
graphed, and passed into commissions. 

He at once sent to the captain the following 
indignant letter of protest and resignation : 

"Washington, D. C, April 27, 1858. 
"Captain M. C. Meigs. 

"Dear Sir: I have endeavored three different times since 
Saturday to see you, and not succeeding I take this method of 
communicating with you. 

"In consequence of your last letter of April 23, instant, 
annulling my choice of room No. 65 and wishing me to make 
another selection, I went at once to the Capitol to do so. The 
proposition to 'paint one half of the library, leaving the other 
half to Mr. Brumidi' I rejected once before verbally, as you will 
recollect. I could not now accept it. 

"On carefully reviewing, with Mr. Karsten, the plans of all 
the rooms in both the extension wings I learned that there is 
in either of them scarcely a single room of importance left, which 
is not at present occupied as anticipated by Mr. Brumidi with 
a sketch or design for decoration and paintings. 

"When last year I responded to your call I did so as an 
independent artist subject to no one but your own commissions. 

"My position was then carefully defined. Agreeable to your 
wishes I submitted to the irksome, laborious work of revising 
and redrawing all the various State arms without ever entering 
a complaint, trusting the time would arrive when, according to 
your promise, I would succeed to a fair, impartial chance as a 
self-producing artist. The Senate library was to be my field and 
for this I labored hopefully, making studious preparations. 

"When ready to begin upon the wall I was unceremoniously 
despoiled of my right and commission by Mr. Brumidi. For this 
wrong I have obtained no other satisfaction than a letter to Mr. 
Brumidi could afford me, informing him that I regard his pro- 
ceeding as an 'unjust interference with my rights.' 

"But I had looked for an adjustment of my claims to your- 
self, and could not honorably accede to a compromise — nor can 



I ever. 



42 A VISION REALIZED 

"Nor could I, after what passed, accept with self-respect any 
work by concession of Mr. Bnimidi; the same insult, once prac- 
ticed on me, would be liable to repetition. My feelings of pro- 
fessional independence will not brook any other than a position 
of republican level with any other artist. 

"I could honorably descend to inferior work but not to an 
inferior position. 

"But there is also another and stronger motive actuating my 
present course, from the fact of Mr. Brumidi having already 
initiated to himself, for decoration by ornamentation and fres- 
cos, nearly every available room in both wings at the Capitol 
extension. This truth was not revealed to me but on compulsory 
search for those rooms for which nothing had been designed, and 
except for this circumstance I might have remained ignorant 
yet for a time. 

"It would ill become me, as an American citizen, with the 
knowledge of these irregular facts, still to persist in writing my 
solitary name upon the walls of the nation's first and best 
building and to remain unimpressed by the entire absence of 
sympathetic national art atmosphere within its spacious halls, 
looking in vain around me for congenial society. 

"Merely personal injuries I might have passed over and for- 
given — to trespass my self upon national ground, I dare not. 

"I therefore beg of you, respectfully, to accept herewith my 
resignation and to kindly notify me of your acceptance. 

"Eespectfully, "Johannes A. Oertel." 

This letter was thrown into print by a friend of 
Mr. Oertel, though without his knowledge— a gen- 
tleman high in position in Washington— and widely 
copied, as at that time public sentiment was much 
aroused in regard to alleged abuses in the manage- 
ment of the Capitol building. 

A copy of one of the newspaper articles follows. 
This is in Mrs. Oertel's scrap book, and there is 
nothing to indicate the paper from which it was 
taken. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 43 
^^Art at the Capitol.'' 

^^It is now upwards of two years since I first 
began, in my idle way, to call attention to the art 
outrages committed by the Autocrat 4n charge of 
the Capitol Extension.' A very honest gentleman, 
he may have been competent to superintend the lay- 
ing of stones and the mixing of mortar as the 
worthy and accomplished architect might have 
directed. But so inflated was he with his 'brief 
authority' that he assumed the dictation of every- 
thing, and even of the art decorations, which 
remain a monument to his bad taste. 

''It has been whispered that in this department 
a man named Brumidi (a dauber of speckled men 
and red horses in true oyster-saloon style) has 
assumed supreme control, receiving $10 a day for 
his services. Full proof of this is found in the fol- 
lowing letter, written by a gentleman with whom I 
am only acquainted by reputation ; but that reputa- 
tion is high and honorable." 

Here follows Mr. Oertel's letter to Captain 
Meigs. 

"An Appeal to Congressmen." 

"Will not each member of Congress give the 
above letter a careful perusal? It needs no com- 
ment. Venal editors who wish to have relatives 
kept in Meig's employ may call it the work of a 
disappointed artist, but it shows that it is not; and 
if it is, why, that does not alter the case. I don't 
care a snap for Mr. Oertel ; but I do protest, as 
every citizen has a right to protest, against having 



44 A VISION REALIZED 

the entire Capitol disfigured, at immense cost, by 
ignorant and incompetent men whose bad taste 
flashes out too outrageously to be mistaken. 

^^The Eemedy." 

^^ Don't vote a dollar of appropriation, Messrs. 
Congressmen, until the entire decoration is taken 
away from Meigs, Brumidi & Co., and placed in the 
hands of competent persons ! I have no suggestions 
to make as to whom these persons shall be. Let the 
President appoint them; let Congress designate 
them in the bill ; but let the National Capitol not 
resemble a Neapolitan icecream saloon, a French 
coffee house, or an English gin palace." 

Similar articles appeared in various papers, 
quite an excitement was raised over the subject, 
a convention of American artists was called at 
Washington, and an attempt was made to remedy 
the conditions so plainly at variance with the spirit 
of American art and art lovers throughout the 
United States. 

This convention met in Washington, March 20, 
1858, and having resolved itself into a ^^ National 
Art Association" elected the following officers: 

Rembrandt Peale, Esq., of Philadelphia, President. 

J. R. Lambdin, First Vice President. 

H. K. Browne, of New York, Second Vice President. 

John Cranch, of Washington, Third Vice President. 

H. D. Washington, Secretary. 

J. M. Stanley, Treasurer. 



Executive Committee. — Dr. Horatio Stone, J. A. 
Oertel, H. F. Darbey. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 45 

The object was stated as ^^for the purpose of 
consolidating the members into an efficient body 
and organizing means to promote the interests of 
art before the American Congress, and to secure to 
native artists the illustration of our national his- 
tory in the public buildings of the Government." 

A committee was appointed to draft a memorial 
to Congress embodying the subjects and purposes 
of the artists of the country. The committee pre- 
sented a draft of a memorial and the association 
adopted it. 

It was signed by the members of the Associa- 
tion of the National Academy of Design, New 
York; Artists' Friend Society of Philadelphia, 
Philadelphia Academy, and leading artists of 
Boston. 

This ^^ memorial" w^as presented to Congress 
May 19 by Mr. Marshall, of Kentucky. It was later 
acted on and three of the best artists in the country 
were appointed to serve as art commissioners— 
Henry K. Browne, sculptor, of New York ; Henry 
Peters Gray, painter, also of New York; and 
Horatio Stone, sculptor, of Washington. These 
were appointed, but with characteristic foresight 
no appropriation for salary or expenses was made. 

These gentlemen were very willing to make 
some sacrifice for the good of the country, but could 
not give all the time it would require without some 
compensation; so the movement died a natural 
death and the Italian decorators continued. 

During his stay in Washington Mr. Oertel made 
the acquaintance of Charles Lanman, well known 
as an author of no ordinary literary merit and also 



46 A VISION REALIZED 

as an artist, and they became firm friends, the rela- 
tion continuing through life. 

Though drudging daily at his task of copying 
the State arms, his mind was busy on his own de- 
signs and ideas, as shown by letters to his wife in 
which he exclaims (Aug. 3, 1857) : ^^My mind is 
made up for work, and work I will. Yea, work I 
must^ to labor into existence all I have planned. 
My mind is busy as a bee in my solitude. I should 
only need the country and freedom from irksome 
duties to make me half crazy with ideas." 

He complained bitterly of the *^ distracting 
noises of the city," children with drums, tin trum- 
pets, etc., and the piano played by a young girl in 
the next house. 

One day he writes: *^I have comparative quiet 
if there were not just now a villain of an organ 
grinder about ; not only is the sweet girl gone but 
her piano after her. " It is plain to see how irksome 
was the task on which he was engaged. In one 
letter he breaks out with: '*Pay day again! The 
laborer is now going to get his hire, and so in 
reality it is. I am on a par with the stone cutters 
and tile layers just so long as the State arms last, 
and I verily believe they are without end." 

During this time he determined to turn his at- 
tention to sculpture, though he was unable to carry 
out his plans. Of this he says : ^^ There are some of 
my compositions especially suited for sculpture, 
and they are thoughts it would be a pity to lose ; 
and besides this I am aware of my predilection for 
form, irrespective of colors and of my choosing 
such subjects as in the main appear to as much 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 47 

advantage in pure white and black, as in colors, 
and perhaps to the only advantage." 

He moved his family to Washington in the 
spring of 1857 and rented a house on I Street, No. 
1357 *^near the park (Franklin Square) where one 
may hear the tinkle of cowbells at night." But 
once again he must move. His wife and children 
returned to Madison about the 1st of May, 1858, 
and he to the house of his brother ^^ Fritz" at 
Stapleton, Staten Island, where he fitted up a room 
for a studio. The failure of the Capitol work was 
a great disappointment, yet he did not regret his 
action in the matter. He writes (May 13, 1858) : 
**Mr. Ensing Miiller was amazed at my appear- 
ance. That was natural; but my motives are 
acknowledged everywhere. This sympathy of all 
is a consolation and an encouragement. God 
alone knows what the whole occurrence is good 
for." 

For the next two years, most of the time at 
Brooklyn, he painted principally cattle, sheep, and 
horses, in which branch of art he attained consider- 
able reputation. 

In a criticism upon a collection exhibited by 
Snedicor at the National Academy of Design in 
1859, the New York Evening Post said : 

^^Oertel aims at sentiment as well as life. Less 
attractive in color than some others, his pictures 
more than make up this deficiency in accuracy of 
drawing and composition. As faithful transcripts 
of nature his animals leave little to be desired. 
They are also moralists, poets, and philosophers. 
His cattle not only delight in green pastures ; like 



48 A VISION REAUZED 

Landseer's, they have a story to tell. The largest 
piece in the collection is his '^Rich and Poor"; at 
the right is the poor man's cow looking from a 
barren and stony roadside with a subdued forlorn 
longing into the exuberant pasture where the rich 
man's cows are frolicking or resting in their surfeit 
and looking at the hungry outsider with almost 
human haughtiness and disdain in their expression 
over the division wall between. Near by in the 
background is the poor man's cottage and a woman 
bearing a bundle of sticks on her head, while past 
her, enveloping her in dust, gallop a lady and 
gentleman on horseback toward their elegant man- 
sion on the high ground in the distance. 

*^The common story of every day life is here 
told as eloquently as it could be expressed in a 
dozen volumes." 

This period offered but little opportunity for 
the practice of Christian art. Some pictures were 
painted, but none of great importance. 

All these years the yearning in his soul had to 
be satisfied with work done in the late night hours 
by crayon or pencil— ^^ to keep my spirit alive," as 
he wrote once, ^'for if people prefer to make 
stables of their parlors, then in the daytime I 
must perforce paint cattle instead of prophets and 
angels." 

While on Staten Island he attempted to gain 
financial and artistic independence by going into 
dairy farming— that is, he bought cows and had a 
partner to care for them and run the business. 
This partner was a ^* practical man" and, as is 
usual in such cases, ran the farm for his own profit 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 49 

alone, and the artist was finally compelled to with- 
draw and leave him the business. 

He worked very hard to establish this. ^^ Cat- 
tle," he writes, ^'all is cattle— horned and un- 
horned ; cattle to make cattle, dead ones converted 
into live ones. I shall be celebrated yet for my 
cattle, whether for dead or live ones is the ques- 
tion.'' In December, 1860, he made a drawing 
called **The Circling Year," a flying group of four 
boyish figures. The following description of this 
picture was written by Mrs. Oertel : 

"In rapid^ ever circling round, this joyous brotherhood. 
O'er the fair face of Earth dispense their varied gifts. 
First Cometh Spring — so soft and dewey-eyed. 
With sweet reposeful features, and a smile 
Benignant and serene. Enwreathed in flowers. 
His sway is one of love and gladness, even his tears 
With sunbeams bright are mingled. 
Then full, ripe, rosy Summer, severs with sickle keen 
The bending grain, and round his sun-bronzed brow 
Entwines the golden treasures. 

Drunk with the purple juice of the rich luscious grape, 
Bedecked with tendrils of the vine, luxurious Autumn 
Joins the merry band — and danceth on 
With joyful shout and roystering, gleeful laugh. 
But louder still, hale, hearty, fur-clad Winter 
Glides on his way o'er the black glittering ice fields 
Upon his steel-shod heel. In wild tempestuous mirth 
He passeth by, and gentle Spring again 
Flower crowned, resumes his mild and peaceful reign." 



CHAPTER V. 

In April, 1861, seeking relief from the many 
annoyances of city life, and to find a home where 
expenses were not so great, he removed to Westerly, 
E. I. Here he built a studio and settled down to 
earnest and serious work, hoping soon to be able to 
take up his religious designs. In this studio some 
of his most important paintings were produced. 

His first picture there was ^^ Father Time and 
his Family." This was a flying group. In the 
center Father Time, the conventional old man with 
wings, scythe, and hourglass, with a lovely female 
figure representing the Year, were surrounded by 
the months as children, each bearing typical ob- 
jects, fruits, etc. The Year held a cornucopia from 
which she poured out a variety of things upon the 
earth. An explanation of this painting from his 
own pen follows : 

*' Father Time and His Family." 

*' Symbolical and typical expression is the most 
primitive and the most suggestive. It is the 
expression of poetry and of poetic art. By simple 
emblems a great number of thoughts are often com- 
prehended and various and manifold relations 
suggested. In the desire to describe forcibly and 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 51 

compactly the mind, as by instinct, seizes upon 
resemblances or illustrates by analogy. In this 
manner many of the deepest truths and broadest 
facts are associated in the popular mind with 
simple signs and phrases. Time and the Seasons 
are thus suggested. 

''Prom early antiquity the old, winged man with 
hourglass and scythe has told of rapid flight, of 
power and death— and every child understands the 
symbol. The Seasons have often been sung and 
often painted in various manner. Their constantly 
recurring changes make everybody familiar with 
their characteristics, and hence with their symbols 
when represented by art. They are connected with 
our lives, our joys, and our griefs. Childhood's 
outdoor sports have endeared their varied phases 
to our hearts, and the thickening experience of 
advancing age deepens that love. We are the 
recipients of the blessings they abundantly supply, 
of the rich beauties they scatter with a most lavish 
prodigality; of the joys and sorrows they bear 
along; and of the buoyant hope their very fleetness 
and certainty of return inspires. They mark our 
existence and its duration upon earth; and when 
we are reaped by that solemn mower, 'Time,' we 
still hope that some significant flower may peace- 
fully bloom over our heads, and our silent graves 
be gently enfolded in the wintry vesture as an 
emblem of rest after labor. 

"In order to represent on the same surface the 
changing aspects and gifts of Time, as experienced 
and enjoyed by man, it becomes necessary to make 
use of poetic license. For this the subdivisions of 



52 A VISION REALIZED 

time by years and months furnish a universally 
understood basis, regarding, for the picture, the 
Year as the spouse of old Father Time, and the 
twelve months as their offspring, thus constituting, 
as it were, a family, and developing the diversified 
features of time from one central idea. The repre- 
sentation of 'Time' and, to a degree, that of the 
* Seasons or Months,' is traditional. The Year, in 
the form in which she appears in the picture, is an 
invention, as is also the combination of all the 
figures into a family. 

'' Rapidity of flight that can not be stayed, 
resistless vigor and power too strong for created 
beings are the marks of 'Time.' With a most 
earnest, relentless purpose he watches our fast- 
running sands, ready to cut when the last one falls. 
His encircling arm hurries on the fair, fruitful 
Year, draped in white and girt with the red of joy 
and life; and as death envelops and follows life, 
so she is shrouded in a black mantle of mourning 
and sorrow, the scythe of Time coming in where 
the white and black join, ready to sever the golden 
cord. Emblems of human experience, from out of 
the golden urn of fate, are dropped by the Year 
as she passes over the Earth— the jeweled sword 
of war and power ; the palm of victory ; the olive 
of peace ; pearls and coins of wealth ; the cross of 
faith ; the red rose, life, followed by the white rose, 
death; the sharp thorn of affliction; and, last, the 
ivy of hope. These she empties amidst her chil- 
dren, the months, who carry the attributes of their 
respective characters, mostly relating to the fruits 
borne by each in reward to man's toil; and in this 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 53 

manner, also, in turn, humanizing the interest of 
the picture. 

^*The blusterer March initiates this idea by 
holding the spade and shepherd's horn ; him follows 
the husbandman, April, sowing his seed. Joyous 
and gentle May, the month of poets, is bending over 
these two, tossing from his lap the spontaneous 
growth of delicate spring flowers. Then there is 
June, the leafy, hay, and rose month; the heated 
July, shadowed under his sheaf ; the ripe, auburn- 
haired August, mellow like his fruit; the baccha- 
nalian September, the connecting link between sum- 
mer and autumn. These, in which life renews and 
activity prevails in nature, are ranged in front as 
belonging to life typified in the Year; and where 
floats the dark mantle of death, those months are 
situated in which decay begins and gradually 
resumes sway. October, in the sere drapery, bears 
with the heavy load of fall fruits also the yellow 
and the bright autumnal leaf. From his abun- 
dance prudent November provides for winter store, 
while in December the temporal blessings of the 
months are crowned by the choicest spiritual bless- 
ing of God to man. His own Son, of which the 
Christmas Tree stands as the type, and from it the 
tricolor floats, acknowledged emblem of liberty, in 
its highest sense most fitly springing from Chris- 
tianity. The ice month, January, and the stormy 
snow month, February, close the group. 

*^The character of allegory is regarded through- 
out the whole picture ; forms, colors, and relations 
being chosen in reference to expressiveness and 
sentiment. Time, with stern power; the Year, 



54 A VISION REALIZED 

with admonishing gentleness dispensing life and 
death, joy and sorrow; the months, fraught with 
labor, hopefulness, and blessings, move ever onward 
by divine command, and in this constant round, all 
of man's earthly experience, from the cradle to the 
grave, from the beginning to the end of the world, 
is compressed, nor will fail to be so, according to 
the promise : ^ While the earth remaineth, seed time 
and harvest, and cold and heat, and smnmer and 
winter, and day and night, shall not cease.'— Gen. 
8:22.'' 

This picture was exhibited in New York at the 
gallery of Goupel & Co. and found a place in the 
collection of the late Marshall O. Roberts. It was 
the first to give Mr. Oertel a substantial footing 
there as a painter. 

Early in 1862 he had a fall from a step ladder, 
breaking three ribs and his right wrist, which for 
a time stopped all work, but in a few weeks he was 
again in harness. 

^^The Final Harvest" followed in 1862. 

This was a flying group of three angels in a 
6-foot circle, founded on the text *^The harvest 
is the end of the world, and the reapers are the 
angels." One angel carries a sheaf of wheat, one 
lifts high a golden vessel filled with grapes, and 
the third with a saddened face and empty hands 
points below, where a lurid fire is burning on the 
sea shore, showing that his task has been the burn- 
ing of the chaff. This picture was largely exhibi- 
ted and enough written about it to make a volume. 
In Boston the papers at last refused to publish 
anything more, as a controversy had arisen in 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 55 

regard to the doctrine involved. One of these 
articles from a Boston paper follows : 

* ' Final Harvest. ' ' 

**What differentiates Westerly from all other 
places at this moment, is the fact that the artist, 
Johannes Oertel, has his studio there. 

" ^If ever thou should'st come by choice or chance 
To Modena, pray thee forget it not. 
Enter the house, and look awhile upon a picture there, 
'Tis of three angels in their glorious youth.' 

^*The subject of the picture is *The Final Har- 
vest.' The Eeapers are the angels. The end of all 
things has come. Time shall be no longer. A 
black waste spreads over what was once the earth. 
There is a suggestion of a ruined city, and a smoke, 
on which are reflected lurid lights from below, 
indicating the fire that goeth not out. But above 
the earth which was and is not, soaring to the 
Heaven which is their home, are the immortal 
reapers. 

^^We have all seen angels in other pictures. 
Over beautiful, hiunan forms, more or less exalted, 
floating in drapery, is painted, wings of quill and 
feather are added, and you have your angel com- 
plete. 

^^But in Mr. Oertel 's picture the robes of right- 
eousness are a part of the angelic essence, and the 
wings are powers mighty and harmonious. 

*^The central flgure bears a sheaf of grain, *He 
shall gather the wheat into His garners.' 



56 A VISION REALIZED 

^*One knows the meaning of the word seraphic 
when one has seen this angel's face. 

^^It wears the rapture of him whom God keeps 
forever in perfect peace. 

*'The coloring of this figure is white, with blue 
which becomes deeper in the wings. 

^'If this angel represents, nay is, Purity and 
Peace, that at the left is Purity and Love. It is 
clothed in robes of flame, and the color deepens 
with intense and burning ardors in the upward- 
soaring wings. Even the feet are not so still as 
those of the first, and the arms are extended to 
their full length. 

**The second angel bears aloft a vessel of 
grapes. 

^'You understand that this is a religious 
picture. The motive is Christian, the execution 
devout. The whole thought is scriptural. 'He 
shall send His angels and they shall gather His 
elect. ' ' They shall be Mine in the day when I make 
up My jewels.' Wheat and grapes. His own choic- 
est gifts to man, such will the Lord require from 
field and vineyard. May there not yet be another 
meaning in the sheaf and clusters borne hence by 
the Angelic Harvesters? These two were often 
used by the Lord as typical of Himself. *I am the 
true vine,' 'I am the bread of life'; and these were 
chosen also as the sacramental emblems of His most 
precious body and blood. But the third angel; 
what is his work to gather? *And the chaff into 
unquenchable fire.' 'In the time of harvest, I will 
say to the reapers, gather ye together first the tares, 
and bind them in bundles to burn them.' This 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 57 

reaper has performed his task. One hand is placed 
on the breast, the other hangs by the side. 

'^I thought there was more strength in the 
beauty of these hands than the others. 

^^ There is a wonderful nobleness in this third 
angel; a profound measureless joy and love in the 
face, and the burnished emerald wings gleam 
bright, no shadow dinmiing them from Hhe smoke 
of their torment, ' in the corner below his hand. 

^^On all the faces is the sign manual of Heaven. 
The hands adore, the feet are holy, the wings seem 
glancing and glowing with awful splendors that 
kindle anew as we gaze. 

^^Had the artist told us that not upon canvas, 
not by the aid of oils and ochres and pigments of 
mundane origin and use he had made this picture, 
but that these angels had suddenly floated out of 
their glowing Heaven and w^ere projected on a 
background of cloud, we must have believed him. 

''The 'Final Harvest' is to be exhibited in New 
York next month, and I wished that it w^as also 
to be shown here— that it was to stay here. 

"I was about to say that its native state ought 
to possess such a marvel of beauty, but Ehode 
Island is not its native state. We may say that it 
was painted here, but to none of the original 
thirteen does its nativity belong. 

*'Its birthplace was above the stars. Never, 
surely, since that Sabbath when it began to dawn 
toward the first day of the week, has there been on 
this earth such 'a vision of angels.' 

''I say nothing, I know nothing, of the technical 
execution of this painting. Art critics, who know 



58 A VISION REALIZED 

the words and how to use them, may do that here- 
after, if they can. I have only aimed to express my 
own feeling of the matchless beauty of what I saw, 
to speak of the divine idea so nobly interpreted. 

*' There was no stammering in that utterance in 
the studio of Westerly, believe me, poor as is the 
speech of your correspondent in attempting to 
convey an impression of it." 

(Signed) S.S.J. 

This picture would have sold readily but for its 
size and circular shape of frame. One gentleman 
said he would take it, but found that he had no 
space in his house large enough to hang it, and so 
cancelled the contract. During the many moves 
which followed in the ensuing years the frame was 
broken up and the picture so damaged that it was 
eventually destroyed. 

During this period he commenced in crayon the 
preparatory cartoon for the first of the great series. 
It was 5 by 4 feet in size and was studied and 
drawn with the greatest accuracy, but only in out- 
line. 

When ^*The Final Harvest" went to New York 
for exhibition, the drawing of ^^The Dispensations 
of Promise and the Law" was taken down also, to 
be shown to a few friends of whose understanding 
and appreciation the artist was assured. A pub- 
lisher who saw it persuaded him to work it over 
and finish it up to full effect in light and shade, so 
that it could be photographed, being very enthu- 
siastic in his hopes for it in the market. He did so, 
working almost night and day on it to get it done 
in a given time, making serious inroads upon his 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 59 

health, as by the time it was finished he broke down 
completely. He suffered intense pain which nothing 
would relieve but the most violent exercise. He 
would run for miles, returning exhausted, and then 
he could sleep a short time, only to repeat the 
exercise when he awakened or suffer great agony. 
The doctors did not know what was the trouble 
nor could they relieve him in any way. Mrs. Oertel 
grew desperate as time went on and he became 
worse instead of better, and as a last resort she 
took her little boy ^^ Fritz," then nearly 7 years 
old, and without telling Mr. Oertel where she was 
going set out for Newark, N. J., to visit and consult 
a clairvoyant— Dr. Perkins— of whom she had 
heard from friends in her old home. 

When Dr. Perkins was ^^put to sleep" by his 
wife with a lock of Mr. Oertel's hair pressed to his 
forehead he immediately began to act like him when 
in his studio ; he walked up and down, backed off as 
if from a picture, and in response to Mrs. Oertel's 
question ^^who is it. Doctor^" he replied: ^^ It is a 
man— your husband— a great man and a great 
work to do. You think he is going to die ; he is sick 
enough, but he can't die; he has too much work to 
do, too many great works to produce. He canH die 
now ; he must wait until it is all finished." 

Prophetic words, truly. Whatever one may 
think of this kind of manifestation, certain it is 
that his words were true, and certain it is that 
after taking his medicine a few days Mr. Oertel 
was free from pain and working away with his 
usual strength. 

The cartoon was sent to New York and photo- 



60 A VISION REALIZED 

graphed, but never found the recognition that the 
publisher predicted for it. 

After having it handsomely framed— under 
glass— it was placed on exhibition at the National 
Academy. Here it was given a place in a corner 
of the corridor, and the critics said that there was 
^'not a single important work on the walls that 
year'M 

No wonder the heart of the sensitive enthusiast 
sank at this. These works were the children of his 
soul rather than of his intellect ; they were a por- 
tion of his life, and therefore when the world 
treated them slightingly he was wounded deeply, 
not for himself, but because of the Divine subjects 
of which they speak. He was hurt, but not in the 
least shaken in his resolves for the series. He went 
on just as if he had never met the rebuff, seeking 
only to find work that might be remunerative 
enough to prove a steppingstone to gain the height 
of his desires— to be able to go on and paint the 
four grand designs. 

This cartoon was damaged and torn in moving 
it from place to place and he cast it aside as worth- 
less, but after his death it was discovered rolled up 
with some old drawing paper and it was placed in 
the hands of an expert in Washington who mounted 
it on cloth and almost completely restored it. 



CHAPTER VI. 

The war now raged in the South and some of 
Mr. OertePs friends urged him to go to the scene 
of the conflict and make studies, as in their opinion 
when the time of peace came every record of the 
strife would be of interest. In accordance with 
this advice he set out September 21, 1862, spent 
several days in New York buying his outfit, and on 
September 28, he went to Washington, leaving 
there for the front October 3, when he joined the 
Sixth New York Cavalry, then under General 
Burnside, at Pleasant Valley, Md. 

His letters to his wife show the usual enthu- 
siasm which he displayed in all undertakings where 
he felt he was doing his duty. From New York he 
wrote: '^I expect to get a special letter of intro- 
duction to General B. I do not want to be classed 
among the ' Special artists. ' I expect to serve my 
coimtry as but few can, and men like General B. 
ought to assist me. 

*'I am leaving for Washington; once more I 
shall see that city on a strange enterprise. Before 
I paused there ; now my field lies beyond. The feel- 
ing of being cast adrift upon an untried sea is mine. 

^^I have put my new painting box in order and 
this took me some time, as I find tinkering neces- 
sary after every mechanic. 



62 A VISION REALIZED 

^^I bought a pair of cavalry boots and a rubber 
blanket; likewise a soldier cap in wbich I look 
^a la militaire' to the amusement of my friends, who 
never saw me but with exuberance of wild hair 
and an easy felt hat in a backward inclination 
planted on top. 

^^The little defenseless group of a mother and 
two children on the platform of the depot in West- 
erly at night is ever before my sight. May God 
bless and preserve you, and permit us to meet again 
in the safety and happiness of home and quiet. 

^^I go from all I value to obey a strange call. 
May the almighty arm of the good God never depart 
from shielding and guiding me." 

He soon fell into the ways of soldier life, going 
on reconnaissance along the front with General 
Burnside's bodyguard and doing picket duty, and 
says ^^This is an exciting life full of wild interest 
—I rather like it." 

^^I have material for fine subjects and have 
made studies for 'An Army Train,' he writes from 
Warrenton, Va., November 11, 1862. 

''It seems at first a subject of little importance, 
but to those who know it it is a subject illustrating 
much of a soldier's life and the life of a large army. 
Indeed one of those countless, endless trains is cal- 
culated to show more forcibly the magnitude and 
ponderousness of a great army than the scattered 
camps over a stretch of many miles and invisible 
one from another. Nor is it the wagons only that 
move in the train ; the army that has marched ahead 
leaves its many representatives. There is the 
straggler from the ranks who throws his musket 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 63 

and knapsack upon some team and saunters along 
leisurely, and more, there is the poor, weary, sick 
man, who is willing but can stagger no further, 
and, like the overworked horse or mule he is almost 
forgotten and left by the wayside. Forsaken, 
smouldering campfires all along tell where a rest 
has been made, lame horses tied to the backs of 
wagons are dragged along. Stony roads, with ruts 
and steep, rough hills impose dreaded difficulties 
on man and beast ; and many more and sometimes 
thrilling incidents conform with the variety of 
anmiunition and company wagon, the hay wagon, 
the ambulance, the caisson, and quartermaster, sur- 
geons, etc. This is an army train. On the moun- 
tains of Virginia the eye can sometimes trace it for 
miles, winding, disappearing, and appearing again, 
still further and further off, till the white wagon 
tops seem like sheep in single file on the distant 
hiUs. 

^^I shall make a large picture of it, and am now 
at work on the material. 

^^ To-day I saw General McClellan depart from 
his army for home. General Burnside accom- 
panied him to the depot. I followed an impulse 
and went into the car to bid him good-bye. It 
needed but a mention of my name. 

**I begged leave to shake hands with him as I 
might never have another opportunity. He was 
sad and seemed to struggle with his feelings, and 
after the train had got in motion he raised the car 
window and gave one more long look upon the 
crowd of officers behind, then shut it down again. 

*' Burnside also was unusually quiet, and for 



64 A VISION REALIZED 

once Ms fine teeth were not so prominent when he 
spoke— I was going to say smiled, but he did not 
smile, not to-day—^ Some political deviltry has been 
intriguing again.' 

^^The army has made a tremendous demonstra- 
tion at his leave-taking and feel bereaved of a 
friend and father. The event has saddened me 
also, though I never before spoke to the man, but I 
believe in him. May his removal at this juncture, 
when the whole army is in motion against the foe, 
work no great mischief to the country!" 

This was the time of which has been said that it 
would only have needed a word from General Mc- 
Clellan for him to have returned to Washington at 
the head of his army as Dictator. 

The month of November was spent in camps 
at Liberty, Morrisville, and Eichards Ford, on 
the Rappahannock, where he was ^^busy making 
sketches in oil, a pile of which is constantly increas- 
ing," and he adds, ^^If a battle does not result in or 
around Fredericksburg I am mistaken. 

^^We are but 2 miles this side of Falmouth 
(Nov. 28), and the army is enlarging constantly— 
all now is life, expectation, and constant drill. The 
army lies close together, as it would before a great 
battle is fought, and the land literally swarms with 
an armed host. Nothing meets the eye than the 
sight of martial life, and martial sounds the ear. 
The plains and the woods, the hills and the valleys, 
are vast camps, and parks of wagons and dark 
columns of men moving hither and thither; and 
supply trains going and coming; and new armies 
moving thickly in, to fill what vacant place is left. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 65 

It is a grand spectacle. They cover indeed 'the 
face of the earth. ' 

^*It can never be rendered in a picture, only a 
hint conveyed, and this I propose to do in the com- 
position I have sketched. 

*^I am becoming more and more enlightened 
about the way of painting 'The Army Train' every 
day as I move among this new and tragic life all 
around me and see the men and objects which 
are to compose part of it, and I believe the 
picture will not be a failure. I can be literal, 
when needed, and literal I will be, even to the 
very rags, and dust, and dirt. The people shall see 
their soldier as he is and the people will not be un- 
merciful of the truth. 

''You know my maxim is to strike few, but hard 
blows. Little pictures fret a man 's energies ; I have 
tried that. Few men can paint comprehensively, 
but many will be the penny productions cooked up 
from photographs and fancy which will flood the 
market after this war. I shall not belong to the 
latter class ; I will endeavor to tell my story by one 
or two works of importance, and the one in con- 
templation will have as great variety of feature 
crowded into it as anything I have yet made." 

So he continued to prepare for the work which 
he believed it his duty to execute even though it 
was not to his liking. He made about 80 studies 
and, the last of December, left camp and returned 
north to his home in Westerly, intending to go on 
at once painting ' ' The Army Train " or " The Army 
in Motion" as he decided to call it. 

This plan he never carried out, partly because 



66 A VISION REALIZED 

the public seemed rather to prefer to bury the 
remembrance of these events in oblivion than to 
have them perpetuated on canvas, but more because 
he realized that there was so little in it all to fill his 
own mind that he feared he would not be able to 
keep his interest alive long enough to finish it 
successfully. 

Under date of June 2, 1863, Mrs. Oertel wrote a 
friend: ^^I do not believe that my husband will 
ever paint the first stroke on that army picture 
after all. He is evidently very much disinclined to 
the work ; besides he feels that his years are fleeing 
away and if he is ever to work in his Master's 
cause it is time he was about it." 

He painted, however, six war scenes of consider- 
able size, most of them treated as animal pictures. 
Two of them were bought by Sir Morton Peto, the 
great English financier, and taken by him, with 
Bierstadt's ^^Eocky Mountains,'' to England. One, 
*^The Virginia Turnpike," showed a six-mule team 
and army wagon laboring up a hill in the awful 
mud which signalized General Burnside's winter 
before Petersburg as ' ' the mud campaign. ' ' It was 
bought by a company of gentlemen and presented 
to Ex-Governor Fenton, of New York. 

He also painted ^^The Gallop of Three" and 
*^The Raid" for Mr. J. E. Paine, of New York. 

**The Raid" was sent to the Brooklyn Art Asso- 
ciation's Exhibition (Dec. 22-26, 1865), by Mr. 
Paine, about which he wrote the artist: ^*The 
^hanging committee' gave it the central position on 
the long or unbroken wall, and what I should con- 
sider the ^ place of honor,' certainly the most prom- 






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THE ROCK OF AGES 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 67 

inent and the one of all others that I should have 
chosen for it. 

^^I have no hesitation in saying that it had a 
hundred times more attention bestowed on it than 
any other picture, and gave more pleasure, not only 
to the pleasure seekers merely, but to the thought- 
ful and intelligent. 

**The picture was considered one of extraor- 
dinary power and very great merit.'' 

On the death of Mr. Paine this picture passed 
into the hands of his son-in-law, Mr. J. A. Edwards, 
of Chicago, 111. 

''The Walk to Emmaus," ''Easter Morning," 
"Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre," and other 
religious works were painted, all remaining in 
Ehode Island and never being exhibited. Then 
came the work about which so much has been writ- 
ten and which has been reproduced and is to be 
found all over the world where art has penetrated 
at all, in the palaces of the rich and cultivated, in 
the homes of the poor, ignorant and lowly, some- 
times changed, it is true, in some of its details, but 
always bearing the same name, carrying the same 
message, and teaching the same lesson of Faith (as 
it was at first called) and trust in the cross of 
Christ-" The Rock of Ages." 

As has been said, the artist's name has not fol- 
lowed this work. Had it done so, no name of 
modern times would be better known. From first 
to last a strange fatality seemed to hover over it 
and to prevent the reaping of any benefit by the 
artist either in a financial way or as to reputation. 
It has been copied in every possible way, produced 



68 A VISION REALIZED 

in every process, given away as premiiim on the 
purchase of soap or of a cheap magazine. It has 
been used by churches to illustrate their pamphlets 
and circulars, stamped on medals, and sold as a 
*^ picture postal'' for a penny, yet rarely, if ever, in 
all these various publications has the name of the 
artist been mentioned. It has been described as 
**the greatest religious picture," "the most popular 
American painting," etc., but through all this is 
never seen the statement *^ painted by Oertel," and 
though the copies sold by his publisher bore his 
name, yet few there are of all the millions who 
know and love it can tell whence it came. 

Can this be said of any work as popular and of 
such widespread distribution— if indeed such a 
work exists? 

It has been made the subject of scores of news- 
paper articles, and its story varied in as many 
ways. No doubt the writers received their regular 
pay per line for all this, but never, so far as is 
known, did it result in the slightest benefit to the 
artist. 

The whole story of this work had best be told 
here, though it extends over a number of years. 

The title, as entered in his record book (June 
10, 1867) is ^' Saved, or an Emblematic Representa- 
tion of Christian Faith." 

Later he called it ^* Faith"; then the name of 
*^the Rock of Ages" was adopted as being the more 
popular title. 

The first sketch of the subject was made in the 
album of a Westerly lady, in pencil. Next a small 
painting, and then a painting 12 by 18 inches, which 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 69 

was presented to Mrs. Rowse Babcock, of Westerly, 
after which came a larger painting 26 by 49 inches. 

This was sold the second day of exhibition, at 
Shaus's, in New York, to Mr. Augustus Storrs, of 
Brooklyn. 

Mr. Oertel did not realize the importance of this 
design, but when it came before the public the 
popular heart was touched as it has not been by 
any other modern picture, and he soon had offers 
to purchase the copyright and to publish. George 
T. James, of New York, was selected as the pub- 
lisher and copies both in photograph and chromo 
were made and sold rapidly. 

When it was decided to publish the picture Mr. 
Storrs was requested to loan his copy for the pur- 
pose of making the necessary photographs, but this 
he refused to do, so Mr. Oertel painted another for 
the purpose. 

This was 36 by 61 inches. Some years later it 
was sold to Mr. William Fogg, of New York. After 
his death his collection of paintings was sold at 
auction, and it is understood that this copy at that 
time was purchased for the Museum of Art, Cin- 
cinnati, Ohio. 

Two editions of the chromo, made in France, 
sold in London before one copy was brought to this 
country. The explanation of this is easily seen 
when it is known that Mr. James claimed all the 
receipts from foreign sales and paid royalty only 
on what was disposed of in the United States. 

For some time they could not be printed fast 
enough to supply the demand. 

For once it seemed he had achieved a financial 



70 A VISION REALIZED 

success. But, alas, the popularity was so great that 
it aroused the greed of the dealers in such wares. 
They took the trouble to look closely into the mat- 
ter of the copyright and discovered a ^^flaw." 

Mr. Oertel had always considered himself a New 
York artist, although living in Rhode Island, and 
all his art business was done in New York. So in 
New York he took out the copyright. The law, of 
which he was ignorant, said that it must be taken 
out in the State in which the artist resided, or in 
the general office in Washington, D. C. 

So the picture pirates commenced publishing 
for themselves various forms of cheap imitations. 
Oertel's publisher got out injunctions against them 
and three expensive law suits ensued in defense of 
the copyright which the artist had to wage single 
handed, as Mr. James insisted that under the 
terms of the contract he had no responsibility in 
the matter. The artist paid the expenses from his 
royalty of one-fourth while the publisher looked on 
complacently, pocketing the while his three-fourths 
in safety. 

The first two suits, in New York City were 
decided in favor of the artist. Judge Cardoza 
holding that, the technical flaw in the copyright 
notwithstanding, the artist had a right to the income 
from the work of his own brains and hand— a just 
decision indeed. In fhe third trial, however, which 
was held in Chicago, the decision was against him, 
the copyright was broken, and from that time on 
the **Rock of Ages" was the property of anyone 
who chose to use it. 

It would seem that David Thoreau was far from 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 71 

wrong when he said, ^^I have learned that trade 
curses everything it handles ; and though you trade 
in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade 
attaches to the business." Even this *^ message 
from heaven" could not be made an object of trade 
without being subjected to the curse, and it is no 
wonder that a man with the principles and aims of 
Oertel preferred rather to give away his religious 
pictures than to have them brought under its bane- 
ful influences and be tainted, as he said, by the 
spirit of the money changers whom Christ scourged 
from the Temple. 

In 1895, July 10, another copy was made, 24 by 
40 inches, ^^for my son Eugene, to be reproduced 
in the ** photochrome process." This copy is still 
(1915) the property of his son. Dr. T. E. Oertel, of 
Augusta, Ga. Several small copies were made at 
various times as presents to his friends. 

It was painted again in 1898 (August), this time 
life size, 7 feet 8 inches by 12 feet ^^for purpose of 
exhibition and possible publication." 

The exhibition referred to was arranged for by 
H. Jay Smith, whose business was to exhibit for 
various artists, and who came with good indorse- 
ment. Several paintings were placed in his hands, 
of which mention will be made later, and these were 
exhibited in Boston, Mass., that fall. 

After the exhibition closed all the pictures were 
returned except the large *^Eock of Ages" and an 
animal piece which Smith said he wished to buy. 
The ^^Eock of Ages" he expected to exhibit in 
Chicago, whence he wrote saying he had arrived 
and would *^soon send payment for the ponies.^ ^ 



72 A VISION REALIZED 

Once more Chicago was fatal, as neither Smith 
nor the paintings were ever heard from again. 
Every effort to learn of his whereabouts proved 
abortive, nor has the slightest trace ever been dis- 
covered of the big canvas. 

Such is the history of this famous design. Even 
though the name of the artist be unknown, yet will 
it continue to live throughout the ages, ever telling 
its story to the world ; and though obscure in life 
yet in this will he live while the world endures. 

As he himself wrote, *^I wish to preach even 
more than instruct; and if this photograph goes 
out by the thousands, I shall have delivered so 
many earnest sermons and continue to deliver them 
even when my stanamering tongue is silent in the 
grave.'' 

In October, 1867, he began a series of eight 
designs illustrating the poem of William CuUen 
Bryant, ^^ Waiting by the Gate," and at that time 
the first, *'The Gate,'' was made. 

A plan was now evolved by which it was hoped 
to introduce copies of ^'The Dispensations of 
Promise and the Law" throughout the country. 
It was thought that clergymen, especially those of 
the Episcopal Church, would take an interest in 
this work if it could be brought to their notice, and 
the artist's wife undertook the thankless task of 
attempting to see and interest them. Armed with 
letters of introduction from her pastor in Westerly 
and others she visited New York and several east- 
ern cities, but succeeded in awakening no interest— 
finding least where most was expected. 

In this effort weeks were spent going from city 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 73 

to city and tramping from door to door carrying a 
heavy portfolio of specimens. Rebuff, refusal, and 
even insult was met— little encouragement— but she 
kept bravely on until satisfied that nothing could 
be accomplished in this way, and returned home. 

The success of ^^Faith" ('^Eock of Ages") 
prompted Mr. Oertel to produce also *'Hope" and 
''Charity," but they were never popular and had 
little sale. 

The first was a female figure standing by the 
side of a rock on a bluff overlooking the sea and 
gazing out over the expanse of water— where was 
seen a ship standing in toward the land. 

The second was the same scene as the ''Faith," 
only the figure clinging to the cross held on with 
one hand only while with the other she helped a 
sister to climb up on the rock. 

In a circular issued by Mr. James they were 
thus described : 

Christian Hope, 
"patient in suffering, joyful in hope." 

This is not the ancient allegorical maiden who 
has been leaning from time immemorial on an 
anchor, but a transcript of a human soul, the senti- 
ment and expression of which is truly told in the 
passage of scripture here quoted. Hope bears upon 
a rock (typifying Christ), to which clings the ever- 
green Ivy. 

While the shadows of a parting tempest are 
fleeting across the lower part of her figure her face 
looks up into the bright clear blue above, dressed 
in the white robe of imputed righteousness, bearing 



74 A VISION REALIZED 

the red mantle of Joy clasped with a golden 
anchor. 

Upon her bosom, suspended below this emblem 
of Hope, is a Jet Cross— the Cross not of Faith 
only but also of self-denial and suffering. 

The sky and ocean are symbolical of the storms 
of life, and upon the shore are strewn wrecks of 
earthly things. 

Christian Charity, 

the companion picture to the ^^rock of ages." 

Taking the same scene of a storm-beaten Cross 
in the midst of a raging sea ; a female clinging, but 
with a more assured grasp, shows her grateful 
appreciation by assisting a sister straggler, almost 
gone, who has just secured a feeble hold. A most 
beautiful exposition of that highest of charities— 
true Christian charity which cares for perishing 
souls around her. 



CHAPTER VII. 

Social life was not in any way neglected. 
Though spending most of his time in his studio, he 
made many friends and took an active interest in 
public matters. His music was kept up and he 
played his flute weekly with Dr. Gorham, who also 
played the flute, and Edwin Vose, pianist. He had 
with him at various times several pupils who came 
in as members of his family and as friends. Among 
these should be mentioned Miss Cornelia A. Conant 
and Miss Mary Gove, of New York, and Edward L. 
Hyde, of Mystic, Conn., afterward Eev. E. L. Hyde, 
of Boston, Mass. No more appreciative pupil or 
true and stanch friend ever blessed the ^^ Master's" 
life than *^ Edward." Through all the years of life 
they were close friends and regular correspondents. 
The ^^ Master" wrote to him as he did to no other, 
and from him always received sjonpathy and 
appreciation. When there came to the notice of 
^^ Edward" any idea or scheme by which it seemed 
possible the ^^ Master" might benefit, he never 
failed to bring it forward and ever remained the 
same true friend and brother. 

In 1902 the ^^ Master" writes him thus: 
* * My Dear Friend of Many Years Ago : Indeed 
how long it has been since we lived and worked 
together in the Westerly studio ! And how many 



76 A VISION REALIZED 

and varied have been the experiences of each of us ! 
In truth, I sometimes, thinking back and trying to 
locate facts, have to unravel them like knotted 
thread to get at the proper sequence. But the 
essence, the vital parts, and the prominent person- 
alities always stand out distinct in memory; and 
surely your name could never be effaced or remem- 
bered with diminished affection and interest." 

The last letter the '^Master" wrote was penned 
with trembling hand to this, his dearest friend, 
whose interest and love had never flagged. All the 
letters ever written to this friend by either the 
^^ Master" or his wife were preserved, and when he 
was informed that the compiling of a biography of 
Mr. Oertel was contemplated he gave them all to 
the latter 's sons to be used in furthering the pur- 
pose. Many passages from these are quoted, and it 
is a matter of regret that some can not be given 
entire. 

During the stay in Westerly Mr. Oertel formed 
a friendship with the Rev. John C. Middleton, who 
was then rector of the Episcopal Church in Mystic, 
Conn. Here also was one with whom he was in 
close sympathy and he was closely associated with 
him in later years when rector of St. Paul's parish, 
Glen Cove, L. I. 

Though not a large man, weighing not over 
165 lbs., Mr. Oertel was very powerful and very 
proud of his strength and willing at any time to 
exhibit it. On one occasion, at a gathering of 
friends when he was alluded to as *^a small man" 
he walked to the center of the room, placed his 
hands on the floor, and invited two of the largest 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 77 

men present to stand on them. Those who came 
forward weighed 220 and 236 pounds, respectively. 
When they had each placed a foot on one of his 
hands he rose with them, carried them across the 
room, and gave them a toss upward as he let them 
fall to the floor. He was a very rapid walker and 
never seemed to tire ; his stride was like that of a 
thoroughbred horse, and this he maintained mile 
after mile with machine-like regularity. He would 
not ^^keep step'' with a companion, nor moderate 
his speed; they must step with him and keep up 
with him or be left behind. Sometimes he walked 
over to Mystic, 6 miles distant, to see his friend 
Middleton, allowing himself one hour each way and 
always coming in on time. 

Of his home life there is little to relate. His 
studio was his home, and his work hours there from 
12 to 24, according to the exigencies of the case. 
He always had a couch or lounge in his room where 
he rested and slept either day or night when 
exhausted nature demanded. He came into the 
house to retire at any hour, from 10 o'clock p. m. 
to daylight— or not at all, as was often the case 
when engaged on important work. 

The first call to meals was seldom heeded. When 
the bell had been rung for him the family took their 
places at table and waited. If he did not come in 
some minutes one of the children was sent to ask if 
he had heard the bell. Often he was so absorbed in 
his work that he had not ; frequently he would say, 
rather impatiently, ^^Yes, I come," in which case 
there was nothing to do but wait, and continue to 
wait imtil he appeared. Often the dishes of food 



78 A VISION REALIZED 

were returned to the kitchen to be kept warm until 
it pleased him to come. A meal was never eaten 
without him, for at the table was about the only 
time the family were together and after it was over 
he would often remain for some time and talk. 

Useless noise or chatter he could not endure and 
had little patience with the children at their play. 
Such a thing as a drum, horn, or any noise-making 
toy was a forbidden article in his household. 

He had infinite patience to bestow on his work, 
but none at all with the petty annoyances of every- 
day life. 

The bark of a dog or the continuous cackle of a 
hen would soon bring him from his room with the 
impatient ejaculation '^ March off, you beast, and 
stop your confounded noise." 

He loved to talk of his work to any visitor 
who showed intelligence and appreciation or who 
seemed to have an honest desire for information, 
but he shut up like a clam in the presence of those 
who came out of mere idle curiosity and who pre- 
sumed to know much and to criticize, or as if duty 
bound to express admiration. 

At one time, when he had on the easel a fine 
marine— the setting sun throwing a fiood of golden 
light over a rough sea— a lady visitor entered and 
with a glance at the canvas exclaimed ^*0h, how 
pretty! a prairie on fire!" He used to tell this 
anecdote with great gusto, adding that the funniest 
part of it and the joke on him was that the lady 
left without changing her opinion. 

In 1867 he took an important step which largely 
influenced his subsequent life. Having been for a 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 79 

long time teaching a young ladies' Bible class, 
which Bible lessons had gradually taken the form 
of lectures, and on account of the illness of the 
rector being also obliged to act as lay reader of the 
services, the rector pressed him to take deacon's 
orders, as he was doing the work of a deacon with- 
out the authority. After much consideration he 
consented and prepared at once for his examina- 
tion. He was ordained to the diaconate in June, 
1867, by Bishop Clark, of Rhode Island, under the 
canon **for restricted deacons," and had no inten- 
tion of going further into the ministry, but only 
desiring to make himself more helpful to his rector. 

At the end of seven years it seemed imperative 
for him to be nearer New York, and in the spring 
of 1868 he removed to Tarrytown-on-Hudson. 
It had been his intention to reside permanently in 
this section, and property near Irvington had 
previously been purchased; but in the meantime 
the land adjoining had been sold off to a most 
undesirable class of people and he was forced to 
dispose of his holding for what it would then bring, 
being, of course, less than the purchase price. 

The following summer he went for a short time 
with his brother Fritz to the Catskill Mountains, 
and while there met a young lady, a student of art, 
Miss Laura Norwood, of Lenoir, N. C. From her 
he learned much of the general situation of the 
South at that time, and particularly of conditions 
existing in her home town— the people impover- 
ished by the war, without the means to educate their 
children ; the church building having been used as a 
hospital by the soldiers and in a most dilapidated 



80 A VISION REALIZED 

and neglected condition, and no church services held 
for months at a time. 

She also gave a glowing description of the 
natural beauties and advantages of that part of the 
country— its grand and imposing mountains, crys- 
tal streams, and forest of noble pines and oaks ; its 
incomparable climate and life-giving air ; and the 
exceeding cheapness of all the real necessities of 
life. 

All this appealed directly to the mind of the 
artist, the missionary, the lover of nature and of 
his fellow-man. 

Here was a land in which he could live on the 
moderate income which he had from his publica- 
tions and go on and paint his great designs ; here 
he could use his means to the best advantage, and 
here, being independent of any remuneration for 
clerical services, he could do the most good for his 
Church and for his people. 

The cry ^^come and help us" seemed to echo in 
his ears, and after his return to Tarrytown and a 
consultation with his wife it was decided to make 
the move. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

In April, 1869, with his family of three chil- 
dren and his father and mother he set out for his 
new home. A tedious journey it was then—to 
Washington, D. C, by train ; stage across the city 
to the wharf at foot of Seventh Street; steamer 
down the Potomac River to Aquia Creek; by the 
old Virginia Midland Railroad to Salisbury, N. C, 
and from thence over the Western North Carolina 
Railroad to its terminus at Hickory (then ^^ Hick- 
ory Tavern") . From this point to Lenoir the jour- 
ney had to be made by ^* stage." 

Hickory was reached about noon of the second 
day, and, after a dinner of ham, eggs, and corn 
bread at the ^^ Tavern," a double log cabin then 
kept by ^^Snediker," all climbed into the rickety 
stage and were slowly dragged over the 20 miles of 
miserable road by two sorry and raw-boned nags, 
relics of ante bellum days, to Lenoir, the future 
mountain home where it was hoped so much good 
could be done and so much artistic work accom- 
plished. Lenoir at that time was an educational 
center for that section of the south, and several 
schools were there maintained. Its people were 
impoverished by the war and everything was in a 
sad state of dilapidation and neglect, but here were 
culture and refinement ; petty strife and bickering. 



82 A VISION REALIZED 

so common in the average small town, were here 
miknown; the place was as yet mitouched by the 
spirit of commercialism, and those of every sect 
and opinion lived together in peace and harmony. 
All were poor, so poverty was not considered ; all 
needed help, so each one helped his neighbor. An 
ideal place indeed it was for such work as he pro- 
posed to do in art, an unlimited field it offered for 
him as a missionary ; considering all this, and that 
his new home was in the midst of the most beau- 
tiful scenery in the world, what wonder the artist 
was enthusiastic over the prospect. 

The whole party went to Miss Norwood's plan- 
tation home, ''Oak Lawn," and were received with 
open arms. Here they remained until the house- 
hold and studio goods, shipped from New York, 
arrived, when they took up their abode at the 
rectory, a most unique little building standing in 
a grove of gigantic oaks and white pines. 

It seemed as if the time had at last arrived 
when his mind was to be liberated from carking 
care and from a burden of liabilities which, though 
small in themselves, had yet been insurmountable 
in the years of struggle behind him, and that at 
last in peace and quiet he could take up the execu- 
tion of his great works and bring them to com- 
pletion. He at once began to build a studio large 
enough for the proper execution of such work. 
But just here, when scarcely six months in Lenoir, 
and before the studio was completed, came the blow 
which deprived him of his income, destroyed all his 
hopes, and left him again in a hand-to-hand fight 
with uncertainties, having loaded himself already 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 83 

with Church and educational work in his parish 
which could not be shaken off, and having also the 
terrible drain of lawyers' fees to meet. Among 
other things, a mission school had been established 
several miles in the country for the education of 
the poor whites. He had depended on his income 
from the publications. Mr. James informed him 
that there was no longer anything to be expected 
from that source. He wrote (Nov. 18, 1869) : ^^The 
robbers have copied the 'Eock of Ages' in all sizes 
and for all prices and defy me to my face, and they 
say that as soon as I put ^Charity' on the market 
they will do the same with that. ' ' 

To show the far-reaching effect of this blow to 
him is quoted below a letter written by one of his 
parishioners and signed ^^ Gratitude." 

^^ME. OERTEL 'S ^EOCK OF AGES.' 

Artist-Clergyman in his Southern Home — Faith exemplified in a life. 
[Correspondence of Laura Lenoir Norwood in the Journal of Commerce.] 

'TiENOiR, Caldwell County, Western North Carolina, 

February 5, 1870. 

"In a late number of the Journal of Commerce there is an 
account of the lawsuit in regard to the copyright of Johannes A. 
OertePs picture, *The Eock of Ages,' and the decision of the 
court in Mr. Oertel's favor. Perhaps, as a lover of art, you felt 
some interest in the case, and I think you were glad that the 
decision of the court secured to the gifted artist the proceeds 
of his own work. 

"The losing party in the suit (Mr. Wood) is advised by his 
lawyers to appeal and carry the case into another court or another 
term of the court, and if he does so the decision may be reversed, 
or, if it is affirmed, the expenses of the suit will be heavy, and 
almost more than the artist can sustain. 

"I see in the artist's life a far more beautiful example of the 



84 A VISION REALIZED 

power of faith than any picture can ever teach; and if you 
could see it, too, you would think some of your time and strength 
well spent in saying a word that may very possibly, as I believe, 
prolong a life so devoted to good works, as well as so honorable 
in the record of American art. 

"We who see Mr. Oertel's daily life among us do not need 
to buy his lovely picture of 'Faith.' For the painter of 'The 
Rock of Ages' is the rector of our little church; our faithful, 
loving pastor, who came to us as an unlooked-for blessing (when 
we were too poor to have a minister), and asked that he might 
do us good for Christ's sake alone. The income derived from 
the publication of the picture in question (though it would seem 
very small in New York, as he is only paid for the copyright), 
was sufficient in our cheap country to support his family in the 
simple way in which they live, and also to minister to the wants 
of many poor and friendless ones who have learned to bless his 
name. We hoped that in the beauty of our scenery, our delight- 
ful climate, and the quiet and peace which he loves, Mr. Oertel 
might find some pleasures in return for the many advantages 
which he gave up to become our missionary; but we did not 
expect him to share our poverty as well as our loneliness, and 
to endure hardships which, alas, we can not relieve ! For, indeed, 
we are truly poor now, and the years since the war have done 
nothing yet to build up our desolated country. 

"You do not want to hear of this, and we do not wish to 
complain. Our lovely mountain country is too remote to feel 
the waves of returning prosperity, but we have learned to endure 
patiently many hardships and to look calmly on the graves of 
our buried hopes. 

"You who live in the midst of so much brightness and motion, 
and feel the bounding of the pulse of life through a great city, 
can not imagine what it is to be as we are. If you did know 
it, you would perhaps realize what a blessing Mr. Oertel's faith 
has brought to us, for he believes the word of our Saviour, that 
it is more blessed to give than to receive. And he gives us the 
comfort we most dearly prize in his faithful and loving minis- 
trations. 

"You perhaps know that Mr. Oertel is a clergyman of the 
Episcopal Church, but no one to hear that he is both artist and 
minister would think that he could accomplish so much good 
in the latter character as he does. 

"Real devotion and unsparing self-denial for Christ's sake 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 85 

are so rare in our time that one must see the results of such 
a life in order to believe in it. 

"The members of this parish feel themselves unworthy of 
the treasure which they possess in such a pastor, and the earnest 
and beautiful sermons which go straight to the hearts of his 
people are made more eifective by the thought that they are 
generally written in the silent hours of the night, after a day 
of hard work in a profession which certainly taxes the brain not 
lightly. Heaven knows we would gladly save our pastor from 
some of the hardships which he endures for our sakes, but it 
seems that there is no selfishness in his heart to which we can 
appeal. The poor, the sorrowing, the troubled are around him, 
and he will love them and help them ; the ignorant are here and 
he will teach them; and his gentle wife is ever ready to aid in 
every new labor of love. Is it not enough that he must bear 
on his heart the burdens of others, that all beyond a mere main- 
tenance is freely given to the cause of Christ, and that his life 
is one of constant toil, but must his means of living be taken 
from him now, when the locks are whitening on his temples? 

"He has struggled through long years of poverty and trial, 
true always to his high ideal of Christian art, and true to 
himself in the childlike simplicity and unquestioning faith which 
have upheld him, and is he not entitled to enjoy what is his 
own, and was so dearly earned? 

"Is it only a question of money that will be decided in this 
suit when the appeal is taken? 

"Gratitude." 

Great as this disappointment and serious the 
situation, it must be met. 

If he must ' ' depend on his brush, ' ' as Mr. James 
said, he would *^make it fly," and Mrs. Oertel at 
once appealed to friends at the North for assistance 
in their parish work. ^^But oh,'' she writes a 
friend, ^^the Church work and everybody besides 
so needs hard cash that I can not help wish for it. 
Our work so grows upon us that we are perfectly 
appalled. The mission school list has now increased 
to about 50 names; we have Sunday school out 



86 A VISION REALIZED 

there, too. I go out three times each week, and 
that makes a weekly walk of about 17 miles. We 
do so much need teachers for this and other schools, 
both white and colored. We have now in these 
schools nearly 200 under instructions. Oh, for 
more fellow- workers ! ' ' 

Thus it was that the minister's wife met this 
emergency, by thorough cooperation in all of his 
undertakings, by personal self-sacrifice and unre- 
mitting toil, and be it remembered all was a gift, all 
was done ' ' In His Name, ' ' without money and with- 
out price. Not only this, they continued to give 
from their slender means. None who asked went 
away empty handed so long as there was anything 
left to give. 

When he had money, during the first months, he 
was what might be termed extravagant, but not in 
the indulgence of himself or family. He writes in 

one of his letters, ''I have lent Mr $400 to buy 

a farm. It is a great privilege to be able to help so 
worthy a man.'' This was ^4ent," but so far as is 
known was never returned and never asked for. 
Groceries were ordered in quantity from New York 
and the poor country folk came to the rectory for 
their coffee, sugar, medicine, etc., as they would to 
a store, except that at the store they would have to 
trade in some of their meagre stock of produce— 
a chicken, some eggs, or medicinal roots dug in 
the mountains— here it was freely given, and in 
the pastor's wife they found a ready listener to 
all their tales of woe and were always sure from 
her to receive words of encouragement and sym- 
pathy. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 87 

When the crash came and the flow of money 
stopped, these pensioners did not ; nor did they seem 
to understand how it could be that there was not 
the usual sack of coffee and barrel of sugar from 
which to supply their needs. They continued to 
come as usual with empty baskets, which seldom if 
ever went out of the rectory grounds in the same 
state. Notes like these frequently went from house 
to studio: '^ Johnny, give B. a dollar to buy some 
^shucks' for his cow." ^^Give H. some money 
to-day; they are all sick," etc. 

Considerable in the way of contributions for 
the parish was sent by friends at the North, both 
in money, clothes, and various articles which it was 
thought might be of use. One kindly disposed lady 
forwarded a ^^case of Shaker bonnets" for the mis- 
sion school children. Those who know the **po' 
whites" can picture them wearing ^^ Shaker bon- 
nets." The people of Christ Church, Tarrytown, 
having put in a new organ in the church there, sent 
down their old one, the same instrument mentioned 
by Washington Irving in one of his letters. It was 
a complete wreck, but Mr. Oertel with his own 
hands rebuilt it, making new pipes, a new wind 
chest and bellows, and then a carved and illiuni- 
nated case. It was placed in the church and is there 
doing duty still. He also made for the church a 
carved reredos and altar. This was his first attempt 
at wood carving. He did not have to learn to 
carve; he just did it. As he once said, '*It is 
perfectly simple; what I want is in the wood; 
all I have to do is to cut away what don't belong 
there." 



88 A VISION REALIZED 

Description of the Eeredos in St. James' Church 
Lenoir, N. C. 

[Written by Clinton A. Cilley.] 

**Eev. Mr. Oertel on Christmas day placed in 
the chancel of St. James' Church the result of 
nearly two years' labor, and presented it to the 
church. 

^^The work consists of a painting and its frame. 
The painting, on a backgi^ound of gold, shows the 
Saviour offering bread and wine to a male and a 
female communicant, and is characterized by the 
same depth of religious feeling and faithfulness of 
rendering that in his former paintings have given 
the distinguished artist so high a rank among the 
professors of Christian art. 

^^ Beautiful as is the picture, however, it is more 
than matched by the exquisitely carved and elab- 
orated frame. This is an architectural design, and 
reminds one of the portal of some mediaeval cathe- 
dral. There are the arch and pillars of the door- 
way, the buttresses, the sloping roof, the lofty 
spires, and the cross that crowns the structure. 
Over the picture, forming the arch, is a strikingly 
natural representation in chestnut wood of grapes 
and heads of wheat, the fruit, the foliage, and even 
the tendrils of the former being carved with an 
exactness that would be surprising even were the 
material better adapted to a work of such infinite 
delicacy. The slopes of the roof are adorned with 
crockets, seemingly alike, but in truth each in some 
slight particular varying from the other. On each 
side of the roof are pinnacles ; back of them stand 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 89 

two angels with wings folded as if they had just 
alighted there; and crowning the whole towers a 
double cross. 

''On every part of this masterpiece, composed 
of over 400 pieces of wood, chestnut, oak, poplar, 
holly, cherry, beech, and pine, where work could 
be put it has been lavished. Every part susceptible 
of ornamentation has been beautified by the touch 
of carving tools wielded as deftly as the artist's 
brush. 

''Flowers of many kinds are here; the rose and 
cactus blush in cherry and the tulip blooms in yellow 
poplar, while over various parts of the structure 
the climbing ivy throws its veil. No carving of so 
lofty design or so skilful workmanship beautifies 
the chancel of any church in America, and the 
costly cathedrals of Europe can boast of few orna- 
ments as splendid as this. 

"No description can do it justice, and to see it 
will well repay a visit to our mountain town." 

In the meanwhile the necessities of the parish 
seemed to make it imperative that he should take 
priest's orders. The bishop especially desired it, 
and he finally yielded and bent himself to the 
preparatory study. He was ordained by Bishop 
Atkinson, August, 1871. 

In addition to the parish at Lenoir he had two 
mission stations at which he held services on alter- 
nate Sundays. The "Chapel of Peace," the mission 
before mentioned, 3 miles south of the village, and 
another station in the Yadkin Valley, 8 miles dis- 
tant. This Chapel of Peace was built by contribu- 
tion from friends at a distance and voluntary work 



90 A VISION REALIZED 

of the people. When nearly completed it was 
wrecked by a severe storm, but, imdamited by the 
disaster the rector and his helpers rebuilt it. This 
work from its inception was attended with the 
greatest difficulties. First a day and Sunday school 
was started and soon had an attendance of over 40 
scholars; this was held in a ramshackle old log 
schoolhouse. The teachers were all voluntary 
workers, and one might have thought that such a 
chance for education would have been welcomed by 
all; but there were many who opposed the move- 
ment. All sorts of stories were circulated amongst 
the poor ignorant people. ^^The children would be 
taken away as soon as sufficient hold on them was 
obtained, and killed. ' ' Another story was that they 
would be taken to town and ^^made to worship the 
golden calf." Such was the depth of ignorance 
and superstition among these poor people. 

The farmer who owned the land on which the 
schoolhouse stood at last refused to allow it to be 
used for the purpose. Then it was that a move was 
made to build. Friends at the North contributed 
liberally and by dint of persistent effort on the part 
of the rector and his faithful people it was at last 
completed and a school maintained for many years. 

In order that those of his parish might have the 
advantages thus afforded and in the general inter- 
est of education, he decided to establish a school for 
girls. This was done, and the first session opened 
February 26, 1872, Miss Mary A. Massenberg 
teacher of the English branches and Miss M. Mag- 
dalena Oertel teacher of French and music, under 
the name of **St. James' School for Girls." 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 91 

It was the intention of the rector to advance the 
interests of the school as rapidly as possible, and to 
make it a diocesan institute. By this was meant 
that the grounds and buildings contemplated should 
be deeded to the diocese and be subject to the 
authority of the bishop and such trustees as he 
might appoint. 

In this undertaking no effort was spared to 
reduce expenses to pupils to the minimum. It was 
continuous self-denial on the part of all the workers 
concerned in the interest of Church education. 

The rector gave his time and contributed also 
in money; his wife opened her house to the girls 
and cared for those who boarded there as for her 
own, having nothing in return save the bare cost of 
board, based on the lowest estimate, and which in 
fact often failed to meet expenses. 

The teachers worked for a mere pittance. Miss 
Massenberg having only $100 per year, her board 
and lodging being contributed by the rector. His 
daughter had no regular salary, turning back most 
of what she received into the fund for the building 
up of the school. 

It was opened in the vestry room of the church, 
but by superhuman efforts a school room was built 
on to the rectory, and though still unfinished was 
occupied by the end of the first session. 

In 1873 the name of the school was changed to 
* ^ St. Euphemia 's Hall, " as it was not for St. James ' 
parish alone. 

During 1874 it was under the direction of Eev. 
C. T. Bland. About a year later the whole scheme 
had to be abandoned for lack of f imds and support. 



92 A VISION REALIZED 

A failure ? Yes ; from one point of view it was. 
It struggled into existence, its existence was a con- 
stant struggle, and it died for want of strength to 
live. 

But w^hen it is considered what was accom- 
plished during the time of life can it be classed as 
a failure ? 

Many of the girls received education and train- 
ing absolutely free, and but for this would have 
had none. Indeed, no one was turned away ; if they 
could pay the moderate amount charged for tuition 
and board, well and good; if they could not, the 
school and the home of the rector were open to 
them just the same. 

It is impossible for those who were in that school 
and in that home not to have carried the teaching 
and influence through life to their own benefit. 
Here again must ^^bookkeeping be kept by double 
entry; one for this world, one for the next." 

The rector and his wife never regretted having 
made the effort, much as it cost them. 

Contributions were at times made by interested 
friends, but the main burden of the undertaking 
was borne by the rector and his devoted wife and 
daughter. 

Had he received from the Church at large the 
cooperation the movement deserved, the result 
would have been quite different. 

Parish duties now took much of his time. The 
strain has been so great, of study and disappoint- 
ment—study to prepare for his examination for the 
priesthood and disappointment in regard to his 
publications and the outcome of the lawsuits which 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 93 

deprived him of the means to carry out his plans 
both in art and for the good of his people— that 
his health gave way and he suffered desperately 
with his head, so much so that physicians feared 
softening of the brain. And what wonder. Even 
his iron constitution and strength which enabled 
him to handle dumb-bells of 50 pounds each as if 
they were toys could not stand what he forced him- 
self to do. For instance, after a week of work from 
6 a. m. until early morning hours, he presided over 
the Sunday school at 9 o'clock on Sunday, held 
services at 11 o'clock, rushed home to a hasty lunch 
and then mounted his horse for a ten-mile ride over 
the mountains to the Yadkin Vallley, where he 
held service at 3 p. m. and then rode home again, 
often arriving late at night. This was his ''day 
of rest"! 

His sermons were usually written on Saturday 
night and it was often daylight on Sunday morn- 
ing before he came in the house to rest. No call of 
distress was unheeded by day or by night, in fair 
weather or in foul, over rough roads, mountain 
paths, and swollen streams, on horseback or on foot, 
he visited the poor and needy, giving comfort, sym- 
pathy, and help. 

He had made something of a study of medicine 
and so doctored the body as well as the soul, giving 
in this as in all else to all who asked or needed. 

In writing of his condition at this time Mrs. 
Oertel says : 

''His brain is in very bad condition ; he schemes 
continually, in such an impatient way ; everything 
annoys and irritates him ; he works, works, works, 



94 A VISION REALIZED 

and plans, plans, plans in the fiercest and most ex- 
cited manner. I fear softening of the brain." 

Dr. Perkins told him ^*You must rein in your 
horses or they will run away with you" and this 
they seemed to be doing. 

But his work was not yet done. He changed his 
manner of working, took more sleep, and at last 
recovered. 

Still he continued to do double duty, keeping up 
with all the details of parish work and at the same 
time doing everything possible with brush and 
pencil that would bring in the money so sadly 
needed. 

His friends urged him to rest and take a trip 
into the higher mountain country. To this he con- 
sented, and spent some two weeks on horseback 
riding through that magnificent region. 

In later years he wrote a description of this 
trip imder the caption ^^On horseback through the 
mountains" from which it is well to quote a few 
passages, as the artist shows in these pen pictures 
quite as plainly, and with as much strength, as ever 
with brush or pencil. 

'^ There they were," he says, *'the Grandfather, 
the Eoan, the Table Eock, Hawksbill, and the Black 
Range. I had been wont to gaze often across the 
many miles at their ethereal summits, lifting them- 
selves with a giant repose and power high over their 
companions, often with that peculiar wistful emo- 
tion that seizes the mind when alone on the ocean 
shore on a still day and an unbroken mystery of 
deep blue like the mantle of eternity spread upon 
the far outreaching waters. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 95 

^^ Mountains and sea have a certain kinship not- 
withstanding their opposite character. They be- 
guile the susceptible soul into similar moods. So 
does the clear unfathomable sky. So does the 
mighty firmament with its miracles of glory. 
Whatever invites the mind to excursions into vast 
expanse, draws it onward, out of itself and away 
far off to where the distance hides the unknown and 
maybe the unattainable, stirs up a strange and irre- 
sistible longing, a sad delight, a delirium of wakeful 
dreaming, feeling from the night of our earthly 
prison with the antennae of the spirit for news 
from the unseen world. 

^^Do you know why in the symbolism of color 
blue is the emblem of truth ? It is the blue we look 
into when striving to penetrate the distance, the 
ocean, the sky. But what we gaze into seems to 
recede more, to grow deeper, to become more un- 
searchable. 

^^The peaks on the horizon, massive and yet 
unsubstantial in their glorification of trans- 
parent blue; the indigo line of the sea that cuts 
with a straight razor edge your inquisitive 
stare into what lies beyond; the vast empyrean 
that seems so near and only tells you when at 
night the remote myriads of nebulae astonish 
the astronomer as he watches through the powerful 
telescope that no one has ever yet looked to its 
limits— these all conceal the knowledge which in 
part only they reveal. 

^^Blue signifies mystery. What is remote, with- 
held from the vision and hidden, is wrapped in a 
veil of blue, the * daughter of darkness and of the 



96 A VISION REALIZED 

light'— emblem of truth, which is made known and 
yet forever disclosing itself. 

^^ And so in the wondrous trinity of colors it sig- 
nifies the Divine Spirit, the Revealer of secrets, the 
Giver of knowledge, the Fountain of wisdom, the 
Incomprehensible, Unknowable, the All encom- 
passing." 

He had as guide and companion a genuine old- 
time planter who was enthusiastic over this moun- 
tain country, and owned a considerable estate 
among those ^^ fixed billows of the earth." Of him 
he says: ^^Now this excellent and educated gentle- 
man was just the guide I wanted. None other than 
an enthusiast can be your best leader and teacher 
in any matter. Beware of machine men when you 
wish to learn. They will give you, with all honesty 
in the giving, nothing but husks. It is all they have 
and are capable of knowing. They stick to outside 
as if it were covered with burrs or pitch. The 
secret to read the inner life— the soul— of things 
they have not the talisman to discover. But my 
friend was aglow from head to foot with this sub- 
ject. He was in love with it— and people can not 
be in love without a heart. Those mountains spoke 
in majestic tone to his affections. They had been 
his faithful companions for many years. They 
showed him their hidden beauties. They whis- 
pered into his ear their tales of stored-up treas- 
ures. He knew each twist in the links of their 
tremendous chain, the intricate sinuosity of their 
passes and paths and roads, the names of their 
cliffs, the flow and individuality of their sparkling 
waters, their varied, abundant verdure, and the 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 97 

signs they hang out aroimd their summits as proph- 
esies of sunshine or storm. He also was com- 
municative without garrulity, a traveler accus- 
tomed to the horse, attentive, polite, acquainted 
with the manners of the people and easily satisfied 
with their fare and accommodations. I was 
fortunate in having such a guide." 

Mr. Oertel was a great admirer of the horse, 
fond of riding and at home in the saddle. After 
describing his mount on this occasion he says: 
^^And when a man feels the living moving power 
under him that obeys his every wish— the untamed 
woods about him, a promising sky overhead— and 
has just enough money in his pocket for moderate 
fare and an excellent feeling of independence and 
manly energy does not quicken his pulse, put a rod 
of steel into his back and fire and gladness into his 
eye, he is not fit to travel among the ramparts of 
liberty nor ride the noble beast of war and the 
desert, but deserves to have his joints cracked, his 
bowels churned, and his soft brains beaten like bat- 
ter on the back of a vicious mule that now and then 
can salute his brother with low-dropped jaw by his 
renowned philosophic exclamation." 

He speaks first of the timber growth, which he 
describes as being ''of a size that dwarfs the woods 
about New York into respectable shrubs." 

''Think," he says, "of the gorgeous rhododen- 
dron shooting up snake-like trunks to the height of 
16 and 18 feet before the glossy spear-headed 
foliage expands itself in clustered masses with 
purple magnificence of bloom on the end of every 
branch ! And then imagine whole slopes covered in 



98 A VISION REALIZED 

June with that wealth of royal splendor; the 
somber blush of sunset cloud spread out on moun- 
tain side; hemlocks stretching between the main 
spurs of the *' Grandfather" for a number of miles 
and which my experienced guide computed of an 
average diameter of 4 feet ; some prostrate colossals 
over which, 20 and 30 feet from their roots, we 
could scarcely see as we attempted to surmount 
them ; the spindling weeds of the lowlands here con- 
stituting a forest smiling the praises of the gen- 
erous bosom that nourishes them. 

^^Our first objective point was the Grandfather 
mountain. For many months I had seen its impos- 
ing outline toward the setting sun. It heaved up 
over the lesser ridges with a commanding, wide- 
spreading, angular severity,— a salient feature in 
the wavy blue that could be traced from the Vir- 
ginia line on the North to almost that of South 
Carolina in the Southwest. 

^'The name it bears is not a mere fancy; indeed 
I do not know but there is in that name a poetic 
appropriateness, whether intended or not, more 
far-reaching than it has in the mouth of people 
who use it so often. Seen from the south or north, 
the long profile of the mountain exhibits in a clear- 
cut outline the features of a bearded man. It is a 
remarkable face: the high intellectual forehead; 
the nose of projecting aquiline strength; the dis- 
tinctly marked moustache shading a firm mouth; 
the chin rising from a bold depression and ending 
in a long beard— a grand, calm, majestic face, up- 
turned to the sky as if the enormous giant were 
lying in solemn repose on his back, the undulating 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 99 

length of his body stretching westward for near a 
hundred miles in the continuation of the ''Blue 
Eidge. " It is no mere knob or piece of rock, but a 
whole mountain somewhat higher than Mount 
Washington in New Hampshire, a face of truly 
colossal, godlike dimensions such as Milton scarcely 
fancied when he extolled the tall stature of his 
prince of fallen spirits ; dwindling into dwarfs the 
Genii rising from the uncorked bottle in the Ara- 
bian Nights, or the fabled bird of the Talmud that 
stood in the deepest part of the ocean with the water 
reaching only to his knees. The gods and heroes of 
the Iliad are microscopic pygmies compared to it. 
That is something of a face, tossing up its features 
for about seven miles, with a horned helmet at the 
upper end of several miles more. You will grant 
that old North Carolina contains a veritable and 
most venerable giant ! 

''And think how long he has lain there and 
looked up with the same unchanging profile at the 
silent stars! The nations of the earth are mere 
ephemera to him. Their boasted empires are insti- 
tutions like the dissolving pictures of a stereopti- 
con. He counted his many untold ages already 
when the Sphinx began to raise his mysterious head 
and the pyramids were piled against the sky. 

"Brief four thousand years have left upon their 
flinty sides the traces of decay ; but he reposes now 
as green and strong and young as when he saw the 
day on which creation smiled first upon the pure 
primeval human pair. The sun's determined fire 
that beat into his face with each recurring summer 
scorched there no scars. The bitter blasts of winter 



100 A VISION REALIZED 

for all these centuries have not disturbed his 
solemn calm. Ten thousand tempests raging in 
untamed fury over him could not so much as cause 
one wrinkle on that mighty brow. The lightning 
spent, the thunder still, the clouds roll off and leave 
him gazing in primitive sereneness as ever he had 
done. 

'^However often and again the flames like mon- 
strous serpents run up his sides and lay the forest 
waste, they only singe the down upon his cheeks but 
can not harm the unmoved giant's form. The 
earliest kiss of morning ray bathes him in rosy 
light, and the departing king of day robes him in 
purple melancholy. He smiles or he is sad, or stern 
and dark and lowering, or covered dreamily as with 
a veil for sleep— but there is always the same grand 
godlike impassiveness of line ; his moods are things 
of surface only that ruffle not his majesty of mien. 

'^And pray of what might he be thinking? 
What does he see with all that steadfast upward 
look ? Most certainly he contemplates not anything 
of earth! That gaze must be a silently adoring 
seraph's in waiting before the * great white 
throne.' What are to him the noisy strifes of 
men ? What care has he for change of kings and 
politics and for the schemes that surge the millions 
here below ? 

^' Their history resolved its tortuous troubled 
length around the globe, a trail of blood and woe, of 
toil, and tears, and death, unheeded all by him. 
The wild red man that tracked in ages past the 
panther and the wolf across his brow ; and now the 
white that pops the rifle on his face at deer and 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 101 

prowling bear, are both to him alike. He marks 
their habitation with stalwart ruggedness, and 
keeps his watch in awful solitude. His thoughts 
are up on high. He never turns for aught on earth 
but with an everlasting glance he looks full hard 
into the infinite— by day and night, in storm and 
calm, from age to age, with only one long, great, 
unfathomable thought of dread Divinity." 

In describing the ascent of this grand peak he 
speaks of the last quarter mile being the roughest 
part of the work ^'requiring a sharp, determined 
conflict, like many another enterprise in the battles 
of mind and matter, that reserves the most formi- 
dable opposition for near its summit." * * * ^^The 
dark and solemn balsam fir was now the dominant 
growth. It veils the mountain's brow with massive 
shade— a somber gloom of earnestness becoming 
to the contemplative mood of ^Grandfather' who 
rests as on a pillow upon the sportive shades the 
changing woods put on far down around his base ; 
the downy, mellow, delicately varied gown of infant 
Spring; the emerald fulness and fresh, exultant 
strength of Summer; the gorgeous symphony of 
tint that paints the robe of the expiring year ; and 
the sweet nunlike grey of Winter that holds in 
cloistered seclusion for a few short months impa- 
tient, budding life. But that mighty Pace above 
wears one unchanging hue of darksome green. 
The innumerable company of closely serried pines 
are the only fit emblem of its calm, strong stability 
of mood. And as the eye drops down the vast sweep 
and mounts up again at the further crest that be- 
gins the formation of ^Grandfather's' face, the 



102 A VISION REALIZED 

pointed cones crowd as thick as grass and all their 
millions bend with one obedient impulse to the 
south, not infrequently blasted by the power that 
rules up there with rude violence, the northwest 
storm. 

^* Every tree-top inclines fixedly in one direction 
and tells its story of struggle and battle-scarred 
endurance. The pine is the only tree for such a life. 
God made it for the hard places of the earth. 

*^At last the lessening pines let the sky appear 
overhead, and a sharp turn through the dense brush 
brought us out upon the summit. 

^*Did you ever step upon the giddy edge of a 
high mountain in that sudden way"? It is very 
much like launching bodily into space and sends a 
thrill of surprised ecstasy through the frame, an 
electric tingling in every nerve as if all at once the 
solid ground had vanished from under the feet and 
one were floating in air. 

'^ Above, below, and round about, everything is 
blue. The mountain base itself looks unsubstantial. 
It is swimming on a heaving sea. 

^^ There was but just room enough for our small 
company of three among the rocks and bushes 
where the absence of pines left a free outlook. I 
had a seat of heather as springy as can be found on 
the mountains of Scotland ; rather a luxury among 
the North Carolina ranges where it grows only here 
and there on the lofty summits. 

^' There I sat and looked— and the look was 
almost supersensuous delight. But do not expect 
a rhapsody on what I saw ! What idea can the most 
picturesque word-painting convey of such a scene 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 103 

unless you have beheld something similar'? And if 
you have— then— well, recall vividly the sight! It 
will not be exactly like the one from 'Grandfather' ; 
but it will refresh in you that altogether unique 
sensation, that of lifting up out of common exist- 
ence, that cutting loose from the lower dust with all 
its leaden cares and petty doings, that full-breath- 
ing, soaring energy of soul which is answered by 
every fiber of the body ; that daring of spirit all at 
once conscious of its own broad pinions despite the 
clay still riveting it to the earth. You will know 
the leaps of a hundred miles straight out made by 
the joy-intoxicated eyes; the delirious plunges 
downward into vast abysses of amethyst and sap- 
phire ; the giant strides that skip with the glad free- 
dom of youth from peak to peak, across the long- 
rolling ridges, among the leagues of complex 
sinuosity in the valleys. 

''You will know also that with such an illimit- 
able horizon about you, among such colossal 
surroundings, you feel very little indeed, more dis- 
posed to true humility of soul than you thought 
possible when disporting below among your kind 
in their assemblies where fashion and vanity flutter 
and scheme for a brief glance of recognition; for 
up there on those silent heights one is in a two-fold 
sense breathing a purer atmosphere— and nearer 
heaven. 

"And then, if possible, get for 15 minutes by 
yourself ; be all alone where human voices can not 
reach your ear nor other influences disturb, and a 
something super-earthly will steal upon you, an 
over-mastering awe as of an oppressive mystery, at 



104 A VISION REALIZED 

once grand in its manifestation of power, and 
soothing like a benediction of peace from the deep 
sky overhead. One comprehends why the Saviour 
of men should have chosen the lonely mountain top 
for prayer— and there continued all night." 

A visit to the falls of the Linville river called 
forth the following : 

*'A waterfall is always strangely interesting 
and attractive whether it slides down over a many- 
colored rocky incline with lisping splash ; or skips 
in fan-like cascades of silver thread from rounded 
ledge ; or pours a single stream of light from a dizzy 
wall, collecting its misty rain in the pool below ; or 
leaps out with a bold bound for the plunge into the 
darkness of a chasm, it has its own mysterious 
charm of energetic life. 

^'Let it be a little rill only, trembling into flakes 
and spray in the joyful descent, or the cataract of 
a mile in extent, rolling a thimdering flood with 
awful majesty over the yawning abyss, there is a 
fascination in the unceasing commotion, the daring 
precipitancy, the silvery gleam or glitter or flash, 
the spray unfolding like a vestal veil, the spiritual 
form so stable in general feature, so everlastingly 
changeful in the detail of its swift-moving parts. 
Even the waste water of the commonest milldam, a 
thin, glassy sheet split into many ribbons with care- 
less frolic as to their evenness of width, shares with 
the most romantic cascade in shady glen, or the 
wild fury of a river's headlong rush into a thousand 
feet of frowning gorge, the same interest that is 
always new and intense only in different degree. 

** Water is the lifeblood of nature. Its pulsa- 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 105 

tions on lake or ocean, in meadow brook or moun- 
tain torrent, in modest rivulet or gliding expanse of 
an Amazon that drains a continent, correspond too 
nearly with the throbbings and variable moods in 
man's own veins not to touch his liveliest sym- 
pathies. And therefore he will undertake long 
journeys and climb dangerous places with toil and 
fatigue just to feast upon the sight of a waterfall 
and let its living beauty or grandeur electrify the 
forces of his nature to bound and toss and leap in 
harmony with the wonderful element." 

The first artistic work done in the new studio 
was a set of paintings for the Church of the Heav- 
enly Rest, Fifth Avenue, New York City. As 
Church work they were painted for a mere pittance. 
These pictures are five in number. The central 
canvas is 13 feet high. It bears the figure of the 
Saviour as our High Priest in Heaven. *^He ever 
liveth to make intercession for us." He stands 
upon the clouds, in the full robes of the High 
Priest ; His hands spread out, showing the sacred 
wounds ; on His head a mitre of gold ; and a golden 
censer in His right hand, from which the smoking 
incense ascends. As the figure is lighted from 
above, the shadow beneath, by the outstretching of 
the arms, forms a cross in beautiful significance 
under his feet now. 

The face is solemn and earnest; the eyes up- 
lifted and truly full of intercession; the whole 
image very intense in expression. It is 8J feet in 
height. The other four figures are 6 feet high. 
They are attendant angels, representing the Cheru- 
bim and Seraphim. The two which come next the 



106 A VISION REALIZED 

center— the Seraphim— are draped in white and 
red and with uplifted hands and adoring faces per- 
sonify glowing, rapturous love. The two outer 
ones— the Cherubim— are draped in white and hlue. 
They stand with folded hands in passionless medi- 
tation, eternal knowledge and eternal truth ex- 
pressed upon their coimtenances. 

These paintings were on exhibition at the studio 
for several days and the announcement of an art 
reception made quite a stir in the little community. 
The schools were given one day and all came— 
teachers and pupils. Many persons came from 
great distances— 20, 30, and even 70 miles— on pur- 
pose to see these pictures. This did not mean 
coming comfortably seated in a railroad car, but 
traveling on horseback or in vehicles over rough 
mountain roads, fording dangerous streams, and 
imdergoing much fatigue and exposure, the more so 
as the weather was persistently rainy all the time. 

The next work was ^^ Darkness and Light," a 
young girl reading to an old blind man. This was 
presented to Bishop Atkinson, of North Carolina. 

There are no entries in his record of works pro- 
duced for the years 1870-74, but his letters show 
that in spite of his numerous duties as priest the 
artist was by no means idle. A design of the Cruci- 
fixion was made which w^as published as a steel 
engraving. *^When I Rise to Worlds Unknown 
and Behold Thee on Thy Throne" was painted. 
The wild ocean spreads below, the rocky cross is 
there, the figure is loosened from it and rising above 
it, with outstretched arms and enraptured face; 
and, in the clouds, amid a flood of light is a vision 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 107 

of Christ on His throne, surrounded by His angels. 
He expressed himself as thinking this picture bet- 
ter than ^^The Rock of Ages," but would not re- 
serve the copyright because the purchaser had 
suggested the subject. 

The series of designs illustrating William Cul- 
len Bryant's *^ Waiting by the Gate," begun in 
Westerly, was taken up and finished. Of these the 
poet wrote him, *^ You have indeed made a poem out 
of my poor verses." 

There were eight in number, one for each 
stanza, and were sent to Mr. James in New York, 
who had reproductions made and placed them on 
the market. 

Of the result of this Mrs. Oertel writes : 

^*I think it is easy to see why they failed. No 
one has said anything against them as works of art 
—indeed they are highly praised; but they are 
about Death and the fashionable crowds who fre- 
quent the picture stores pronounce them Herrible.' 
The truth is, they have sermons in them and the 
multitude will not be preached to that way." 



CHAPTER IX. 

In the early part of 1873 he made plans to go to 
Europe. 

It was quite evident that little could be expected 
from the sale of his pictures, especially such sub- 
jects as he wished and most cared to paint, these 
coming before the public as painted in America and 
by an American artist. 

At the same time he believed that if such works 
were offered as having been painted abroad they 
would be viewed in a much more favorable light. 

Also it appeared that abroad such works as he 
wished to produce would be more appreciated and 
there, especially in his native country, he would 
receive the encouragement and support denied him 
here. 

He therefore determined to go to Dresden and 
there locate for a time and endeavor to make money 
to pay his debts and place himself in a position to 
go on with his greater works. 

An arrangement was made with his publisher 
to furnish the funds necessary for the journey and 
to supply a small amount monthly to meet current 
expenses. 

However, after he had made many preparations 
for the trip, Mr. James informed him it would be 
impossible for him to furnish the funds promised. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 109 

He then determined to make the necessary 
amount himself and set out on a tour of southern 
cities to paint portraits, going first to Rock Hill, 
S. C, the home of one of his former pupils. Miss 
Annie Jones, afterwards Mrs. Eobertson, of 
Columbia. 

From there he writes Mrs. Oertel : ''If I am not 
successful in making a sufficient amount to keep up 
our school and have a surplus we shall, though in 
utter sorrow, have to break up family and perhaps 
home. I tremble at the thought, but the sad work 
has already begun, and God only knows where it 
will stop. I greatly fear that the gloominess of our 
affairs has not yet reached its apex." 

''And later, from Salem, N. C. : 

"It truly appears that our cup of sorrow is not 
yet full, though it has been filling near the brim 
these three years ; but let us bravely hope still, even 
to the last. 

"If I am obliged to continue portrait painting, 
or anything away from Lenoir, I must resign my 
parish. 

"Your last letter read as solemn as the sighing 
storm in the cedars of Salem graveyard avenue. Is 
it the prelude of our farewell from Lenoir? I fear 
we shall shortly be driven to that, for how can we 
hold out under the circumstances'? How can I 
prevent it, even if all my earnings go into that 
vortex?" 

During this period of portrait painting he also 
did much ministerial work and in the evenings 
wood carving, as he had taken his tools with him for 
the express purpose. 



no A VISION REALIZED 

He went home for a week at Christmas, 1873, 
and then returned to Salem. From Salem he went 
to Charlotte, N. C, where he had an exhibition of a 
number of his paintings, including ^^The Final 
Harvest," which had been on exhibition for some 
time in Raleigh. He was much discouraged by the 
life he was compelled to lead and the class of work 
he had to do. 

In his letters to his wife he made plans of 
various kinds to ^^save the school." One of these 
was to offer his studio building for a schoolhouse if 
the bishop would pledge support, and it was deter- 
mined to put the matter before him at the conven- 
tion soon to be held at Wilmington. 

He also decided to give up the European trip 
and work to pay his debts and make a new start. 
Though a considerable sum had been realized from 
portrait painting it was all absorbed as fast as made 
by paying pressing debts and keeping up the school. 

May 8, 1874, he writes: ^^The hymn of poor 
Newman has been ringing much in my head— 
^Lead, kindly Light'— and particularly the line *I 
do not ask to see the distant scene. One step enough 
for me', so good-bye conjecture and speculation and 
welcome faith and hope." 

May 22, from Wilmington he writes : **I am not 
encouraged about school affairs. I think we will 
have to fight that out pretty much alone. We can 
hope for no help from the bishop. Probably, the 
best course is what you (wife) suggest, to carry it 
through the present year." 

While in Wilmington he was requested to take 
charge of the parish of Dr. Watson (afterwards 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 1 1 

bishop), and did so for three months. After this 
he resumed his portrait painting in Charlotte. 

Every effort was now made and every bit of 
energy put in to the paying of debts— debts which 
had not been incurred on his personal account but 
in an effort to build up school and parish. Alas, the 
odds against him w^ere too great for even the Hercu- 
lean efforts he made to overcome, too great in spite 
of the patient and resourceful wife who bravely 
faced the desperate situation at home and in his 
absence bore the brunt of the battle. An insight 
into the cause of much of the difficulty is given on 
reading a letter written by Mrs. Oertel to a friend 
Februaryie, 1874; 

^^ You know we have the school here ; last session 
we had the teacher, her niece, and four school girls 
boarding with us. As three of them, the teacher, 
her niece and one of the girls were ^dead heads', 
and the other three left without paying one cent on 
their bills, you can imagine that my financial condi- 
tion has not been the most prosperous. 

^^We have fought valiantly for the school the 
past two years ; if He will accept and bless the work, 
well; if not, why, then, well, too; He knows best." 

Many things in this wandering life were hard 
for him to endure. ^'1 am getting very tired," he 
says, ^^of my present life. Visions of art float 
ahead and of a congenial atmosphere which I every- 
where so sadly miss, among a people who are very 
good but can give me nothing I need, nor sympathy 
with my efforts in the manner I require. 

*^Iron fetters hold me down and chafe my soul, 
and were it not for other thoughts, that this life is 



112 A VISION REALIZED 

a discipline and a man's identity not closed or fin- 
ished with his departure from earth, I should feel 
truly despairing while the years fly so swiftly and 
I see so little of life's plans accomplished. Pa- 
tience, submission ; oh how much are they needed ! 
How hard are they to practice! How slowly are 
they learned in true spirit!" 

He was deeply grieved at the situation in the 
parish where he had worked so hard and sacrificed 
so much. ^^How far off," he says, ^^and yet how 
near my poor parish seems to me, the w^ork I did 
there, the people who compose it ; and it seems also 
as if I must remain associated with it and still be 
the guide and teacher and the builder up in that 
primitive mountain land. 

^^What is to become of if? What is to become 
of the poor I have helped and whom I can help no 
longer?" 

In the months spent at Wilmington his brush 
was not idle. He painted a large landscape of an 
old southern home surrounded by towering live 
oaks and in the foreground a trellised scupernong 
vine so common in that section. Also he made 
many marine sketches, going as often as possible to 
the ocean beach. 

^^I have spent," he says, '^a night on the ocean 
shore alone and stood on the roaring brink in the 
dark, lonely, and feeling the pitiless mystery before 
me like the fateful future into whose unfathomable 
extent we peer, a dark infinitude knocking at our 
hearts with rolling surf that crawls on as if to swal- 
low us up and thunders of things strange and 
unknowable." 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 1 3 

This great sea with its ever varying moods, its 
* things strange and unknowable," made a deep 
impression on him and he began to paint a large 
canvas, '^ After the Struggle, Peace." 

Another seashore picture was painted, ^'Home- 
ward from the Marshes," cattle coming up from 
feeding in the marsh land in the evening light. 

He left Wilmington the first of December, going 
to Greensboro to continue portrait painting there. 
He became in a way reconciled to the life he had to 
lead and tried to see in what he had done all the 
good possible and to comfort himself therewith. 

In letters to his wife at this time he says : 

''What I have done for this year past appears 
indeed very little to the purpose, and yet perhaps 
more real good has been done, more seed sown, 
more of helping here and there which none other 
could do as well or in the same way, than if Mr. 
James had furnished me the money to sail off in 
grand style with a flourish in the papers. 

"I am sent here and there, sowing seed, exert- 
ing some influence, and whether in future settled 
or not if I have grace to labor faithfully there will 
be fruit not to be ashamed of. Better men than 
myself have been wanderers, St. Paul, and all the 
apostles among them. Yet their lives certainly 
were not lost. I am now settled in the belief that 
this earthly life of mine may have to be passed in 
humbly doing what men call "small work," jobs 
like a journeyman carpenter, day work for day 
wages ; not in the execution of vast designs of a far- 
reaching character, lifting my name among the 
world's great and daring spirits to be inscribed 



114 A VISION REALIZED 

upon the annals of fame and known in the front 
rank of enterprise and achievement. I may have 
the thoughts, but they must be to myself only; I 
may have the boldness, but it must be carried like a 
reserve strength for enduring hardship. It is 
well then to look into the unbounded activity of a 
life yonder. When a misgiving steals over me— as 
it does— that I am making a practical failure of my 
career, and I study the manifold windings an invis- 
ible hand leads me, and the real divine object of 
human life, the consummation after the eyes close 
to the sun, I feel calmly reconciled and ready to do 
any work faithfully which to-day this unseen 
Power lays in my path, doing the same to-morrow, 
and after to-morrow, just as a child would do in 
trust, and then worry, anxiety, and fear and disap- 
pointed hopes all vanish like shadowy specters of 
night when the heavenly light breaks into the 
gloom. I can then be reconciled to anything and 
my eyes open to the untold blessings contained in 
this very denial, and submission and peace calms 
down the agitated deep of my soul. " 

With the certainty that the work in Lenoir must 
be given up and the struggle against fate abandoned 
came a kind of relief and a looking forward to the 
future with more hope and complacency. 

''We have both of us,'' he writes his wife, ''fret- 
ted ourselves too much in times past. We have dis- 
quieted ourselves about what was still ahead and 
sometimes things which never came to pass. All 
this is wrong. It consumes strength, resolution, 
and peace. We must do so no more. The rough 
places must be gone over, the deep waters crossed, 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 115 

the steps attained by labor and toil in the striving 
for the bright land beyond. It is enough that the 
end be glorious, though the race be hard and trying 
and long, and God will increase our power if from 
the heart we trust in Him. ' ' 

Feeling that he could never resume work in his 
Lenoir parish, he at last resigned, December, 1874, 
and the parish and school passed into the hands of 
the Rev. C. T. Bland. He wrote regretting that he 
could not be present at the last, and said to his wife 
'^God bless you for your heroic exertions in my 
former parish, and especially during my absence 
and this last Christmas season." Being absent at 
this time was particularly trying to him as during 
the years he had charge of the parish Christmas 
tide was made, as it should be, the great feast of the 
year, and in all that was done he took an active part. 

The little church was always most elaborately 
dressed with evergreens; usually an ornamental 
screen of his design was made with his own hands 
for the front of the chancel, and all the young folks 
gathered there in the evenings to help cover it with 
spruce and laurel. There was the Christmas tree 
to decorate and all the simple little presents for the 
Sunday-school scholars to arrange. Then at the 
old rectory all was bustle to prepare the feast of 
good things to which all were invited, and on 
Christmas eve the young folks went out and sang 
carols from house to house. 

All this came up in his mind as he spent this 
Christmas away from his parish and his family and 
among strangers and realized that it must now be 
reckoned among the things of the past and that he 



116 A VISION REALIZED 

was no longer the pastor of his beloved people 
whom he had served so faithfully. 

To show what this Christmas time was to him 
and his devoted wife is quoted a portion of a letter 
written by her in 1884 to The Church Messenger, 
published in Charlotte, N. C. Mrs. Oertel wrote for 
this paper for some years under the name *'Lada." 

^^Dear old Christmas! Hallowed feast! With 
a magician's wand thou bringest out of the past the 
trooping memories. 

*'I see a group of worshippers in a village 
church on the far-away foot hills of the Blue Eidge 
in the Old North State. It is Christmas Eve. I see 
this group after the service stand talking around 
the stove near the door, until, when the rector's 
wife announces her determination to leave, not- 
withstanding the effort made to prolong the conver- 
sation, one of the girls seizes the bellrope and rings 
out a merry peal upon the night air. I hear the 
rector utter some chiding words, but they do not 
have very much effect on the high spirits. I see the 
rector and his wife go toward home. They are 
astonished that the rectory parlor seems brilliantly 
lighted, a cheerful fire upon the hearth, the lamps 
burning, the room decorated with evergreens, and 
everything— sofa, piano, tables, and chairs— piled 
up with beautiful and useful things, while an illu- 
minated shade over the lamp on the center table 
greets them ^^Merrie Christmas." Not a soul is to 
be seen ; all is silent save the cheery crackle of the 
fire upon the hearth, and then they know that the 
peal upon the church bell was to warn the fairies 
who had wrought this transformation to flee. It is 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 1 7 

Holy Innocents ' night. I see the same rectory blaz- 
ing from one end to the other with lights and danc- 
ing fires upon every hearth stone. The doors are 
wide open and I see coming up the winding road 
from the gate through pure white fresh-fallen snow 
a long procession of old and young, rich and poor, 
all in one happy band, coming from the enjoyment 
of the Christmas Tree at the church and making 
the snow-laden pines shiver to their very tops with 
the volume of glad voices shouting the melodious 
strains of * Wonderful Night.' I see good cheer 
spread in abundance. I see, ah ! I can see no more 
for the blinding tears." 

As he was now no longer in charge of a parish 
he began to work harder than ever with brush and 
pencil, and besides the portraits on which he was 
engaged made many designs for more important 
work to be executed in the future to which he again 
looked forward with hope and confidence. 

He had made a design of ^^The Shadow of the 
Eock" and writes he had ^^frequently tried to im- 
prove the figure. Last night it came to me. How 
my best things have always been a gift. ' ' 

He improved much in health and strength, no 
doubt because the burden of the parish and school 
had been lifted from his shoulders and he was at 
the time making enough money to supply im- 
mediate needs and had besides good prospects of 
more remunerative work. 

Of this he says: ^^And while the artists at the 
North are reduced to the verge of want, I, strange 
to contemplate, in a country without art and money, 
am having orders ahead and a reasonable prospect 



118 A VISION REALIZED 

of being able to go forward on the laudable and 
happy road of paying the debts of more disastrous 
years.'' 

Several important designs were made at this 
time, ^'Isaiah on Mount Horeb,'' of which he made 
a finely finished and deep-toned drawing, and 
^^Ezekiel,'' or '^The Vision of Dry Bones." This 
was afterward painted and will be later described. 

February 15, 1875, he received a call to the as- 
sistant rectorship of the church at Wilmington, but 
declined, *^for," he said, ''how can I pay my debts 
if I go ? How can I follow art at all ? I am not a 
free man to choose." 

Most of the work on his important designs was 
done at night, as the portrait painting consumed all 
of the daylight. It was to him an irksome task, 
with his mind so filled with children of his own crea- 
tion which he so longed to produce ! He thus gives 
vent to his feelings in a letter to his wife (Mar. 18, 
1875) : ''I go in the 'painting room' and look with 
horror at the row of stretchers gaping their backs 
of canvas with my name on each at me as in ghastly 
grin at the labor I, poor fellow, had to bestow on 
their opposite sides. It reminds one, this wretched 
sight, of the organ grinder you once saw in Tenth 
Street, New York, one fearfully hot day, drawling 
out dolefully the air 'Jordan is a hard road to 
travel' and some lounging chap tosses him a penny. 
What a pity that artists and clergymen have to eat 
and drink and need money like other folks; that 
they can not feed themselves and their families on 
beauty and morals. 

"If the business I am now engaged in wore out 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 19 

only brushes they could easily be replaced; but I 
have to be watchful it does not wear out my mind 
much more and leave it in a blank condition. It is 
not particularly enriched by the process." 

Early in the spring (April) he went over in 
** Stokes" county to paint horses, and while there 
wrote he had held the first church service ever seen 
or heard in that county. 

In the latter part of April his daughter and 
younger son left Lenoir for a visit to friends in the 
State and, as his elder son was already away at 
school, Mrs. Oertel was left alone and he planned 
to return. 

*^ Eight long weary months," he says to her, 
'^ since I have had the light of your face. We have 
tried to be doing good, and by Divine grace have, 
1 believe, effected our desires; but it has been at 
fearful expense to ourselves. I myself do not 
reckon it, but we are now by His own hand broken 
up and warned away from Lenoir, and since He has 
thus set us in motion on this course and race for 
freedom, I mean to keep on the run until I have 
crossed the Mason and Dixon line." 



CHAPTER X. 

He returned to Lenoir May 24, 1875, and moved 
Ms furniture into the studio where he and his 
wife lived for some time. He at once began to plan 
for important art work and determined to risk 
painting, '^The Shadow of the Rock," but the 
general conditions and surroundings were not con- 
ducive to the freedom of thought so necessary to 
its successful execution. Though living in the 
studio, he and his wife had to go to a neighbor's, 
half a mile distant, for meals, which made a serious 
break in his days. Then the separation from the 
children, the scattered condition of his household, 
and being forced to remain in his former field of 
labor and see day by day his cherished work fade 
away and die and be unable to raise a hand to save 
it was hard to endure. 

^*As for the parish," writes Mrs. Oertel, '*we 
feel much like standing by the bedside of a dying 
loved one and watching each breath grow fainter ; 
disintegration and decay seems to be written over 
the door." 

Besides this, he had been out of the art world 
for years and constantly drawing on his own mental 
resources without opportunity for study or aid of 
any kind whatever. 

He felt this keenly and so feared to trust him- 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 121 

self to go on with the large work in his present con- 
dition that he made plans to go to New York and 
paint it there. 

This, however, he was forced to relinquish for 
lack of funds, though about the same time he gave 
$50 toward the support of the mission school and 
paid over $1,300 on his debts. 

It was no new thing for him to work under every 
difficulty, so he began, June, 1875, to paint, as best 
he might, ^^The Shadow of the Rock," 8 by 10 feet 
in size, with the intention of sending it to the Cen- 
tennial Exposition soon to be held in Philadelphia. 

This is from the text : 

*^ And a man shall be as a hiding place from the 
wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of 
water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock 
in a weary land. " Isaiah 32 : 2. 

On the left-hand side of the picture stretches 
the awful waste of the desert. It lies under the 
glaring noon-day sun, yellow, shimmering with in- 
tense heat, stones strewn about, their keen edges 
sharply defined beneath the fierce sunshine, and 
along the distant horizon the death-dealing sand 
storm is sweeping up with a terrible fury, a ^^ weary 
land" indeed! 

On the other side of the picture, covering nearly 
half of the canvas, there rises a rock so high that 
the top is not seen. At the base, from a cleft in its 
side, there gushes out a bubbling spring of bright 
water. All around the rill formed b}^ the spring, 
emerald green grass gemmed with flowers, olean- 
ders in full bloom, with other shrubbery in luxuri- 
ant profusion, cover the otherwise arid soil. 



122 A VISION REALIZED 

The shadow of the rock is thrown in the imme- 
diate foreground by the meridian sun, and it 
suggests the form of a cross. 

Herein is contained the powerful teaching of 
this design. In this shadow lies a youth, oriental in 
face and garb. He has evidently, just at the last 
moment of endurance, escaped from the blazing 
sunshine and the oncoming wind and tempest; he 
has cast himself at full length upon the living grass 
and presses hands and cheek against the cold moist 
rock, while his large dark eyes are lifted in unutter- 
able thankfulness. At a distance away, upon the 
sand, lies a figure that for some reason has failed to 
reach the Eefuge, and one feels that destruction 
must soon overtake him. 

The one who has gained the shadow shows by 
the expression of exhaustion in the whole figure, the 
cut and bleeding feet, and parched lips, that his 
race for life has been a severe one. 

The parable is plain to imderstand. The desert 
—this sinful world; the rock— Christ; the spring— 
the living waters; the shadow— His full life-giving 
salvation. On the one side— danger, destruction, 
death; on the other side— rest, refreshment, safety, 
life. ^^So run that ye may obtain," and ^^and that 
Rock was Christ" are the legends on the frame. 

It was for such art as this that Mr. Oertel fought 
his whole life through, a hand-to-hand fight with 
the materialism of the age. 

Painting this picture exhausted all his re- 
sources, but he felt it his duty as an American artist 
to do something toward the showing of American 
art in the great exhibition, and doubly so as a Chris- 



UFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 123 

tian artist to place a work there to testify to Gospel 
truth. 

For some days before it was sent to Phila- 
delphia it was on exhibition at the studio and 
almost everyone in the town and surrounding coun- 
try came to see it. The people were so proud to 
have such a work go to represent their town that 
they insisted on paying the expense of sending it to 
Philadelphia. 

It was sent to the Exposition and attracted a 
great deal of attention, though only 15 words of 
explanation or description were allowed in the 
catalogue. 

It was shown in New York at the National 
Academy exhibition in 1877. Mr. Oertel had an 
understanding with the hanging committee about it 
before it left Philadelphia, and they expressed 
themselves glad to give it place. The place they 
gave it was one where it could hardly be seen at all. 
A critic, in an article on ^^ Christian Thought in the 
National Academy" said: ^^In wandering through 
the galleries of the Academy, with all the variety 
of color and effect upon its walls, and the display 
of technical ability, a thoughtful mind can not but 
be struck with the meagerness of idea in the works 
which our painters put before us. As the true end 
and aim of art should be to instruct and teach, to 
lift the soul from this earthly level to purer 
heights of spiritual contemplation, to place before 
the eye facts and ideals lofty and elevating in a 
tangible form, one would expect to find a larger 
recognition of this principle in the exhibition of the 
National Academy ; but looking for this, and Chris- 



124 A VISION REALIZED 

tian thought especially, I find but few represen- 
tatives. 

^^The most important work of the character, 
No. 108, ^The Shadow of a Great Eock,' by J. A. 
Oertel, to which the hanging committee have in- 
deed proved themselves executioners, is hung in the 
corridor above one of the large doors! * * * The 
excellency of the rendering of details can not be 
seen in its present position. It is only those who 
saw the picture under more favorable circum- 
stances at the Centennial who can know what they 
are. * * * This picture is a sermon of powerful 
Christian teaching. Can that be the reason it was 
hung so near the sky?" 

Another work which deserves mention was ex- 
hibited at the same time: ''Elijah on Mount 
Horeb." It is a powerful rendering of the grand 
old prophet in his hour of deep depression and 
almost despair, when he exclaimed (I Kings, 10) : 
''And I, even I only am left, and they seek my 
life to take it away." 

Next was finished "After the Struggle, Peace," 
begun in Wilmington, and this also was sent to 
New York for exhibition. 

It is a grand and imposing picture. It trans- 
fers you almost bodily to the lone low shore on 
which the restless waters beat. You can almost 
hear the roar and hiss and see the mad foam crawl 
up to your feet. Darkness settles upon the deep, 
and the light of the departing sun glows only in the 
long-stretched army of the sky like a battlement of 
glory, conducting the eye to the restful blue over- 
head. But below there is commotion and strife and 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 125 

the mystery of danger and suffering and death, for 
there lies, just cast out, a piece of a wreck, and a 
sealed bottle washed upon the sand— the tale of 
some lost crew upon the mighty and treacherous 
deep. 

In this manner he proposed to teach more than 
how the surf breaks upon a shallow beach, and make 
it a poem of life, of death, and of eternity. 

Again came up the question of how he should 
attain his object of painting the ^^ series," and all 
sorts of schemes were alternately discussed and 
abandoned for the same reason— lack of funds. 

He felt that Providence had so far restrained 
him from the work, as he now felt ready both 
in mental discipline and technical knowledge, 
which he was not at the time the designs were 
given him. 

^^But now," he says ^Hhe time has come, if 
ever," and Mrs. Oertel writes : ^^I would go to Cali- 
fornia or the South Sea Islands, or any other cor- 
ner of the world if I was convinced that by doing 
so I should advance the possibility of this great 
work. No sacrifice I could make should stand in 
the way." 

However, nothing could be done without money 
and he again started out painting portraits, going 
first to Raleigh, while Mrs. Oertel went to visit her 
relatives in New York (May 22, 1876). 

So at last Lenoir was left behind and the years 
of struggle in the attempt to benefit and help his 
people were now only a remembrance. The break- 
ing away had been gradual, but because of this all 
the harder. As he expressed it, *^It is in some 



126 A VISION REALIZED 

respects like the mercy shown the dog by his owner 
when he cut off his tail by inches to save pain." 

In Raleigh he was engaged on all kinds of work, 
little of which was to his liking, and he vents his 
feelings in letters to his wife. In May, 1876, he 
wrote: 

^^An old chronic and periodical desire has again 
seized me this spring, and at times I suffer terribly 
from it, the more so because it seems as if I must 
bear it in patience without much prospect of a cure. 
It is that miserable art fever, and it comes on worse 
with every attack because I am getting to be more 
and more starved out; consequently I have less 
power to resist. It shakes me from morning to 
night and is a daily visitor— not an intermittant. 

^^This last week I worked very hard, but it was 
to purpose. Once a while, you know of old, there 
comes to me such a fit of activity and then the labor 
of two or three days is compressed into one." 

July 16 he wrote from Raleigh to his wife : 

^^And now let us see what my log book has 
marked down for the past week. Speed, 12 knots 
an hour; advanced well the picture of the ^Man in 
the Boat'; painted in a day and a half a very fine 
fruit piece for Mrs. Battle as a present, nearly fin- 
ished a small fruit piece for myself. Dead calm 
prevailing (as regards wind, for my speed is per 
steam, you must know, not being able to use the sails 
of pecuniary advantage by absence of breezes of 
fortune). Weather murky, damp, and threaten- 
ing; sky covered and preventing observations; 
drifting with powerful undercurrent in an un- 
known direction, afraid shoals near but can not see 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 127 

them ; keep watch in top and fire signal guns once 
in a while without response ; no use of rockets, as 
air is too foggy and thick; hope to get sight of 
something this week, but uncertain; have nearly 
decided to alter course and steer westerly. 

''An advertisement in the papers in flaming 
capitals would certainly be the proper thing: 'The 
greatest artist of all North Carolina in this city! 
Extraordinary chance! Unparalleled advantage, 
most wonderful bargains ! $75 a head for the most 
striking and beautiful likeness done to the life. 
Would deceive a man's own dog and run his wife 
distracted. Now is your time, positively the only 
and last chance; go at once and secure your for- 
tune ; wake up to the magnificent opportunity and 
save yourselves the pangs of everlasting regret," 
etc. 

On August 4, 1876, he returned to Lenoir to 
pack and ship some of his goods and take final leave, 
"have another inch of the tail removed." 

Prom here, on the 23rd, he writes Mrs. Oertel, 
now at her old home in Madison, N. J. : 

"The date of our silver wedding (minus the 
silver) is September 4, and we ought to be together 
on that date. We have had many ups and downs in 
the last 25 years, and now we are back where we 
started— without a home and beginning once more. 

' ' The poor people of the parish came to say good 
bye; they send love to you. I suppose many a 
broken prayer goes up from these poor creatures 
on our behalf. Alas! this stricken parish!" 



CHAPTER XI. 

September 1 (1876) he left for the North, 
spending some time in Madison, and Glen Cove, 
L. I., where he visited his friend. Rev. John C. 
Middleton, then rector of St. Paul's Church. 

On October 17 he took a studio in the T. M. C. A. 
Building, New York City. Of this move he says : 
^^What else can be done I am unable to see. All is 
a subject for trust, and not for sight." He had 
been seven years in the South, isolated from artistic 
intercourse, and knowing of art life only by occa- 
sional clippings from the newspapers sent him by 
his friends at intervals. He soon realized that the 
spirit and fashion of art had drifted farther than 
ever away from him. He found some of the best 
artists spending their strength on illustrations and 
decorations which to his mind were trivial and un- 
satisfying. His serious turn of thought, his ideas 
of elevation in art, seemed all out of place. A few 
of the old names were left, but only a few ; from 
these he received a hearty welcome, but withal he 
felt a stranger ; a stranger personally to the multi- 
tude of new artists who had meanwhile arisen, a 
stranger to the style, method, and aim of prevailing 
taste. 

Certainly this move was, as he said, one of trust 
and not of sight. The first night in his new room 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 129 

was without fire, though it was quite cold. He had 
only a few of his things and slept on the floor, ^^ with 
paint box for pillow and some light robes, used for 
draping, for cover." 

**It seems like a monstrous venture," he says, 
*Ho go into such a room— and such expenses— with 
$15 in one's pocket. I have felt for some days very 
sober and anxious, but yesterday, coming down on 
the cars, I asked the serious question whether if 
$500 were in my pocket these despondent thoughts 
would rule me ? Whether in that case it would not 
be, after all, the money my heart trusted in to help 
me through instead of the Great Banker in Heaven, 
my almighty and ever-faithful God, and, conscience 
stricken, I humbled myself and begged forgiveness 
and grace and faith to trust implicitly always and 
with a cheerful courage in whatever trial of pa- 
tience and endurance might come." 

And so he began this period of his career (1876) 
which was to result only in fruitless effort— in dire 
distress, poverty, and privation over which it is 
best to pass. 

It is not desired to weary the reader of these 
pages by a rehearsal of all the trials, care, and dis- 
appointment which fell to his lot; nevertheless, 
in writing of a life which was for the most 
part struggle and privation, much must be told; 
at least such incidents as directly affected his 
artistic career. 

Many failures were due without doubt to his 
own errors of judgment, though who can say 
what the result would have been had the op- 
posite course been followed? Most of such, 



1 30 A VISION REALIZED 

however, can be traced directly or indirectly to 
the tenacity with which he clung to his ideal 
and religious art. 

For this was the sacrifice made, and even when 
disposed to murmur at the hardships he was called 
on to endure he had a sublime faith in Almighty 
power and over the troubled waters of his soul came 
the voice of his Master saying ^* Peace, be still" and 
there was a great calm. 

So as year succeeded year, each bringing to him 
new trials and difficulties, each bearing him nearer 
the end of life yet sternly withholding that for 
which he strove, did this faith and trust bear him 
up and give him strength to rise above each suc- 
ceeding surge which swept over him and strike 

out toward the calm water bevond with renewed 

•/ 

vigor. 

Nothing was accomplished in the New York 
studio, and, after spending the winter there, early 
in the spring (1877) he sought again the retirement 
of a country home. 

Attracted by the prospect of the society of val- 
ued friends, he made his new home at Glen Cove, 
L. I., and was soon by vote of the vestry offered a 
complimentary position as assistant minister of St. 
Paul's Church, which he accepted, glad to render 
what assistance he could to his cherished friend, the 
rector. 

At this time the Stewart Memorial Cathedral at 
Garden City, L. I., was being built, and Bishop Lit- 
tle John proposed Mr. Oertel's name to the architect 
as the proper man to make designs for the windows 
and other artistic work. In this he was seconded 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 131 

by Dr. Middleton, then warden of the cathedral 
schools. 

He became very enthusiastic over the prospect 
and even made some designs, but Judge Henry Hil- 
ton, who had charge of the whole matter for Mrs. 
Stewart, refused to consent, putting a stop to any 
further operations. 

He fitted up a sort of a studio in the carriage- 
house of the property rented and began to paint. 
Only two important works mark this period, ^^The 
Holy Grail" and the reredos he erected in St. 
Paul's Church **to the glory of God and as a testi- 
mony of his heartfelt appreciation of the many 
kindnesses and delicate attentions he had received 
from the members of the congregation.'' The seed 
thought of the painting of *^The Holy Grail" is 
contained in the well-known stanza from Tenny- 
son's ^^Sir Galahad." 

"A gentle sound, an awful light, 

Three angels bear the Holy Grail, 
With folded feet, and stoles of white 

On sleeping wings they sail. 
blessed vision. Blood of God ! 

My spirit beats its mortal bars. 
As down dark tides the glory rides 

And starlight mingles with the stars." 

But merely to give embodiment to the poetical 
idea expressed in these lines would not satisfy our 
artist. He never could give the image supplied by 
the mind of another without draping it anew from 
his own storehouse. So the picture stands com- 
pleted, not the beauteous vision the poet laureate 
brings before the knight, but as showing the sacra- 



132 A VISION REALIZED 

ment of the Holy Eucharist in the keeping of the 
ministry of the Church, 

The three angels who bear the Holy Grail are 
clothed in the vestments of the altar service. The 
central figure in the alb and chasuble of the cele- 
brant, and representing the bishop, looks up with 
a face full of rapt adoration at the Holy Burden 
lifted high above their heads. To the right the 
angel wears the surplice of the priest. He, too, 
gazes upon the mystery he helps to bear, but with 
more of anxious deference in the expression of his 
coimtenance ; while the angel on the left side has the 
dalmatic, or short surplice of the deacon, with the 
stole crossed under the left arm. He assists with 
one hand in bearing the Holy Grail but the other is 
pressed upon his breast, and his gaze is downcast 
and full of the deepest reverential awe. 

The Cup is blood red upon a base of gold and 
jewels. It emits seven rays; three from the top 
symbolizing the Trinity, the four pointing down- 
ward being the number of earth ; in all seven, the 
seven spirits of God, and the number of heavenly 
and spiritual perfection. 

The three figures with their wings make a star- 
like form and are lighted from the cup, which is 
glowing with light and blood red. The background 
is a dark, star-studded sky with fleecy clouds below. 
This is a most remarkable picture and the lighting 
such that it impresses one as if it might still be seen 
if the room were darkened. 

The reredos is a piece of exquisite carving fill- 
ing the whole back of the chancel. The wood is 
chestnut with an admixture of holly. It contains 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 33 

five paintings in oil and some illuminations, the 
whole telling the story of the Incarnation in a full 
and comprehensive manner. 

This work was all done during the year 1877 and 
early part of 1878. During the rest of the year 
nothing of importance was produced. He had 
many pictures on hand for which there was no sale, 
and he had not the heart to paint more. Poverty, 
failure, and disappointment had worn him out, and 
he was in a serious condition physically. His 
brother. Dr. Oertel, advised a change and sug- 
gested that he go south again. So on the 3rd of 
May 1879, the thirty-first anniversary of his leav- 
ing the Fatherland, he set sail with his wife and two 
sons on one of the Old Dominion Line steamers 
bound southward to North Carolina. 

After some months spent in the old Lenoir stu- 
dio and among his former parishioners who loved 
him so much, his health improved rapidly and he 
was eager for work; so it was at last determined 
to make a final settlement at Morganton, 16 miles 
from Lenoir, in an adjoining county. 

Buying a few acres of land on a most command- 
ing site, where an unrivalled panorama of moun- 
tain view surrounded him, looking into seven or 
eight counties, and comprising the grandest eleva- 
tions this side of the Rocky Mountains, he again 
made a studio home. 

Here once more he cherished the hope of going 
on to paint his great designs. 

For a time he was rector of the parish church— 
unwillingly, but consenting to the position because 
he felt that duty called him ; but later he resigned 



134 A VISION REALIZED 

the rectorship and returned to art, believing that 
his true mission was there and that he must preach 
the glorious truths of the gospel by form rather 
than words, being none the less a preacher by the 
difference of the medium of communication to the 
people. 

The first painting of note produced in this 
studio was ^^The Good Shepherd. '^ This does not 
represent the earthly human shepherd according 
to the conventional idea, but assumes that what our 
Lord did while walking on the earth He is con- 
stantly doing and by the same means. He still goes 
out into the darkness of this sinful world with the 
love of God and the power of His Atonement to 
seek and save that which is lost. 

In this picture the act is presented as fuly com- 
pleted. Leaving the dark world behind Him, and 
with the meek and thankful burden upon His 
shoulders. He has entered upon the golden confines 
of Heaven as in triumph, exclaiming, ^^ Rejoice 
with me, for I have found my sheep." 

A crown of 12 stars— the foundation number of 
the Church— with the Cross as their center, encir- 
cles His Head, and the tricolored numbers symbol- 
ize the Trinity, and His own Divinity. The royal 
mantle is on His shoulders while the other robes are 
merely the suggestive red of love and white of holi- 
ness. In His hands and His feet the stigmata 
declare of the death on the cross once for all suf- 
fered for mankind, and His arms with the shep- 
herd's staff— for He is ^*the Bishop and Shepherd 
of our souls," and the chief Shepherd— form a 
cross, the symbol forever of our redemption. This 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 1 35 

is sought to represent a summary of all the truths 
contained in the subject of ^'The Good Shepherd" 
and bring to the mind in one glance the character 
of the blessed Saviour and the accomplishment of 
His mission. 

''The Ark Restored/' painted at this time, is 
one of his best works. It is from the sixth chapter 
of I Samuel, where the five Philistine lords watch 
the kine drawing the ark as they take their way 
down the hill toward Beth Shemesh. It is fine in 
color and full of dramatic action. This picture 
was placed with a dealer in New York and the 
price set at $1,000. Soon after it went on Mr. 
Oertel received a telegram from the dealer 
asking if he would take $600 for it. As usual 
he needed money and could not afford to pass 
the offer, so he replied that he would. After ex- 
penses for frame and commission were deducted he 
received $450. 

The dealer would never tell to whom the picture 
was sold and the artist always believed it brought 
the full price and that the dealer pocketed the 
balance. It is not known to this day who the 
purchaser was. 

Another painting was made here which deserves 
mention. This was painted for Mr. Barns, of New 
Haven, Conn. The subject was the three women on 
their way to the sepulcher on Easter morning. 
They walk out full faced toward you, their eyes 
tear stained and the soul of sadness upon their 
brows. You feel that they walk in silence, saying 
only ''Who will roll us away the stone?" Behind 
them rises Calvary with the three empty crosses 



136 A VISION REALIZED 

outlined against the dawn and above that a cloud 
all along the horizon, but over it an exquisite ex- 
panse of sky palpitating with the dawning light, 
and above the crosses flames the morning star— 
telling that the stone is rolled away. 

Mr. Hyde, during this year (1881), attempted 
to make an arrangement with the Art Association 
in Boston which would enable Mr. Oertel to go on 
and paint the '^ Series," and for a time it seemed as 
if his efforts would be successful. 

Nearly 30 years had elapsed since the designs 
were made, and always had he kept them in sight. 
Mrs. Oertel writes (Sept. 19) ''When I look back 
at his patience, at his faith in the future that God 
would give him to execute these works, when I re- 
member what inspirations they were, I feel as if the 
time must come, and if it has not come now it does 
begin to look hopeless." He also felt that surely 
now the time had come and said that if the present 
plan came to nothing he feared he would be ''a fail- 
ure in art and have to worry out my life the best 
lean." 

However, when the plan of Mr. Hyde did fail 
he did not despair, but set about devising a new 
scheme to attain the desired end. His daughter 
Lena had been teaching for some years in the Leake 
and Watts Orphan House, New York City. His 
elder son had cast his fortune with his and assisted 
all he could, but still as they were now situated the 
big works could not be attempted. So much was at 
that time said and written of the possibilities of 
easy living and making money in Florida that the 
idea was evolved that here might be a chance to get 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 37 

on a footing independent of art so he could be free 
to carry out his plans. 

He had some little correspondence with several 
residents of the state and of course received every 
encouragement to come and locate. In answer to 
his inquiries in one locality he was told that the 
business in which there was most immediate money 
returns was lumber and that the growing of 
oranges would soon bring a fortune. That was it ; 
he would have a saw mill and an orange grove ; the 
boys could run the mill and make the living while 
the orange trees grew and he would be free to go 
on with his artistic work. Accordingly, in the 
spring of 1882 (Mar. 24), during the absence of his 
elder son, he set out for the Promised Land, full of 
hope and enthusiasm, taking with him his younger 
son and dog ''Prince." As Mrs. Oertel wrote, it 
surely was ''Innocents abroad." On his arrival in 
Florida all was enthusiasm. The new and strange 
country fascinated him. His artistic eye saw only 
the beauty of moss-draped pines and gigantic live 
oaks, of crystal springs and placid lakes. He be- 
lieved all the stories told him of the wonderful 
future of orange culture; one had only to plant 
trees, watch them grow a few years, and then catch 
the gold as it fell in showers from each bending 
limb. His letters were all filled with glowing de- 
scriptions of the beauty, healthfulness, and natural 
advantages of the country. Alas ! he was soon to 
learn that there was another side to life in the 
Flowery Land; that the climate "so mild and 
healthful to man" was also favorable to the exist- 
ence of innumerable insect pests, and that it was a 



138 A VISION REALIZED 

far cry from the orange seed to the gold dollar ; also 
that though figures are not supposed to lie they do 
so when it comes to estimating the capacity and 
profits of a saw mill. 

However, he located at Orange Spring, Marion 
County, where with his sons and Mr. C. M. Mc- 
Dowell of Morganton he went into the lumber 
business, purchased a saw mill, and broke ground 
for an orange grove. 

Before joining him in his new home Mrs. Oertel 
went on to New York to visit her relatives and 
attend to art business there. 

May 1 she writes of an attempt to have some 
works published. She went to see the head of the 
Scribner house and showed him the works. ^^He 
asked," she says, ^^are they copies of any of the 
great names'?" I said ^^Oh, no; they are entirely 
original. " " Well, ' ' he said ' ' if they were copies of 
any of the great names, they might be made to go ; 
but as originals they are worthless." *^What can 
one do with such sentiment as that?" She also 
adds: ^^The pictures in the Academy are hung by 
the neck until they are dead. The large one, ^ After 
the Struggle, Peace' is consigned to the ^Eumple- 
kammer' of the concern, down in the cloak room 
among a lot of flowers and trumpery, and *^The 
Child Jesus" has a negro picture to right of it, a 
negro stealing whiskey beneath it, and a gay thing 
full of unrest to the left of it." On the above it is 
useless to comment. The only wonder is that he 
continued to work at all or had any heart to try to 
bring his art before the public. 

Mrs. Oertel left New York to join the family in 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 1 39 

Orange Spring on June 16 (1882), going by 
steamer to Jacksonville, river boat to Palatka, 
railroad to Johnson's Station, and ^* Florida phae- 
ton" (a two-wheeled cart) the remaining 6 miles. 
Judging from her written description of this trip 
her first impressions of the new land were anything 
but favorable ; it is very humorous and interesting, 
but lack of space forbids quoting here. 

A hard and toilsome life she came to, one where 
physical strength was needed above any other 
asset ; this she had not, but courage and endurance 
she had, and she bore the burden uncomplainingly 
through all the long campaign which followed. 

The saw mill was set up, logs hauled, and the 
first timber cut was for the new studio which he 
began to build at once w^hile still enthusiastic over 
the country and the prospects. The boys helped 
him get the heavy timbers in place, but except for 
this the building was the work of his own hands. 
Very little art work, however, was done. He re- 
made the design for the ^^Dispensations of Promise 
and the Law'' and considered that it was *^ vastly 
improved"; also he recomposed ^^The Era of the 
Holy Spirit. ' ' The original design— the 12 apostles 
stepping down from the clouds in obedience to the 
command '^go ye into all the world," etc., he made 
only in the clouds, while below he placed a com- 
position almost as extensive as the first one. 

He also did considerable toward elaborating the 
last of the ^ ' Series. ' ' 

During his stay in Orange Spring he held serv- 
ices in the Methodist Church, which was seldom 
used. Lena came down from New York in the fall 



140 A VISION REALIZED 

and helped in this with the music. A small organ 
was carried over from the house every Sunday and 
she played and sang the hynms. After Mr. Oertel 
went North, his wife and daughter continued these 
services for nine months. She says: ^^I wrote to 
Dr. Weller, the principal clergyman of the diocese, 
and asked him what he thought St. Paul would say 
to it" (the reading of the service and sermon by a 
woman). He replied, ^' Under the circimistances, 
I think St. Paul would say, ^Sister, go on,' so on I 
went." 

It soon became apparent that a permanent stay 
here was out of the question. The business could 
not be made to pay as was expected ; the boys 
worked hard, but were dissatisfied and did not care 
to remain ; the life was hard on his wife and indeed 
hard on him. His health failed and his enthusiasm 
ebbed to the vanishing point. He suffered intensely 
from the numerous insect pests. Ticks, chiggers, 
fleas, sand flies, gnats, and mosquitoes abounded, 
and all seemed to have a special thirst for his blood. 
He was in constant misery from their bites and 
stings, and as his flesh was irritated so was his mind. 
He said he ^^felt so humiliated, being a prey to 
vermin." 

Mrs. Oertel wrote to ^^Edward" (March, 1883) : 
^'He can not stay here. The insects make life per- 
fectly unendurable for him. 

^^ Imagine him before his easel, the gnats in his 
eyes, the mosquitoes singing about his ears, the 
fleas working next to his skin, the ants on his 
palate— and meanwhile the roaches eating up his 
books and pictures. ' ' And so, feeling that a further 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 141 

stay in Florida was useless and that nothing could 
be accomplished either in business or in art, he 
returned north, leaving Orange Spring alone and 
with a small trunk and his paint box only, April 
8, 1883. 

The boys had already returned to North Caro- 
lina, going up the coast in a boat built by themselves 
from their own lumber. 

Mrs. Oertel and Lena remained, as there was as 
yet no other place to go, nor funds to go with. The 
mill had been sold to some orange growers, but on 
account of the failure of the orange crop that year 
they were unable to pay for it. So once more his 
family was thoroughly scattered and he cast adrift 
to make what landing he might and begin the 
struggle anew. 

Begin anew ! and in his sixtieth year ! 

What wonder that at first, though his aim was 
still the same and resolve unshaken, that he felt 
despondent. 

He went first to Washington, taking a studio 
there in the Corcoran building, where he lived and 
worked. His condition of mind at this time is best 
expressed in his own words to his friend Edward 
Hyde: 

^^What of the Series I have for so long deter- 
mined to execute at my own expense, scorning help 
and the sacrificing of my own independence? It 
now looms up to me as a foolish notion. The Fates 
have knocked into flinders every scheme of mine 
to achieve this independence in some other manner 
unconnected with art. The last one, the Florida 
dream, must go with the rest, and thus I am thrown 



142 A VISION REALIZED 

back into my old and wearisome experience, with a 
despairing sort of feeling at the heart because, 
every effort failing, there is only left the drudgery 
of toiling for a precarious living by what is almost 
hateful work and seems devoid of aim as it is kill- 
ing of aspiration. And as to help— where is it to 
come from and who is to give it ? Is there such an 
ideal man living, the miracle of his age, whose soul 
could be fired with a grand conception to sufficient 
warmth and trust as to risk his money on an under- 
taking subject to so many contingencies ? And sup- 
pose such a man not altogether impossible, how can 
so obscure an individual as myself, and who can 
boast of neither influence nor active friends of the 
mercenary kind, ever hope to become acquainted 
with him?" 

Thus it was that he was again forced to resort 
to painting portraits and ^^pot boilers," though he 
managed, to produce quite a number of better works 
during the same period, ^^The Seasons," using the 
groups from ^^ Father Time and his Family"; 
^^ Footprints of the Storm," a large landscape from 
studies made some years before in Venice Center, 
N. T., after a tornado had swept over that part of 
the country. ' ' The Walk to Gethsemane ' ' and then 
two large canvases of the Four Evangelists for St. 
John's Church, Georgetown, D. C. The sluggish 
and laborious working that characterized his forced 
efforts left him so soon as anything of this kind 
was upon his easel; now it was bold and rapid. 
^^Give me," he says, ^^a big canvas and a broad 
manner of treatment, and I am perfectly at home. 
It's this miserable consideration of texture, and 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 143 

technicality for itself s sake, and diminutive canvas 
—and perhaps equally diminutive subjects— that 
dwarf my energies." 

These pictures were painted for about what it 
cost for material but that mattered not; they were 
for the Church, it was the work he loved and for 
which he was best fitted, and he did his utmost to 
make them all they should be. 

He also painted the symbols of the Four Evan- 
gelists upon the walls of the church. 

During this period he did considerable modeling 
in clay. 

He modeled his design ''The School of the 
Prophets" in figures 18 inches high and planned to 
do the same with sections of the ' ' Big Series. ' ' But 
here the balance wheel of his life (Mrs. Oertel) 
came in and checked the speed he was gathering. 
''It seems to me," she writes, "you would under- 
take too great a task in modeling in ever so sketchy 
a manner for the big pictures. I can see the ad- 
vantage, but the time, man; where is it to come 
from?" 

It was thus in all he planned; he never con- 
sidered the work involved. Did some church want 
an altar or reredos and stipulate the sum they could 
pay, he immediately made a design which to execute 
would require work worth fifty times the amount. 
It was easy for him to put it on paper ; the labor of 
execution was never considered. 

The church work done, though at no profit, 
immediately whetted his appetite for more. He 
believed in this line— decoration and painting for 
churches— he might receive recognition. 



144 A VISION REALIZED 

^^So you see," he says, ^'I am in work for 
churches above my shoulders— but not my eyes or 
brain. Measuring these I could employ several 
pairs of hands with profit." 

He was now in the same position as he had been 
so many times before. Of this he says : 

^^Many years of experience only repeats itself 
in my life, namely, plenty of hard work and very 
slim compensation of the kind that would relieve 
my family from care— and often want. Yet you 
know I am in the position of starting anew in life, 
and perhaps when my fourth score years begin I 
shall have reached a development growing out of 
the three that have gone before." 

Efforts to make money by the sale of a lot of 
small pictures resulted in failure and a bill for 
auctioneer's expenses. *^But," he writes, ^Hhis 
reestablishing is no mean battle, which deserves to 
be fought to the end and my backbone is not broken 
yet by a good deal. You know I can not be put 
down." 

On November 3, 1883, he reached the ^Hhree 
score" years of his life. A poem written him on 
this date by his wife will not be inappropriate here. 

** Threescore." 

Threescore : 
So long ago, my love, this day I see 
Life's golden ladder was let down for thee — 
Round upon round it rose before thy feet, 
Up, up, to where the clouds swift winged and fleet, 
Hid with their deep impenetrable mystery 
The end. 
No earthly eye 
Nor mortal lore, 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 145 

Could pierce the shroud that wrapped the path to be, 
Nor know, whether it led to death's dark night, 
Or to that region of perpetual light, 
Heaven's shining shore ! 

"Threescore : 
So far away from youth's keen eager gaze 
This point thou hast attained, by devious ways. 
The clouds mysterious, crimson gleamed and gold, 
And visions fair lurked in them fold on fold : 
Thy spirit's wing by power of genius nerved 

Was strong! 
Heaven's precious gifts 

From boundless store, 
Thy soul grasped after, and thy faith ne'er swerved; 
Firm trod thy feet, thine eyes' clear upward glance 
Caught glimpses through the rifts of blue expanse 

All star gemmed o'er. 

"Threescore : 
So many rounds, my love, thy feet have trod 
Struggling and climbing nearer to thy God, 
The clouds, so crimson hued to youth, would oft descend, 
Wrap thee in gloom and direful woe portend ; 
And evil birds of hell thy trembling soul 

Affright! 
Thy voice could scarce 

Mercy implore. 
Mid lightnings flash, storms rush, and thunders roll 
Bruised, beaten, baffled, and thy nerveless wing 
Seemed for a time a shattered, helpless thing. 

Powerful no more ! 

"Threescore : 
From this fair height, my love, look bravely down, 
See how the storm clouds are beneath thee thrown ; 
How at thy feet the fateful lightnings play. 
While o'er thy head shines Heaven's resplendent day ; 
Earth's woes, grim storms, Hell's hosts, man's hate, their worst 
Have done ! 
These battles fought 
Fear nothing more, 



146 A VISION REALIZED 

Immortal fountains wait to quench thy thirst; 
If all the conflicts of the past have failed 
In power to crush, go on with courage mailed, 
The peril o'er. 

"Threescore : 
Look up, my love, look up ; toward the sky 
Stretches the golden ladder wide and high ; 
Another score of steps each brighter growing 
In lambent light, with heavenly music flowing, 
And white-winged Helpers sent to cheer and guard 

Thy way ! 
The shining rounds 

Of precious ore 
Lead on and upward to thy great reward; 
On to the "Father's House," the "crystal sea," 
The land so fair where "many mansions" be. 
Where years are counted not, nor sight grows dim, 
And rings perpetually the seraph's hymn ; 
Bathed in transcendent light, immortal truth. 
Eternal beauty, and eternal youth. 
The yearning soul with peace Divine be filled. 
Each wish accomplished, all as God has willed ; 
And thou canst Him adore 

Forevermore. 

"Orange Spring, Florida, November 3, 1883.' 



J. A. 0. 



** Friend Duffield, in the specimen from him 
among our rare letters quotes Emerson as saying, 
^We should give each other what we make, the 
artist his picture, the poet his poem. ' As on many 
similar occasions you have brought me your pic- 
ture, so now I bring you my poem— crude and 
hasty, but as Mrs. Barnett wrote of Robert Brown- 
ing, ^a pomegranate, which if cut deep down the 
middle shows a heart within blood tinctured. ' This 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 147 

is all I claim for it, and to it I add my love and 
blessing.'' 

His yomagest son Eugene obtained a position in 
the Navy Pay Office at Washington during this 
year and came on and joined him, and on January 
1, 1884, his wife also came back from Florida and 
they took a house in Georgetown, D. C, and once 
more had a place to call home. 

They had not been able to collect their scattered 
household goods ; part remained in Lenoir, part in 
Morganton, and part still in Orange Spring. Mrs. 
Oertel, in after years, often laughed at the remark 
of the man who moved what they did have into the 
Georgetown house. ^'D~ndst people I ever 
moved,'' he said as he came up the steps with a big 
frame; ^^aint got nuthing but books and pictures; 
where be they goin' to sleep, and what be they goin' 
to kivver with, I dimno. " 

It was a problem, but it was met, as others had 
been, by all kinds of makeshifts. Picture boxes 
were converted into tables and bureaus and other 
boxes did duty as chairs. At least part of the 
family were again together. 

Again struggle, disappointment, and privation 
were too much for him and his health began to fail. 

Mrs. Oertel writes a friend (Feb. 8, 1884) : ^^If 
he could only go to New York so that his brother, 
the doctor, could see him ; a little while out of this 
house might do him good, but that means $20— and 
a poor fellow has to die sometimes for want of 
that." 

No doubt he would have died but for the help of 
a friend, who was a friend indeed in many ways, 



148 A VISION REALIZED 

Capt. Thomas H. Looker, of Georgetown, then pay 
director of the Navy. 

Looking back on this time those interested can 
never forget this noble friend, now passed to the 
great beyond, and thus pay tribute to his memory. 
The star in his crown earned by his kindness and 
generosity to this one of God's servants will never 
grow dim, and he has heard the Master's voice say- 
ing, ^'In as much as ye have done it unto the least 
of these. My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." 

On March 22 he went on to his brother's in New 
York for treatment, but although reduced to a 
shadow he continued to paint. As he said of his 
work there, it was "the picking up of inconsidered 
trifles"; nevertheless and in spite of his rapidly 
failing strength he made some fine things. Among 
them was ''The Indian Scout," 10 by 16 inches, 
painted for Mr. William Russell. A solitary Indian 
scout in war paint on a white pony, arrived at the 
banks of the stream just after a glowing sunset, 
perceives the smoke of a campfire a little ways off. 
He is bending low on his saddle bow with lance in 
hand, peering savagely forward. His horse shows 
the same spirit as its rider. Also ' ' The Poor Man's 
Doorkeeper, ' ' a billy goat on the hard stone in front 
of an humble dwelling. 

The early part of April, while he was yet able 
to be out and had strength enough to walk, he 
attended an exhibition at the National Academy, 
and of this he writes his wife : 

''I saw nothing else but what previous years 
have shown. All the striving is for technical 
superiority. The same paucity of thought, lack of 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 149 

invention, and want of intellectual and spiritual 
elevation does evidently characterize this as well 
as previous exhibitions, judging from what I read 
and hear. 

*^The more need is there for an Elijah or John 
in the wilderness, crying aloud for repentance from 
dead works and belief in the Gospel that has power 
to raise the dead. And as God has assuredly given 
this mission to me, His priest servant, it is my duty 
to strive with all my power to fulfill to the utmost 
the work of an evangelist— and I shall be sustained 
in that work." 

On April 14 he had a relapse and was then con- 
fined to the house. His brother wrote that he had 
no hope of his recovery; yet he continued to do 
some work, make plans for the future, and write 
cheering letters to his wife. 

By May 1 he was confined to his bed and there 
seemed to be no hope he would rally. 

It was then that his brother discontinued the 
use of medicine and began treating him with cold 
water applications. In a few days improvement 
was noted and on May 8 the doctor wrote Mrs. 
Oertel that he considered him out of danger. 

His first letter in some days, written his wife on 
this date, says: ^'A miracle has been wrought. I 
have been snatched from the very jaws of death." 

In a few days more we find him out buying 
artist's material, and on the 20th he set out for 
home and again took up the struggle. He returned 
only a skeleton, with an insatiable appetite. As 
soon as he came to meals he devoured with his eyes 
all on the table and seemed to grudge each mouth- 



150 A VISION REALIZED 

fill eaten by the others. As he afterward said, 
while eating one meal he was speculating on what 
he was going to get the next. 

His worn-out body had to be entirely rebuilt. 
While in such a state it was impossible for him to 
do anything requiring much physical or mental 
effort; yet he must work, so he determined to paint 
small pictures for small prices and paint them well, 
and see if that would not be a temptation to the 
public to buy. 

This he continued to do for some time and found 
a limited market. Even very rich people were con- 
tent to take from him for a few dollars what should 
have brought a hundred or more. 

This kind of work was done only while he was 
regaining his strength, but no less than 25 of these 
small things were painted— '^ In a Big Storm '^ 
(horses), ''Through the Hammocks in Florida" 
(cattle), and like subjects. Later he attempted 
things more to his taste and made designs for ''The 
Seven Sleepers" and "Charlemagne," both of 
which were afterwards painted. He reproduced in 
monochrome "The Four Evangelists" and painted 
"Under the Holy Rood," which was presented to 
the Theological Seminary, Nashotah, Wis. Soon 
after Christmas (1884) he fell on the icy pavement 
of the steep hillside on High Street, near his home, 
and again fractured his right wrist. This put a 
stop to art work of any kind for some time. 

With all these discouragements, what wonder 
that he seriously considered giving up art for a 
time and taking a parish ? This, however, when it 
came to the pinch, he could not bring himself to do, 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 151 

though several places were open to him which would 
assure a living for himself and family. Instead he 
drifted into art work which was to take him a long 
time to execute. 

This was the designing, constructing, and carv- 
ing of a reredos for St. Stephen's Church, Four- 
teenth Street, Washington. With his wrist still 
weak, he began work on this March 31, 1885, esti- 
mating that he could finish it in three months, but 
it consumed more than double that time. This was 
not a gift, but only a nominal price was received. 

Reredos for St. Stephens. 

The idea embodied in this reredos is that of 
the Church built upon the Apostles and Prophets, 
Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone. 

The Lord is represented over the altar by a 
lamb carved in wood, nearly life size. It lies upon 
a moimd of earth and around it the flames are 
creeping up. It is in high relief, on gold ground. 
There is a high pointed arch over the altar, on the 
top of which is the cross, elaborate crockets on the 
gable, and on either side, on pedestals, under hoods, 
the Old Testament Symbols— The Paschal Lamb 
on the cruciform spit, and the brazen serpent. On 
one wing stand the figures of Isaiah and Jeremiah ; 
on the other, Ezekiel and Daniel, painted on sepa- 
rate canvases, figures about 4J feet high. All 
across the top extends a panel. It is in three 
pieces but makes a continuous picture 18 feet 
long— the 12 apostles as ^^ seated on 12 thrones.'' 
Then on the top are four angelic figures carved 



152 A VISION REALIZED 

in the round with spread wings, these over 
3 feet high. 

So prophet, apostle, and angelic hosts are repre- 
sented, with the ^'Lamb that was slain" in the 
center. 

Around the altar is a wide carving— wheat and 
grapes in front, holly on one side, morning glory 
on the other, emblems of sacrifice and resurrection. 
An arch in front is supported by the symbols of 
the Four Evangelists carved in the round. The 
Alpha and Omega are also introduced and the 
words incised ^^I am the Bread of Life" with the 
Holy, Holy, Holy on the Eetable. 

On July 15, 1885, he was informed by letter 
that he had been elected assistant minister of 
the Parish of the Incarnation, which position 
he accepted. 

Though there is no record of the exact date, the 
*' Shadow of the Eock" was presented to the Uni- 
versity of the South during the fall. 

Early in 1886 Mr. Hyde wrote, suggesting that 
his friend come to Boston. He believed he had a 
scheme which would enable him to go on and paint 
his great designs. 

Some of his friends also suggested his removal 
to Sewanee, Tenn., that being church headquarters 
for 14 dioceses. 

It was plain his object could not be attained by 
remaining in Washington. Where should it be 
next? For many reasons the latter course was 
decided upon. 

In a letter to Mr. Hyde (Jan. 25, 1886), Mrs. 
Oertel reviews the situation very completely. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 153 

"2065 High Street, Georgetown, D. C, 
January 25, 1886. 
"My Dear Edward: 

"Your two letters head the mail income for the week. Thank 
you for your kind, unselfish efforts. 

"It does not seem as if Mr. Oertel could go to Boston unless 
perchance — or rather providentially, for there is no ^chance' — 
there should be some solid reason for his going. Of course, if 
your scheme should succeed, he would do his part faithfully; 
but I must tell you as the truth that he has no faith in it. 

"The long years since you were with him, 17 or 18, have 
been full of painful disappointments and he is no more the 
enthusiast you knew. Not that his art enthusiasm is in any 
way cooled — oh, no — but his enthusiastic expectations from the 
Church or the world in the furtherance of his great designs are 
pretty well killed out. He can give away as much work as he 
pleases, it is gratefully accepted; but when a living income is 
expected from it, then it is quite a different matter. 

"For instance, you find a reredos in St. James' Church, 
Lenoir, N". C, of which he was rector; this was a gift. Then 
in the church at Rock Hill, S. C, you will find an elaborate 
credence table, 6 feet high, also a gift. Then in St. Paul's, 
Glen Cove, L. I., a large reredos — 14 feet high, 13 wide, con- 
taining four paintings, and much elaborate carving — this, too, 
a gift. Then in St. John's Church, Georgetown, three panels 
14 feet high; for this the brotherhood of the church paid for 
the materials and paid the artist $50 ; and so on down the line. 

"Now, dear brother, you see in all these years Mr. Oertel 
has come in close contact with many in high places, and it has 
needed no mediating friend to make his claims known either to 
ecclesiastical or moneyed influences. Dr. Morgan Dix, the cham- 
pion of Christian art in the church, has known him for 30 years. 
Bishop Littlejohn knows him intimately; he has also been for 
years the so called intimate friend of William Fogg, for a long 
time President of the Union League; also of Heniy E. Russell, 
a very wealthy man, friend and neighbor of the Vanderbilts, etc. 

^'The outcome of all is that his best friends in most cases 
buy his pictures, under pressure, at low prices, and the church 
will taTce what he can give. The Centennial picture is the prop- 
erty of the ^University of the South', at Sewanee, Tenn., where 
(D. V.) we are going — a gift to them. 

"This is the way the dear man has gone through the world, 



154 A VISION REALIZED 

giving on all sides, his ministry a voluntary one, only accepting 
a small remuneration now and then where absolute necessity 
made it imperative. 

"Mr. Oertel has given much time to the study of architecture 
and used to be styled ''diocesan architect' when in North Carolina ; 
has built or remodeled about a dozen churches in that state — 
this, too, all a gift. His is a curious life, Edward, a story of 
self-sacrificing endeavor which is not often told. 

"It is hard to rouse him to any belief that his efforts will 
ever be recognized by men in high station, either in a Christian 
or a monetary point of view. Nothing but the existing fact 
would make him believe it. 

"Don't be discouraged because I take the matter as I do. 
I must tell you the truth as it is. I think if Mr. Oertel saw 
any indications of real sympathetic help he would gladly avail 
himself of it; if it came to him as money speculation I do not 
believe he could be moved to any action in it. 

"I think, dear Edward, that it is the Lord's hand which has 
been ever in the way — why I can not see — or, I ask myself, is 
it the Devil who sees that in defeating the performance of this 
work he is making a great stroke of policy in his own interests ? 
I confess to much bewilderment on the subject. 

"It is not for us to choose our way, it must be His way; 'at 
evening time it will be light.' 

"God bless you for your faithful love and remembrance. 
Don't be too much disappointed if your plans fail again, but 
be satisfied with His overruling. We might make mistakes- 
He can not. 

"Now God be with you. 

"Yours, as always, Julia A. Oertel." 




FIGURE OF CHRIST 

Christ Church, Dayton, Ohio 



CHAPTER XII. 

On February 25 he again left for the South and 
after a few weeks spent with his son Frederick at 
Morganton, N. C, went on to Sewanee, Tenn., 
March 23. 

Here arrangements were made for the building 
of a house with studio on ' ' Morgan 's Steep, ' ' a most 
beautiful situation on the cliff overlooking the 
valley 2,000 feet below, and he was very enthu- 
siastic over the prospect. 

Soon after his arrival he began work on a rere- 
dos and altar for the Church of the Incarnation 
at Washington which occupied most of his time 
for over a year. This is 23 feet high and 20 feet 
wide, very elaborate in construction and richly 
carved. It contains six paintings. In the center 
and above is Christ as the High Priest, painted in 
color. On either side are inserted in carved frames 
monochromes of the Nativity and the Crucifixion, 
and below these, almost life-size and also in color, 
are the Four Evangelists, two on a canvas. This 
was not entirely completed until the spring of 1888. 

One of his best works was done here. A colossal 
figure of ^^The Christ" for Christ Church, Dayton, 
Ohio. It is placed above the font and stands in an 
attitude of blessing. This has by some been pro- 
noimced the greatest figure of Christ ever painted. 



156 A VISION REALIZED 

A picture was painted called ^^ Peace on Earth" 
for Clifford A. Lanier, brother of the poet, in 
response to the following request : 

"Please catch from the Invisible some shape of spirit, and, 
enmeshed on canvas, embody his fonn for me that I may have 
a memorial of you. Yours, sincerely, Clifford A. Lanier." 

After a visit to his studio in September (1886) 
Mr. Lanier wrote for a Nashville paper the follow- 
ing article : 

'^The aktist Oertel." 
a visit to his studio. 

"It is not possible to reproduce the gracious ease and cultured 
simplicity of Johannes Oertel, painter of 'The Eock of Ages', 
*The Shadow of a Great Rock in a Weary Land', 'The Climber's 
Vision', 'The History of the Redemption', 'Prophecy', 'Dispen- 
sations of Promise and the Law.' Light gray eyes burn with 
the steady fire of vivid intellectuality. His garments idealize 
the prosaic garb of this century; his gestures betray a subtle 
mixture of strength with delicacy of touch. A long beard of 
soft gray-black completes the charm of a manly and dignified 
presence. In our visit to him he alludes to the want of space 
in his crowded atalier, and shows with pride the drawings of 
the new picturesque cottage which is now building for him on 
the brow of 'Morgan's Steep.' He arranges chairs for his guests 
(one of the chairs is the product of his own skill in joinery), 
talking the while. A gleam of humor illumines his face as he 
parries a deft compliment from Mrs. T. Protesting with a 
gentle earnestness against the blindness of the many, mourn- 
fully recognizing that they are few who see the 'beauty of holi- 
ness' or love the 'holiness of beauty,' talking quietly of his own 
work, vehemently of God's; gesticulating rather with the arms 
of the spirit than of the body, criticising and praising a brother 
artist as a brother. Oertel preaches us a lovely sermon on the 
dignity and divinity of humanity; for this artist, painter, 
sculptor, musician, carpenter, is above all a preacher. Every- 
where you see the results of sin's warfare against the soul sym- 
bolized. This Bunyan of painters shows the historic progress 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 57 

of man from the birthdawn of Eden through the ages, assailed 
at every epoch, fighting, fainting, triumphing, warned by proph- 
ecy, cheered by promise, soothed by love, soiled by sin, led to 
battle by the might of captains, taught by the majesty of wise 
lawgivers, scourged by selfish heroes, harried by the demons of 
greed, wrestling with Apolyon— on, on through the ages, on till 
the devout imagination must climb the ladder of patient con- 
secrated effort and strain the faintly illuminated eyes to get a 
glimpse of the bright morning light, flashing radiance yonder 
from the future as each to-morrow's sun flashes and shall flash 
a pure white glory of day athwart this mountain's brow. A de- 
sign of this picture, The Dispensations,' which is so far-reaching 
and so crowded with forms that it should be called the spiritual 
history of man from the creation, and the destiny of mans soul, 
was once hung in an American gallery and the newspaper critic 
chronicled that there was nothing that season worthy of his 
condescension to criticize. 

"Oertel will not fight under the infidel banner of 'Art for 

Art's sake'; immoral, unmoral, unspiritual, helpless, faithless 

art is the Saracen against whom his sword of the cross is drawn. 

^'He says that one of his unfailing impulses is^ 'Would you 

know whether you can do anything or not? Do it!' 

"Passing from the brush to the sculptor's model, then to his 
musical instrument, and thence to his turning lathe and car- 
penter's bench, whence his books wooed him to study— always 
busy with fair imagination, he is defended against fatigue. No 
garrulous complaints escape him; he mournfully recognizes that 
a devout love of art belongs to the minority. It is said that 
those who know how to make commercial copies of the well- 
known picture 'The Eock of Ages' have made a large sum of 
money by their sale while he has received nothing. Of this he 
did not speak. 

"A dry catalogue of the teeming conceptions of this artist 
is a label tagged upon the spirit. Here is surely a soul faring 
through the world with religion in one hand and beauty in the 
other. He is a painter of human figures. He is gazing into 
futurity from the height of the eyes of a man and seeks to 
climb the spiritual ladder as high as a man may go. 

"In smiling protest he had exclaimed what a victim he would 
be did he attempt in so brief a time to set forth the work of 
a life. Now lest the perfect mirror of gracious courtesy may 
be blurred he walks down the winding path, chatting of the 



158 A VISION REALIZED 

natural beauty of the place, of the way to find it, of the young 
people, of the particular suggestiveness to the lover of natural 
beauty of some of these prospects, of his new house now building 
and its domestic appanages, of us and our whereabouts, till 
the gate of exit swings against his interesting figure. Sincere 
courtesies wave ^good afternoon,' and thus ends the lovely scene 
(one scene of a reverent artistic Passion Play) of a half hour 
with Johannes A. Oertel. 

"Clifford A. L. 
''Sewanee, Tenn., September, 1886." 

So passed the first year of his residence in 
Sewanee. Little time had been given to the con- 
sideration of new designs; it was all spent in the 
hard toil of carving and carpenter work— done 
because it was necessary to meet the expenses of his 
family. His daughter's health had failed and she 
had come to live with him, hoping that the moun- 
tain air might be of benefit ; but on the contrary the 
climate and electrical conditions in that high alti- 
tude depressed her greatly, and this was the main 
reason why he later gave up his home there. 

When making the woodwork for various 
churches he was often urged to employ some good 
carpenter to do the heavy joining but seldom did 
so. He followed no set course and could not tell 
another exactly what he wanted done. He had a 
design to go by, yes; but there was no certainty 
that he would follow it to the letter ; perhaps when 
he came to make a certain part he would wish to 
change and improve it ; he must be left free to work 
it out his own way. 

One of his former pupils once wrote him 
requesting instruction in flesh painting and asked 
him to paint several heads in progression to show 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 59 

the process used. His reply was : ^^I can not do it. 
It is like asking me to paint my soul. I paint flesh 
as I feel it at the time, sometimes in one painting, 
sometimes in several." Here is shown the same 
freedom from any rule, his own or another's, that 
characterized all his work. 

In February, 1887, his friend Rev. Dr. Beckett, 
principal of the female seminary at Columbia, 
Tenn., was taken ill and requested him to come 
and fill his place for a time. To this call he imme- 
diately responded, taking charge of the ministerial 
work in parish and school. 

He practically gave up art work during this 
time, doing only a few smaller things as he was 
*^ continually lecturing and speaking." He took a 
great interest in the work at Columbia, and, when 
Dr. Beckett at last returned and relieved him, left 
with regret. He seems to have found there many 
congenial friends and on leaving, April 27, wrote 
his wife : 

^^My stay here has been a remarkable episode 
with a great deal to impress it on my mind and 
that of those with whom I have been associated." 

From Columbia he went to Nashville, having 
commission for some animal pictures there, and for 
a time occupied part of the studio of Mr. Chambers, 
a Nashville artist. He was much pleased with his 
reception, and writes : ' ' People here wonder that a 
man of my ability should be poor ; and I wonder 
myself. To be sure, I may not sacrifice principle 
to any degree ; but plain duty on one side can never 
conflict with principle on the other." 

** Just now," he goes on, *^my sheep pictures are 



160 A VISION REALIZED 

touching a certain public; sheep are harmless 
things and remind me of the sheep in Christ's flock. 
I will then regard them as symbols and fancy my- 
self painting disguised religious allegorical pic- 
tures." While in Mr. Chamber's studio they 
painted a picture together, called ^'Evensong," a 
girl driving home a flock of sheep in dim evening 
light. He painted figure and animals ; Mr. Cham- 
bers the landscape. 

This seems to be the only instance in his career 
when such a thing was done except that by request 
of George Innis he several times painted figures 
and animals in the landscapes of that artist. 

Leaving Nashville early in May he returned to 
Sewanee and resumed work on the Incarnation 
reredos, which was completed by fall. 

On account of his daughter's health and other 
causes he determined to leave the mountain, and 
the last of September moved to Nashville. 

On October 30 he went on to Washington and 
put up the reredos and altar in the Church of the 
Incarnation. There it stands to-day, and except 
by the few who attend the church is never seen. 
Visitors and sightseers by the thousands come to 
Washington every year, yet few, if any, ever see 
this remarkable piece of work, remarkable in 
design and execution and still more so for having 
all been made by the one man. Design, carpenter 
work, carving and painting all done by the same 
master hand. If this was in Europe, tourists would 
travel miles to see it and wonder at it. Here it is 
almost buried. Why is this? 

The record shows that for this work—which 




REREDOS AND ALTAR 

Church of the Ineai-natiuu. Washington. I). C 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEU D.D. 161 

took over a year— he was paid the princely sum of 
$700. For this the purchaser can not be blamed. 
He was offered a certain sum and as usual counted 
not his own labor but gave it freely in the cause for 
which he worked. 

Eeturning to Nashville he for a time took charge 
of the department of wood carving, modeling, and 
figure composition in the art school there. 

With the year 1889 came affliction. Early in 
January (4th) his beloved daughter passed away 
and on the 20th of the same month the wife of his 
son Frederick, then living at Washington, D. C, 
was also taken. 

His home being thus broken up his son gave up 
his position in Washington and came to live with 
him, and from that date until his death their lots 
were cast together. 

Then was put to the test a scheme which had 
been often discussed, the manufacture of church 
furniture as a business. It was thought that if the 
clergy of the Church knew of him and his work 
they would give him the preference in any con- 
templated church decoration, either painting or 
carving. Circulars were sent out to the clergy 
informing them that he was prepared, with the 
assistance of his son, to design and execute rere- 
doses, altars, fonts, etc., and it was hoped by this 
means a trade could be built up which would insure 
a living and he would be enabled to go on with the 
^* Series." 

Quite a number of requests for such things had 
already been received, and these were made as 
rapidly as possible, an altar and font for a church 



162 A VISION REALIZED 

in South Pittsburg, Tenn., in oak; a communion 
table and pulpit in cherry for the Western Metho- 
dist Church in Nashville, and a large reredos for St. 
Luke's Church in Jackson, Tenn. 

While the latter work was in progress he 
accepted a call from Halsey C. Ives, afterward 
art commissioner for the Chicago fair, to take the 
position of instructor in art at the school of Wash- 
ington University in St. Louis, and in the fall of 
that year removed to St. Louis and assumed his 
duties there. 

The reredos for Jackson was completed in St. 
Louis, and as there had been no response to the 
request for work of that character no more was 
undertaken. 

Only a few important paintings were the result 
of this year's work, most of it being taken up with 
carving. The principal ones were *^ Victorious," 
an Indian who had just killed a grizzly bear— 
which had fallen across his dead horse— shouting in 
triumph to his companions who are coming up in 
the distance. This was painted in monochrome and 
a drawing was made. It was afterward published 
in lithograph. 

*^The Sands of Dee" from the poem of that 
name by Charles Kingsley. This was a striking 
picture, a Scotch lassie coming up the shore ^'call- 
ing the cattle home," the ^^ creeping tide" coming 
in, bringing with it bits of seaweed, and over the 
waves the '^ blinding mist came pouring down and 
^hid the land.' " This picture was sold some 
years later to Wood & Co., publishers, of New 
York; and ^*A Eoyal Pair," lion and lioness. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 163 

which became the property of Gen. G. P. Thruston, 
of Nashville. 

During his stay in St. Louis his time was occu- 
pied mainly in teaching, and only two large works 
were produced: ^^ Christ known by His Breaking 
of Bread at Emmaus," a canvas 4 feet 6 inches by 
6 feet 10 inches, painted for the Eev. W. F. Brand, 
S.T.D., Emmorton, Md., to go as a memorial into 
the chancel of his church, and ^^EzekiePs Vision of 
Restored Israel," from Ezekiel 37: 9-10. 

This is one of his best compositions. It has 
never been exhibited, and remains the property of 
his sons. It is 50 by 70 inches. It was afterward 
repainted, but will be described here. 

It represents the '^Valley of Dry Bones." The 
figure of the prophet occupies the center of the 
picture and around him rise up those into whom 
had come the breath of life in obedience to his 
words, ^^an exceeding great army." Some in half- 
dazed wonder are just rising, many are already on 
their feet and joyously awaiting their loved ones; 
husband is joined to wife, mother to child, and 
many gaze rapturously upward to the flood of light 
which streams from heaven over all. 

The only bit of color is in the draping of the 
prophet. From the rock on which he stands a 
stream of water flows, and reflected in its surface 
is what flames in the sky above— the Cross, this 
teaching that it is by this sign that Israel is to be 
restored. 

The figure of the prophet above is draped ; all 
else is flesh painting, yet the figures stand out as if 
they might walk from the canvas. Even a person 



164 A VISION REALIZED 

knowing nothing of art may realize the technical 
difiSculty of painting so many nude figures close 
together and producing this effect. 

Toward the last of his second year of teaching 
he felt the strain of it and the lack of the freedom 
for independent work. He must have expressed 
his feelings in writing to his wife, then in New 
York, showing that his spirits were at a low ebb, 
and as was always the case at such times she came 
to the rescue, writing : 

** April 16. Do not let the Devil succeed in the 
overthrow he strives for ; go on and do your best ; 
he has not been able to keep you from making a 
noble record for the right, with all his malice and 
opposition. I think that instead he has driven you 
to put the works in God's House, which will ever 
witness for Him, that you would never have made 
had you achieved worldly success ; and may be they 
preach quite as forcibly as anything else you could 
have done." 



CHAPTER XIII. 

Mr. Oertel's engagement in St. Louis ter- 
minated in the fall of 1981 (September) and he 
again came East, this time locating with his son 
Frederick in Vienna, Fairfax County, Va., a 
small village about 12 miles from the national 
Capital. 

For a time he used one of the small rooms in 
the house (12 by 14) for a studio; here he painted 
only one picture of importance ''The Prophecy of 
Balaam," but made an elaborate carved baptistry 
for the Church of the Incarnation in Washington. 
The room was much too small to admit of putting 
such a large thing together, and it was made in 
sections and never set up until put in its place in 
the church. In speaking of the difficulties he had 
he said: ''I certainly am doomed again to build a 
cathedral in a closet." However, it was accom- 
plished as such things always were, no matter what 
the difficulty, by patient work and, as he said, 
''various contrivances which I adopt as I need 
them." 

This work has much elaborate carving, includ- 
ing four figures 3 feet high cut in the round. There 
is one painting showing the Ark upon the waters, 
with the dove bearing the olive branch, and the 
rainbow in the clouds, typifying the cleansing by 



166 A VISION REALIZED 

water of the baptized as the earth was cleansed at 
the flood. 

In the spring of 1892 (March 7) he took a studio 
in Washington (Seventeenth and G Streets N. W.) , 
and it was of great benefit to him to be in touch 
with his artist friends, especially Mr. Richard N. 
Brooke, Mr. J. H. Moser, and Mr. J. A. Messer. He 
was elected president of the Society of Washington 
artists at this time. 

As his first work in this studio he painted in 
monochrome the four prophets— Isaiah, Jeremiah, 
Ezekiel, and Daniel— for Rev. Dr. Brand, Emmor- 
ton, Md. 

He speaks of having a visit from ^'Dr. Audsley, 
of New York," and goes on to say : ^'He (Dr. A.) 
says my room is a revelation, etc., showing versatil- 
ity he had seen in no other artist— and adaptability 
that seems able to do anything, to be equally power- 
ful in every branch (and I mentally ask Why not"?) 
so he did not know which I could do best, etc.— and 
all that. Now I have heard things of the sort be- 
fore, they are very assuring, and keep up my spunk 
but do not alter the hard facts of the position. It is 
true aU the same that I am poor, obscure, that the 
public do not buy my pictures nor seem to care for 
them, and the best of my years have gone in 
vain effort to make more than a bare living. 
And still there may be a duty remaining— that 
of continuing the battle; *I aint dead yet' you 
know. My trouble is too much to do, too much 
willingness to do it, too much resolution, and 
too little time and strength. And again, no means 
for adopting such plans as are recommended 




CHARLEMAGNE 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 167 

for coming out before the people and compelling 
recognition." 

Then followed quite a number of works: ''The 
King of Truth," ''The Morning Sacrifice," "The 
Supper at Emmaus," life size, for Dr. Brand; 
"The Good Shepherd," for Church of Incarnation, 
Washington; "Going on Picket," winter scene 
before Fredericksburg; "Pursued," army train 
with guard; and "Charlemagne." This latter is 
2 feet 8 inches by 3 feet 4 inches in size, from the 
well-known legend of Charlemagne asleep under 
the Odenberg, ready to arise and do battle when 
the day of Armageddon arrives. 

The grand figure of the old king lies asleep in 
a great carved chair, his crown upon his head and 
the trusty two-handed sword between his knees, 
supported by his left hand. His robe is cast loosely 
about his shoulders and the flowing white beard 
sweeps nearly to his waist, a grand and imposing 
figure, in perfect repose yet with latent power. At 
his feet lies his cross-blazoned shield, on either 
side a crouching lion (emblematic of power). The 
figure on the side of the carved chair has trumpet 
in hand ready to sound the alarm, and from 
above comes a hand to turn the hourglass stand- 
ing on top of the chair, showing that the time is 
approaching. 

Early in 1893 his friend Eev. Dr. Brand was 
taken sick and requested him to come over to 
Emmorton, 2^ miles from Bel Air, Md., on Sun- 
days and hold services for him. This he did for 
some weeks, but in the meantime he had accepted a 
commission to paint some large pictures for St. 



168 A VISION REALIZED 

Mary's E. C. Church, Washington, to be completed 
by a certain date, and it consumed too much of his 
time to make the trip each week, so he determined 
to do the work there. 



CHAPTER XIV. 

Consequently the last of July found him located 
at Bel Air, Md., where he was given the use of a 
room in the courthouse for a studio, and on August 
5 he began the big pictures; September 15 the 
three large ones, each 5 feet 9 inches by 11 feet 
3 inches, were completed. While painting these 
he wrote: 

''I must, for want of time, pull up alongside of 
the 'old masters' in point of rapidity of execution, 
and probably the paintings do not suffer in the 
process. Keeping at white heat is often an advan- 
tage, while deliberate slow performance degen- 
erates often into mechanical finish. 

And on September 15 : ''I have finished the pic- 
tures. I labored imder formidable obstacles ; not 
the least of these was the poisonous green of the 
jury room in the Court House, done in oil, that be- 
ing the only place in town affording light enough, 
although only about ten ( !) feet distance from over 
lif esize figures. However, 1 struggled through and 
came out victor, not the first experience of the char- 
acter I have had to make." 

The subjects are all different aspects and stages 
of the Incarnation ; the center, that of the Madonna, 
the ancient ''Theotokos", simple in treatment, 
above 7 feet high; to the left, the Judgment of the 



1 70 A VISION REALIZED 

Serpent in Eden (Gen. Ill, 14, 15) ; to the right 
the Vision of Isaiah when sent to King Ahas, Isaiah 
VII, 13, 14. Besides these there are four paintings 
5 by 6 feet in monochrome decorative panels ; sub- 
jects, ^^The Annunciation,'' ^^ Nativity," ^* Presen- 
tation of Jesus in the Temple," and ^'Finding of 
Our Lord by His parents." 

To E. L. H. he writes: ^^You are right in being 
indignant that my own communion does not keep 
my brush sufficiently employed, but, my friend, it 
is the old experience, '^a prophet is not without 
honor," etc. Moreover, you know that I have not 
the gift of advertising myself and wares, and who 
can succeed nowadays in a temporal sense without 
that? Let the bubble ^'reputation" float along. 
There are plenty chasing the glittering nothing and 
I will not swell the silly crowd. The good Lord has 
kept me and fed me these 70 years and will so keep 
me the years that remain. I do the work that comes 
to me, in serious honesty, and leave the result in 
His gracious hands." 

After finishing the four monochromes, Novem- 
ber 18, no more important work was done that year 
except the completion of an altar, begun during the 
summer, for St. Peter's Church, Fernandina, Fla. 

Still being needed in the Church work at Em- 
morton, he remained in Bel Air and little by little 
seemed to take root. 

His wife and son pressed him to return to the 
Vienna home, but he was obdurate and refused, 
insisting that his work was there while in Vienna 
there was nothing for him either in the church or 
art. Mrs. Oertel held out against his remaining 



■■H||^^^ 




LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 71 

and would not consent to leave her son and Ms two 
children and join him as he wished. 

In spite of all this he remained, and not only 
that, but built a small studio and settled down to 
work. This is the only instance in his life where he 
absolutely refused to listen to counsel either from 
his wife or son. In one of her letters to him Mrs. 
Oertel said: ''I consider your call to Bel Air a 
family calamity." 

His first work in 1894 was four paintings for the 
Emmorton church, each 3 by 7 feet— ''The Sacrifice 
of Abel," ''Melchizedek Blessing Abraham," 
''David Playing before Saul," and "Moses Strik- 
ing the Rock." 

Then followed many smaller works, the princi- 
pal ones "Successors to Royalty," lions, and 
' ' Sunny Pathways. ' ' 

He was as eager for work as a boy when the new 
studio was completed, and determined to paint 
again for exhibition in New York. Of this he says : 

"But he who enters that city for competition 
has a murderous fight before him. The Vestals in 
Gerome's 'Gladiator' represent the heartless spirit 
of the 'judges' in those exhibitions. Their thumbs 
are all downward and they cry for blood. 

"Grave doubts assail me. The question rises 
like a warning ghost before me, whether after all 
and in spite of my very youthful resolution to con- 
quer again a standing professionally, I am not 
hopelessly superannuated and such a result beyond 
my power and the possibilities of the case"? Even 
a Bismarck is laid on the shelf and a Gladstone 
compelled to resign, and perhaps the task I had set 



1 72 A VISION REALIZED 

myself is more difficult to achieve than theirs who 
have continued in the mid-channel of prosperity 
and public acknowledgment while I emerge as an 
old man from obscurity into a race that is rushing 
into opposite pursuits. 

^^This race will not even permit me to bear any 
testimony. I can get no hearing in the market place 
and am pushed back within the church doors. 
Therefore it may be that the experience has the 
meaning, dimly hinted, that inside the church doors 
I shall remain. 

^* All the work I have had of late has been for the 
Church. God can send more. I have no knack at 
advertising myself, can't do it, but must quietly 
wait and hope. 

^^ Perhaps other men also have to go from the 
stage of life here leaving what they considered their 
main work unfinished— hardly begun. With me it 
is plainly the case. What had not entered into the 
original plan had to be done, and what was the chief 
aim remains a fragment only. Evidently the pres- 
ent generation has grown away from me and I from 
it, and we no longer fit together. This is painfully 
apparent and perhaps the part of wisdom would be 
to submit and retire within the narrow circle where 
still there is affinity and some chance for use- 
fulness. 

^^ These conflicling suggestions run through my 
head and they do not tend to steady my energies. 
Very possibly no avenue of escape to freer action 
can be discovered, and whether I give up the battle 
against odds or with set teeth go on with the strug- 
gle, I shall have to yield so much to circumstances 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 1 73 

as to secure a living by whatever can be picked up 
along the way." 

When the pictures for the Emmorton church 
were completed he wrote his wife (Mar. 5) : 

*^ Another load carried to its destination and 
laid down, and I can turn in some other direction to 
take up whatever the day brings along. With 
modifications the thing repeats itself to the end. 
Stage after stage is left behind and at last the goal 
is reached. Wayworn, bruised, and tired we get 
there, but what matters it— for when the gate opens 
the character of the travel will be totally changed." 

At various periods his friends tried to bring his 
name before the public and so assist him, but not 
the slightest effect was ever observed to result from 
such efforts. After an article about him had ap- 
peared in the Philadelphia Times (Mar. 17) he 
comments on it thus : 

'^Whether this ^writing me up' does more than 
reminding a few people I am alive is questionable. 
From all there never has been a really practical 
business result, which may be owing to my deplor- 
able lack of capacity for improving an opportunity 
for temporal advantage. There is no ^push' in me. 
The good Lord has given me other faculties, but 
utterly denied this ; and I shall have to the end to 
bear the consequences of fitting so awkwardly into 
an age possessed with the advertising devil." 

His effort to ^^ found a home" in Bel Air was an 
honest though from a practical standpoint a mis- 
guided one. Instead of founding one he left the 
only real home he had— that of his son— and placed 
himself again adrift. When for a time fortune 



1 74 A VISION REALIZED 

smiled and money began to come in he was prone to 
be optimistic as to the future and feel sure it was 
to be immediately followed by more and made his 
plans accordingly; then, when suddenly the tide 
turned, as it always did, he often went to the other 
extreme and was very despondent. 

^^Aye, aye," he says, ^4t is a curious life I lead! 
Drift, drift, drift— these 40 and more years, truly 
a wandering in the wilderness without proper home, 
a living in tents, a nomadic existence. But shall the 
wandering not cease ? Has the time not come with 
my three-score years and ten^ If not, when will 
it come?" 

^^More than once I have determined to plant 
myself for perpetuity, but could take no hold upon 
the soil. One might think I had slain my brother 
and the curse of Cain was upon me. But instead 
was I not rather like the Patriarchs who could own 
not a foot of their promised land save where they 
bought to bury their dead? or like a missionary 
apostle, going about sowing seed in many a field 
that afterward grew and bore fruit? 

^^Now once more I have started the endeavor to 
found a home, so late in life, and it seems so difficult 
of accomplishment. Yet it must not be given up ; it 
may be still possible. " 

The above is quoted to show how deeply he felt 
the position in which he now found himself. He 
did not seem able to see that this move had been 
purely a matter of will on his part and had not been 
forced upon him as some former ones had ; nor had 
there been any basis for considering that the change 
of location would be of any benefit. However, so 




EVENING MEDITATION 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 75 

he saw it and had deemed it his duty, and when his 
son for business reasons had to leave Vienna for a 
time, finally going to New York, Mrs. Oertel gave 
in and went to make her home with him in Bel Air 
(Aug. 10, 1894). Ill advised as this move seemed 
to be, yet in the Bel Air studio was begun the work 
designed 40 years before, the work for which so 
many moves had been made and so much sacrificed, 
the central point in the circle of his life around 
which all his doings clustered and were in some way 
connected— ^^ The Great Series." 

His sons were now able to relieve him of the 
necessity of making a living and leave him free to 
accomplish that for which he had waited so long. 

During the early part of 1895 he was occupied 
mostly with portraits, animal pieces, etc., painting 
only two important canvases, a ^^Eock of Ages," 
24 inches by 4 feet, the one before mentioned as 
made for his son. Dr. T. E. Oertel, in New York and 
^^ Evening Meditation," a monk leaning in cloister 
door, with breviary, looking out at the fading even- 
ing light. 

In the fall of 1895 he began preliminary work 
for the painting of ^^The Dispensations," and in 
the spring went to New York to study and refresh 
his mind before entering upon the task of painting 
so large a canvas. From New York he wrote 
(Apr. 22) : 

^^No doubt I shall go home with added strength 
and courage braced up. The sluggish current of 
my life has been stirred, and, like water tumbling 
over rocks in a rough channel, received fresh air 
and new motion and runs thereafter in a clearer 



1 76 A VISION REALIZED 

stream. The past weeks are something to ponder 
on, and the contact with other folk has been of help ; 
old friends have brought up old experiences and 
induced many reflections, and perhaps words have 
been spoken that echo on into the future— even 
beyond the troublesome mortal hour. 

^^I have attended a reunion of artists and visited 
Grey, Brown, Perry, Eider, Thomas Moran, and 
Huntington." 

He often was perfectly oblivious to his personal 
appearance. When he arrived in New York on this 
trip he had on his head a most disreputable old hat 
which his son immediately confiscated, giving him 
a new one. A day or so later he went on a visit to 
friends in Glen Cove and when he returned he had 
on a still worse one, all slouched down in the brim 
and full of holes, and he did not know it was not the 
new one until his attention was called to it. 

He had taken the first one he found on the rack 
when leaving, which turned out to be the one used 
by his friend when he worked in the garden. He 
always put on his hat by placing it on the back of 
his head and then giving the brim in front a pull, 
leaving it, as he said ^^with a backward inclina- 
tion," and it was not long before the hat itself as- 
sumed that shape— setting back with front of brim 
pulled down. 

On his return the canvas was stretched for the 
big picture and he began the work which he had 
longed to do for so many years. Even while occu- 
pied on the large works, as he was for several years, 
he contrived to do many other things, both carving 
and painting, producing what alone would seem to 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 1 77 

have been enough to occupy all this time. Most of 
what he did was given away. In writing of certain 
work which had been made for a church, for which 

he was to have been paid, he said : *'It is like I 

might as well make a bona fide donation of what I 
have done and cut short the idle speculation of ever 
securing even small returns in money. By doing 
this the business would be thrown behind into the 
past, and my mind practically relieved from any 
further thought and worry about it. " 

**The Dispensations'' was exhibited in Wash- 
ington, at St. Johns Hall, early in March and at- 
tracted considerable attention. 

An offer of purchase for $10,000 was received 
from Rev. Samuel Beiler, Vice Chancellor of the 
American University, Washington, this figure hav- 
ing been agreed upon as a fair compensation by 
several artists to whom the matter was referred. 

Mr. Beiler at the time requested the Washing- 
ton artist, Mr. Richard N. Brooke, to give him his 
opinion of the painting, which he did in the follow- 
ing letter : 

'T)ear Sir : After very careful study *of Mr. Oertel's picture 
of *The Dispensations of Promise and the Law' I am fully con- 
firmed in the conviction that it is a great work of art and a 
very distinct and notable triumph over the difficulties that must 
necessarily be met where large masses of figures must be grouped 
with exact regard to the literary requirements of the subject. 

"Looking back I can recall no painter (out of quite an 
extended acquaintance) who, in my belief, would liave met all 
these requirements as fully and at the same time preserved a 
harmony of color, and excellence of composition, as I consider 
Mr. Oertel has done in this instance. 

"I have passed, in the aggregate, hours before this picture, 
and believe I have expressed the opinion of every serious artist 



178 A VISION REALIZED 

who has seen it, and I could give technical reasons for my judg- 
ment, if necessary. 

^*It appears to me one of those rare cases in which the some- 
thing needed to be said has found the one man possessed of the 
necessary equipment to say it clearly and conclusively. 

"Hence I trust this notable picture will find its appropriate 
place in some institution where it may become a public heritage, 
and do the good of which I believe it to be capable. It seems 
part of the nature of things that this should be so. 

"Richard N. Brooke." 

The following article was also written by Mr. 
Brooke for the Washington Evening Star: 

''The Dispensations of Promise and the Law." 
''a great historical painting. 

"Editor Evening Star: During part of last week there 
was placed on private view in St. John's Parish Hall, and is 
now on its way to the Nashville Exposition, a canvas well worthy 
of this caption, and than which no more notable work of art 
has been produced in America within the experience of the writer. 
Si ace no adequate notice of this artistic event has reached the 
press through the usual channels — due doubtless to the attitude 
of the artist himself toward this particular work — would the 
Star pennit me, speaking from the professional point of view, 
to give to this noble effort the public importance it deserves? 

"Modern painters have been accused, not unjustly, of having 
abandoned the field of great composition, of having caught the 
prevalent spirit of haste, or, when they undertake large can- 
vases — which under such circumstances they do too frequently — 
of attaching more importance to the technique of parts than to 
the painter's own subjective vocation to his conception, which 
is the essential basis for great pictures. None of these things 
can justly be said of the artist and picture in question. To a 
correct understanding of both it may be necessary to give some 
account of the motives and circumstances leading up to its 
production. 

"The painter. Rev. Johannes A. Oertel, is not, as might be 
inferred, an amateur, but one who, before entering the ministry. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 1 79 

had already risen high in his profession, and whose brush, as 
this picture will attest, has lost nothing of its powers through 
having been dedicated to the cause to which he has given all 
his talents. 

"Born in Bavaria in 1823, he began life, like many eminent 
artists, as a steel engraver, receiving his first impulse toward 
composition from Kaulbach, at Munich. 

"He came to New York at the age of 25 and afterward 
entered the ministry while at the height of his success as a 
painter. His subsequent life for nearly 40 years has been passed 
in various charges, chiefly in the South, often officiating in 
edifices designed by him and partially built by his own hands, 
for he is not only a gifted architect but also a skilful carver 
and worker in wood. Throughout his labors as pastor he has 
still continued to be a prolific painter, keeping well in touch 
with all that is best in current art and perhaps the gainer 
through being far removed from the contact and influence of 
its passing fads. Every one will recall his picture of the 'Eock 
of Ages,^ of which the steel engraving is well known the world 
over and has carried more of benediction to thousands of Chris- 
tian homes than perhaps any single picture thus published. 

"The present work, while no less serious in intention, is 
immeasurably more important as an artistic achievement. The 
first composition was made for it more than 40 years ago; to 
paint it has been the dream of a lifetime. But it has been only 
within the last three years, and when the artist had quite de- 
spaired of ever attaining his desire, that circumstances have 
been so arranged as to permit him to carry it into execution. 

"The picture illustrates the Mosaic Dispensation and com- 
prises the entire period of Old Testament History, the central 
figure being Moses, around whom are grouped the lives of the 
Patriarchs, the Prophets, and the Kings, with minor groups 
representing the offiering of first fruits, the sin offering, thank- 
offering, the Babylonian captivity, the overthrow of the gods 
Moloch, Baal, Ashtoreth, Dagon, and their votaries, the punish- 
ment of the scoffer, the altar of sacrifice, the High Priest, the 
Ministering Angels, and, over all, radiating its light upon the 
scene of which it is the source of illumination, the Shekinah. 

"To group 140 figures successfully is an achievement; to do 
this with a strict observance of the historic (literary) relation 
and importance of each part multiplies the difficulty; but to 
accomplish both without the result of an unpleasant line or a 



1 80 A VISION REALIZED 

single disturbance of the color harmony is a decided triumph 
for an artist. This Mr. Oertel has suceeded in doing to a very- 
marvelous degree. This is not to say that Mr. OerteFs picture 
is without any discoverable flaw, or that its method of execution 
would suit every follower of every special line of technique. 
Of what picture ever painted could that be said? But Art 
criticism stands upon a broader basis than this, and one soon 
learns that the standard of merit of a picture is not its con- 
formity to every variety of mind, but the sum total of its excel- 
lencies. Regarded in this light, I can recall no picture produced 
in recent years (and I think I have seen most important can- 
vases) which met all the difficulties of composition more uni- 
formly as to arrangement of line, light, color, balance, relative 
importance of groups, centralization of the interest — and all this 
with a strict adherence to the fundamental conception of the 
subject — than this has done. 

"And, after all, the value of a picture is the power and spirit 
of its original conception; all else is the mere scaffolding; if 
this be wanting, no quality of execution can elevate a common- 
place idea. 

"Space would not permit a detailed description of the literary 
meanings of this composition, even were it possible to describe 
in words the complicated relation of its various groups. I can 
only point in passing to the following features, which will address 
themselves to all observers (for the picture will probably return 
to Washington), viz.: The splendid sense of light throughout 
the canvas; the feeling of atmosphere which places each group 
at its proper distances; the fitness and character of the types, 
such as the prophet Daniel, David, and others; the charming 
color and technique of the heads in the middle plane, such as 
Samson, or Joshua; the perfect perspective of the figures upon 
different levels; the dramatic power of the action in the fore- 
ground groups ; and the agreeable, almost sensuous sense of color, 
quite rare in works of this character. 

"The problem of dealing with larger masses of figures in 
costume has always been so to arrange the patchwork of color 
spots as to avoid unpleasant juxtapositions. In this the artist 
is usually satisfied if he has succeeded in producing ^harmony 
of analogy.^ Mr. Oertel has met this difficulty in a bold and 
somewhat original way. Keeping one predominate tone, such as 
sage green, in one group of figures, passing by a skilful transi- 
tion into the prevalence of rose or violet in the adjoining group. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 181 

and so throughout the canvas. And thus the eye is led by an 
agreeable rhythm and harmony of color from group to group, each 
having its distinct characteristic. 

"Nothing could be more beautiful in color than a certain 
minor group in the middle distance made up of halftones, which 
serve as a rest to the eye after passing over another group of 
which reds are the keynote. This method of treatment is relieved 
of any suggestion of monotony by the introduction of small 
notes of contrasting color, such as the touch of red given by the 
helmet plume in the foreground. 

"All these points of merit will in time speak for them- 
selves, but after several hours passed in the study of its merits, 
it appears to me both timely and proper to state publicly what 
I believe to be in substance the opinion of all serious artists 
who have seen it. 

"Mr. Oertel has accomplished something of note in art, and 
his work should find some fitting place in one of our great 
educational institutions or galleries of pictures, where it would 
serve as an example of persistent and successful endeavor apart 
from its great historical value. 

"Richard N. Brooke. 

"Washington, D. C, March 27, 1897 r 

Mr. Seller's offer was refused by the artist for 
a number of reasons, the chief one of which was 
that the picture was one of a series and should not 
be separated from the others which he Intended to 
go on and paint. Of course Mr. Seller could not 
guarantee to take the others, even If he desired 
them, as they did not exist and there was no cer- 
tainty that Mr. Oertel would live to produce them. 
So the picture remained the property of the artist 
and was sent to Nashville, Tenn., to be exhibited at 
the State exposition then In progress. Later It was 
sent to Baltimore and placed on exhibition there. 

He went Immediately to work on the second of 
the ''Series," ''The Redeemer." This was prac- 



182 A VISION REALIZED 

tically completed by the end of the year, but in addi- 
tion he did much other work. 

*^The Evening Sacrifice," ''Our First Parents, 
over against Eden, at Evening Sacrifice,'' ''The 
Martyrdom of St. Stephen," 7 feet 7 inches by 9 
feet 3 inches for St. Stephen's Mission Chapel, St. 
Louis, Mo., "The Expulsion from Eden," were the 
paintings produced, and a carved pulpit and lec- 
tern in oak were made for Emmanuel Church, 
Bel Air. 

The year ended with disaster of a nature that 
for some time clogged the wheels of the household 
and hindered art work as well. Mrs. Oertel, on 
Christmas eve, when the family were all gathered 
together in anticipation of enjoying the holidays, 
fell downstairs and sustained serious injuries. For 
weeks little else was done but care for this, the most 
important member of the family. Her recupera- 
tive powers astonished the doctors; though with 
broken arm and ankle and numerous strains and 
bruises she rallied from the shock rapidly, sat up 
the third day and had her picture taken, and never 
ceased to direct and advise those who so depended 
on her for counsel. 

The third of the series was not at once at- 
tempted. He put the finishing touches on "The 
Eedeemer" during the first months of 1898 and 
painted, life size (54 by 100 inches) "Jesus or 
Barrabbas," and the last of April finished a grand 
lion picture called "The Desert King." The 
"Jesus or Barabbas" was sent to the 'Academy' in 
New York ' ' for possible exhibition. ' ' When ' ' The 
Dispensations" was on exhibition in Baltimore 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 183 

(May) he visited that city and while there deliv- 
ered several lectures on art and Christian 
symbolism. 

While there he met an old Bavarian friend, Dr. 
Volk ^Svhom," he says, '^I found busy— by gas- 
light—on some silver chasing, in the manner— and 
what is yet far superior— in the spirit of those men 
with whom art was a God-given inspiration, a 
Lumple love pursuit, their life a joy in unselfish 
labor; the world, its applause and rewards, an 
almost unknown quantity. His works excited my 
surprise and honest admiration, the more so be- 
cause he is self-taught and does this work after 
dark until 12 or 1 at night with immense industry 
and perseverance. It is a great encouragement to 
meet such a case in this our degenerate, shallow 
days, and the memory of it will help me in hours of 
difficulty and struggle such as are my lot not infre- 
quently. The genuine art spirit is yet a possibility 
after all, and I thank the Lord for even one in- 
stance, as an example that links the great past still 
with the present, despite the blatant, gaudy, irrev- 
erent, and flighty doings of the madly experiment- 
ing youthful rabble of the day. 

''Opportunity to see some new things, though 
not in the shape of paintings, and to have some 
talks on art matters will furnish me stimulus for 
some time to come. Ah! and so often I have felt 
the need of it. Isolation and solitude may be favor- 
able to productiveness, but continued perforce too 
long stagnation sets in and a paralysis of virile 
action not over good for works for art. Situated as 
I am it is a hard battle in which often I go to the 



184 A VISION REALIZED 

ground, though others may not see the defeat, and 
almost despair." 

Of the attempt to have the ^^ Jesus or Barabbas" 
exhibited at the Academy he wrote Mr. Hyde 
(Mar. 15) : 

^^The modern New York art world has once 
more given me unmistakable evidence that I would 
be a deal wiser for hauling in my sensitive antennae 
for aye and retiring into my little shell as the only 
fit place for a presumptuous professor of the Cruci- 
fied and forever stay there. That despised, thorn- 
crowned Nazarene is no more welcome to-day than 
he was 18 centuries ago. 

"By the inclosed photograph ('^ Jesus or Barab- 
bas") you can see with what subject I have dared 
to test the discriminating judges of the National 
Academy, ^The Committee of Selection,' and this 
very day notice came from my agent that the pic- 
ture had been returned to him. To be sure it is 
exactly what I anticipated. Such things have no 
longer a place in modern exhibitions. The Acad- 
emy is revolutionized— dear old fogy affair— and 
got into the control of Parisian-taught youngsters ; 
the former respectable, sober, conservative institu- 
tion is gone. Well, I shall in future act on the 
lesson. My wife suggested I should write to you 
making inquiry whether a chance can not be found 
in Boston for exhibition. Your judgment may tell 
you whether there are any chances whatever in 
intellectual Boston. I myself do not know. 

*'I confess to have gotten at fault with the 
world. Somehow we do not agree. What is more, 
I do not want to agree. You have no idea what an 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 185 

apathetic fellow to the world's blandishments your 
old friend has got to be. Diogenes in his tub, with 
the great Alexander before him, is no circumstance 
in comparison. Well, I have with admiration read 
the maxims of the heathen stoic philosophers, and 
would it not be a shame for an instructed Christian 
to be outdone in indi:fference to the world by them? 

^* Haven't we better ground to stand on and an 
infinitely superior example? Why, there is abso- 
lute luxury in this delightful independence, and 
those New York fellows have no conception what a 
wealth they have contributed to it. If they knew, 
chagrin would make them recall my picture." 

A glorious independence for him it truly was no 
longer to be by reason of financial conditions at the 
mercy of the ^^Committe of Selection" for daily 
bread. 

As the time drew near for the exhibition in Bal- 
timore to close he began to feel the responsibility of 
having these large works in his possession. It was 
not his intention to keep them for any length of 
time, and after due consideration he wrote the fol- 
lowing letter to the Bishop of Tennessee. 

It may be explained here that on going to 
Sewanee in 1886 he had been transferred from the 
Diocese of Washington to that of Tennessee under 
which he still remained. 

"Bel Air, Md., April 16, 1898. 
"Eight Eev. Thomas F. Gailor, D.D. 

"My Dear Bishop : The substance of this letter has by in- 
tention been written long ago. But what I desire to say now 
needs introduction by a brief history concerning three large 
paintings which together form a series. 

"It is no exaggeration to say that the first embodied design — 



186 A VISION REALIZED 

the second of the series — came to me as a veritable vision, 
without conscious preparation or forethought, 45 years ago. 

"The second also was given me in a similar manner a few 
years afterward, and subsequently carried out as a large crayon 
drawing from which some photographs were made in 1864 or 
1865. But until three years ago, by want of means and other 
causes, their execution on a becoming scale was delayed and 
quite mysteriously hindered. 

"It never seemed to me probable that in this country, and 
with the popular taste inclined as I knew it to be, there would 
ever be an opportunity of sale. The pictures would have to be 
made a donation to some public institution, a free gift for general 
benefit. 

"An opportunity for sale was indeed presented for the first 
in the series while for a few days on exhibition in Washington, 
D. C, and before it went to Nashville, but the offer came from 
the vice chancellor of the ^American University' (Methodist), 
and the terms of payment proposed of $10,000, the sum named 
by a competent artist as ^merely a respectable compensation,' 
gave no suflBcient guaranty and had to be rejected. Otherwise, 
without any participation of mine except by passive yielding 
on account of their urgency, two efforts were made to secure 
these paintings, first to the Cathedral established at Washington, 
and then at New York by interested clerical friends. Both failed 
as I anticipated. 

"I vieAved these failures as a divine indication that the course 
for many years existing in my o\vti mind was what my Master 
intended, and that, as the subjects were freely given to me, so 
they should when adequately embodied be freely consecrated 
to the Lord's service. 

"I therefore now offer them, through you, to the Theological 
Department of the University of the South. 

"The Series should go together. 

"Although each composition is a unit by itself, yet they tell 
a connected story — the Story of Eedemption; the first, the Old 
Testament preparation; the second, redemption as practically 
applied to the individual man during a time of probation; the 
third, the Era of the Holy Spirit, the Church Idea. 

"A fourth one has originally been in my thoughts and par- 
tially noted doAvn, namely, the consummation of the divine 
scheme in the future of God's Church until the end. But 
inasmuch as this is still prophetic and not already historic, the 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 187 

three may be suffered to stand by themselves for the historic 
fulfilment of the Divine Plan of Eedemption in its compre- 
hensive features. 

"As such the series, I devoutly trust, will be no invaluable 
aid to students by a graphic delineation of important facts of 
theology, and if at Sewanee they accomplish this mission I shall 
have very sufficient compensation. 

"The first of the series is at present in Baltimore, and only 
for a few days more. On that account I deem it a great favor 
if you let me have a decision, either of acceptance or the contrary, 
at your earliest moment. A few words will sufiSce. I do not 
know whether you can act alone, or have to confer with the 
vice chancellor, but in either case an early answer would direct 
my necessary movements here. 

"One condition only I would beg to make, namely, that in 
case you accept the gift for the University the institution should 
assume the cost of transportation from Baltimore to Sewanee. 
It can be only a few dollars. Painting and frame are in separate 
long boxes, the painting rolled, with stretcher in one, the frame, 
home made, and in sections, in the other. By paying freight 
at the other end I imagine better care can be insured of the goods. 

"This preliminary step settled, the next ones, like the fur- 
nishing of a description and sending of the second painting, 
nearly done, can be arranged in due order. 

"By writing this letter a load of shifting quantity has been 
dropped from my shoulders. 

"When the destination of these works, for so long carried 
as a solemn obligation, has been fixed I shall be as a man who 
has performed his vow and relieved his conscience. 

"My friend Bishop Quintard has gone Home. I now with 
heartiest devotion greet you as my Bishop, and myself subscribe 
as your servant in the Lord, 

"Johannes A. Oeetel." 

On receiving this letter Bishop Gailor for- 
warded it to the vice chancellor of the University 
and received the following reply : 

"Apeil 35, 1898. 
"My Dear Bishop Gailor : Your letter of 22d inst., inclosing 
one from Mr. Oertel, is duly received. We certainly appreciate 



188 A VISION REALIZED 

Doctor's Oertel's most gracious consideration for us, and will 
gladly defray all expense in connection with the shipping of 
the pictures. We should value them very highly, and will give 
them the very best space at our disposal. 

"Please to convey to Doctor Oertel our high appreciation of 
his gift. 

"With warmest regards, yours, very faithfully, 

"B. L. Wiggins, 
^'Vice Chancellor.'* 

At the same time the vice chancellor wrote to 
Mr. Oertel : 

"April 25, 1898. 
"The Rev. Johannes A. Oertel, 
Bel Air, Maryland. 

"Eeverend and Dear Sir : Bishop Gailor has communicated 
to me the contents of your letter to him, and I wish to assure 
you of the high appreciation of the University for your most 
generous offer. 

"The University will gladly defray the expense in connection 
with the shipping of the pictures, and we shall place them to 
the best advantage on our walls. 

"Your other picture, 'The Shadow of the Rock,' is hung 
in our newest building and people come from a distance to see 
and admire it. 

"With high regard, yours, very faithfully, 

"B. L. Wiggins, 
''Vice Chancellor." 



Bishop Gailor 's letter to Mr. Oertel follows: 

"Memphis, Tenn., Apnl 29, 1898. 

"My Dear Mr. Oertel : I thank you with all my heart in 
the name of the University, and as one who learned to regard 
your life and work with reverence in the old days for your 
thought of our dear Sewanee. I had to write to the vice chan- 
cellor before I could formally accept the gift, and now I inclose 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 189 

his letter. The board of trustees will of course make a formal 
acknowledgment at its meeting in August. 

"Assuring you of my cordial regard, and with affectionate 
greeting I am, 

"Most sincerely, yours, 

"Thomas F. Gailor. 
"The Eev. J. A. Oertel, 
''Bel Air, Mdr 



CHAPTER XV. 

On receiving Mr. Oertel's letter in regard to the 
possibilities of exhibiting in Boston, Mr. Hyde im- 
mediately began to investigate and f oimd the man 
H. Jay Smith mentioned before in connection with 
the ^^Eock of Ages." When Mr. Smith heard of 
the large works Mr. Oertel had recently painted he 
became very much interested and at once made ar- 
rangements to go to Bel Air to see them. 

Before he could do so Mr. Oertel had another 
accident, which again for a time put a stop to art 
work. He had been repeatedly warned not to ride 
a ' ' wheel, ' ' yet he persisted in doing so and had both 
bicycle and tricycle. 

A letter written by Mrs. Oertel to her son in 
New York (May 4) tells the story. 

^^We certainly have become the record ^break- 
ers' of Hartford County. Don't you remember, 
long ago, when Papa first got Svheels in his head,' 
you said to me, ^If Papa ever attempts to ride a 
wheel he will break that right wrist over again"? 
You were a prophet. He has done it. Here he sits 
with his arm in splints, suif ering like a dog, and— 
the wheel is for sale. He was about ready for it. 
Had just finished the big picture (^The Redeemer'), 
taken down the ladder, and cleaned out the room, 
so if Mr. Smith comes he is ready for him." 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 191 

Mr. Smith arrived some days later. He was 
very much pleased with the pictures and at 
once made a proposition to take them for ex- 
hibit. He believed that in New England, Bos- 
ton especially, they would be appreciated and 
attract attention. 

Mr. Oertel was very skeptical as to the results 
of such an exhibition. ^^He is like a stag at bay," 
writes Mrs. Oertel. ^^He has had so many failures 
and disappointments that he is out of all sorts with 
the business world. ' ' However, he consented in the 
end to let Mr. Smith take the pictures provided the 
vice chancellor of the University to which he had 
given them was willing to have them go before they 
finally were sent to Sewanee. 

This permission was given and the three large 
canvases, ^^The Dispensations," **The Redeemer," 
and *^ Jesus or Barabbas" were forwarded to Mr. 
Smith at Boston. 

After Smith had placed the pictures on exhibi- 
tion he wrote that as he was advertising them as by 
the painter of ^^The Eock of Ages" he wished he 
could have a copy of that famous picture to exhibit 
with them. 

Mr. Oertel at once offered to paint one for the 
purpose, and did so, at the suggestion of Mr. Smith, 
making the life-size painting before mentioned. 
This was completed August 20 and sent on. 

Mr. Smith was so sanguine of results, looking 
at it purely from the standpoint of a financial ven- 
ture, that it seemed possible some degree of success 
might attend the undertaking. Mr. Oertel's style 
had greatly changed in the last years, and what he 



192 A VISION REALIZED 

now offered was vastly superior to the works of 
former times. 

^^You do not know how he paints now," writes 
his wife to ^'Edward". '^The old brown style of 
the past is all gone; he has become a first class 
colorist. Don't think it partiality in me— for he 
calls me his severest critic— but if you could see his 
present works you would be astonished. ^^The 
Gethsemane" and ^'Expulsion" are gems. He is 
just finishing a grand lion picture, and if he saw an 
opening for his paintings he would work like a 
steam engine. He executes most rapidly and has 
ideas by the score waiting the time when they can 
be painted, and new ones keep crowding on." 

Smith had also for exhibition at the same time 
*Hhe most extraordinary nude ever exhibited in 
America" (^'Rona") and crowds flocked to see it, 
but the exhibition of the Oertel pictures did not 
prove the success that Smith expected and at first 
he said he thought it was because he did not know 
how to handle that class of work. After further 
efforts had been made he wrote : 

''When I wrote you I had failed because I did 
not know how to handle the paintings I should have 
written, instead, because I did not know the New 
England people. I find the vast majority of people 
in this section care very little for orthodox ideas, 
and want subjects either of the nude, mirthful, or 
startling and sensational. People will not pay to 
see a painting unless sensational in some way. ' ' On 
receipt of this letter Mr. Oertel immediately or- 
dered the ''Dispensations," "The Redeemer," and 
"Jesus or Barabbas" forwarded to Sewanee. It 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 193 

appears that the latter painting was also presented 
to the University at this time, though there is no 
record of the action. 

During the early part of this year he was busy 
making studies for the third of the ''Series," ''The 
Dispensation of the Holy Spirit," and began to 
paint on it in August. He writes: "I am working 
down from the top and for over a week have been 
among the angelic host; now among the Apostles— 
exalted company to be sure— and I have to use very 
pure color to express it. This picture will be my 
witness for Truth and a protest against modern un- 
belief. ' ' On August 8, 1899, he was notified that the 
degree of Doctor of Divinity had been conferred on 
him by the University of the South. This honor 
was accepted in the following characteristic letter : 

"Bel Air, Md., August 12, 1899. 
"B. S. Wiggins, D.D., 

''Vice Chancellor, University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn. 

"My Dear Sir : But from Sewanee, I would not accept the 
honor the board of trustees has been pleased to confer on me 
by the degree of Doctor of Divinity, being conscious of neither 
scholarship nor learning sufficient for such distinction. 

"It must have been offered, I must believe, as an indorsement 
by the board of the scriptural doctrine in my pictures being 
trustworthy interpreters, and as such I accept the great honor 
thankfully from the University that has my love and service, 
and let it be to me a stimulus more truly to deserve it. 
"Yours, very faithfully, 

"Johannes A. Oertel." 

During the fall he repainted the ^'EzekiePs 
Vision," destroying the original copy made some 
years before. His experience since the first one 
was made had taught him that a large canvas, where 



194 A VISION REALIZED 

so many figures were grouped, should not be 
painted as it had been. He did not know how to 
properly handle it then; now he did— and it must 
be done over entirely. 

In the spring of this year his son Fred, who was 
in the service of the Government, had succeeded in 
being transferred from New York to Washington 
and it was deemed best to again bring the family 
together in the Virginia home. 

Accordingly, on October 4, ^^Owls Roost," as the 
Vienna house was called because of the propensity 
of the family to keep late hours, was again occu- 
pied, Mrs. Oertel and the grandchildren removing 
from Bel Air, though Mr. Oertel preferred to re- 
main until he could complete the big picture on 
which he was then working. 

His life while there, alone again, perhaps had 
best be told as he wrote it in letters to his wife. 

October 23. **Day by day," he says, ^'I toil on, 
conscious that what at present occupies my heart, 
mind, and brush is not an unimportant contribution 
as a witness in behalf of the truth now so wantonly 
assailed by the modern spirit of anti-Christ. Daily 
I am bringing out with greater emphasis the super- 
natural element of the Church of Christ, its God- 
commissioned founders. 

^^I am now in hopes that by the end of this year 
I can close the substantial work on the painting so 
that little besides harmonizing will have to lap over 
into 1900 ; already I leap forward in mind, now and 
then, to the fourth, and arrange for the upper 
portion." 

On his birthday, November 3, he wrote: '^By 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 195 

right of custom I ought to have sent a birthday 
remembrance to Fred, if I were not cowed into 
bashfuhiess by the ever-recurring confession of 
poverty by offering a picture. Why, the miserable 
drug— it's too plentiful and dirt cheap to give here- 
after to any of my family. I am sick of them 
myself. * * * 

^*As I have the happy faculty of almost as well 
looking behind as before, I undertook the barber 
business with my hair in propria persona, and suc- 
ceeded, of course, astonishingly well. Conquering 
persistent obstacles is one of the chief lessons the 
many years of life have hammered into me and 
* self-help' is a prominent article in my creed of ex- 
istence ; or am I too old for unremitting practice. 
What would become of my art without if? 

'^I am called on often by visitors to explain the 
picture, now nearly done. Don't I wish I had the 
story of the explanation on tinfoil and a phono- 
graph on hand, so that somebody else could grind it 
out for visitors without the necessity of my pres> 
ence ! What a blessed relief it would be. I think 
such an apparatus might be employed with benefit 
even by the Sewanee folk, and perhaps I will make 
the suggestion. And have I not cause for congratu- 
lation that in any event the lugubrious business will 
by and by pass to others' hands, who, perchance, 
see things I never dreamed of and embellish the 
story of redemption in a manner as intelligible and 
logical as the typical boy composition on *the sub- 
lime.' 

**And now the birthday talk is done with and 
the light of the day departed and gone. How many 



196 A VISION REALIZED 

more— or how few— of these days, and what are 
they to bring of joy or sorrow, and what work to be 
yet accomplished? There is ever the dark riddle 
of the Future into which no anxious peering can 
avail to give knowledge besides the sweet hope a 
true faith does kindle and keep bright to steer our 
lives' bark by— and thank God for this. Let us 
through the darkness be cheered by the Beacon on 
yonder shore. 

'^With my picture I am coming on bravely. I 
am now putting to rights the front of scoffers, and 
gold and pleasure seekers, the Briggses and Vol- 
taires and Tom Paines in the Church with the gold 
hunters and stock jobbers and usurers everywhere. 
When this corner is done and a revision of the 
Apostles, there remains only a general retouching 
and harmonizing. ' ' 

On January 20 he began to get ready to move 
and did some packing. ' ' But ah me, ' ' said he, ' ' the 
accumulation of years. Going over the mass makes 
me feel a thousand years old, and it is such a sad 
and dreary reminder of a multitude of people, 
plans, and associations, all now in the dim and gray 
past and rising again like ghosts from trodden- 
down and forgotten graves. To have to rummage 
in the dust of ages and stir up the remains of long 
departed days, and think over again faded experi- 
ences, and communicate with the spirits that are 
gone— what a diary it is to read perforce over and 
feel so many hopes and pangs and disappointments 
again, and the hot determined struggle with ad- 
verse fate and changeful conditions that, after all, 
got the mastery and shaped one's course so differ- 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 197 

ent from what was dreamed of and the fond heart 
had wished. 

^* A journal kept in words is cruel enough in con- 
juring up the buried past; but one in the visible 
forms of art, giving actual shape to each thouglit 
and object and clustered full of associations more 
vivid than speech of any sort is— to the man whose 
record they are, and who in the course of the years 
without design to say much has yet said far more 
than he intended— a most pregnant book of recol- 
lections, though no one besides can read as he can 
the strange cipher of his life." 

So he lived and worked. His letters speak of 
the many little things done for him by his friends 
who took pity on his lone condition. 

Whatever acquaintance with the people may 
have developed during seven years' residence 
among them, sure it is that in no place of sojourn- 
ing of the Oertel family in their wanderings over 
the broad land was more personal kindness shown 
them than by the good people of Bel Air, Md. 

He sent a couple of animal pictures *'In a New 
England Quarry" and '^A King of the Desert" to 
the exhibition in Philadelphia, once more tempting 
the fates. They were accepted and hung but did 
not sell, and when returned he comments thus : 

*'It is something for me to be admitted even to 
the exhibition, considering the gantlet to run of 
some 20 ^'judges of selection," and the hope of a 
sale is perhaps, all things considered, a crazy one 
and I am a deluded prehistoric fossil to indulge in 
it for a moment. By this time I ought fully to un- 
derstand, taught by experience, that the Lord wants 



198 A VISION REALIZED 

me to count myself outside the world-crowd of 
artists, both by aim and practice, and commissioned 
to do a work apart and which can not be mixed 
up with the prevailing popular styles of thought, 
subjects, or execution. 

**The naked vixen in the Corcoran Gallery that 
gave such offense is a common type of the art that 
now has an applauding public, and I can not be 
wrong in believing that with the evident decline and 
degeneration in religion and morals the art also 
must go down, and become more trivial, showy, and 
given wholly to externals. What the current peri- 
odicals show is on the whole a just exponent of what 
the galleries contain." 

On February 10 he writes that the picture is 
finished, and goes on to say: ^* Probably I have 
made a good picture. I think so myself, now. 'It 
is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.' 
That is the inside of it. Without He supplying my 
well, I could never have pumped out of it such a 
stream of clear water, considering the desert of my 
surroundings. Where else did it all come from?" 

The painting of this picture seemed to tax him 
greatly. For the first two he had much more prep- 
aration and had already made cartoons of the sub- 
jects carefully worked out; for this he had only a 
few sketches. When at last it was done he shows 
his state of mind and the strain of the work, espe- 
cially under such conditions as he imposed on 
himself. 

**I am tired," he writes, ''of the howling out- 
side and shaking of windows. I am tired of the cold 
and snow. I am tired of darning stockings and 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 199 

mending trousers. I am tired of cooking meals, 
concocting unheard of dishes, washing pots, think- 
ing about victuals, running to market, and specu- 
lating on the next programme. I am tired of bolt- 
ing eatables in * solitary confinement.' I am tired of 
stove shaking and ash dumping and fussing with 
separating cinders. I am tired of being day and 
night and all the time between in a lonely hole 
amidst the same things gaping at me. I am tired of 
that big canvas and wish it were over the hills and 
far away. I am tired of being compelled to stare 
at it and pick out flaws. I am tired of the very idea 
of having by myself to pack interminable trash and 
useless rubbish and dearly pay for its removal. I 
am tired of this bachelor imprisonment and all its 
cheerless accompaniments, tired of this banish- 
ment, and many things more. There ! That's a list 
of some of my grievances ! If it is not enough, I 
can pile on indefinitely ; but by this time, I am sure, 
your pity is sufficiently excited. Any human soul 
would have compassion on me. 

^^Now the big canvas finished, I have nothing to 
absorb my surplus energy and so must growl, at 
least for the present. 

' ' Some days will have to go by before I can settle 
down to some other regular work. The carthorse 
habit, I have to confess, is in my bones, too, perhaps 
the more so as years increase ; for old things and old 
people get knotty and gnarled and more difficult to 
move, and the arrival at every successive station 
exhibits more the desire to stop just there. Plod- 
ding like a plow ox is now more to my liking than 
romping like a pup. " 



200 A VISION REALIZED 

But the ^'carthorse habit" was too strong to 
allow him to flag. In a few days he went to work 
making a frame for the picture so it could be ex- 
hibited in Washington, where it was placed (Mar. 
8) for a short time in St. John's Hall, going from 
there direct to Sewanee. 

March 18, 1900, the last move of his life was 
made, and at '*Owls Eoost" he settled down to 
spend his remaining years and finish his work in the 
new studio then being built near the house. 

The principal paintings of this year, after the 
large one was completed, were, ^'Man" in his record 
described as ^^a nude male figure, sitting on a bit of 
cloud within a large circle of nightly sky, with 
stars, comet, and a new moon, wonder stricken. 
Painted for myself as an expression of the mystery 
of being." It is a remarkable picture. Man, alone 
in the great universe, naught to show from whence 
he came or whither he is going, supported only by 
the bit of cloud and naked. Is not this the position 
we all occupy'? ^^ Easter Morning," the Lord step- 
ping forth from the tomb. This was a life-size 
figure on canvas 4 feet 9 inches by 9 feet. It was 
painted for St. Stephen's Memorial Church, St. 
Louis, Mo. 

Under these conditions opened the year 1901. 
After a life of wandering at last, in his 78th year, 
he had a home. He could now look with compla- 
cency upon the years of toil and trial; he had 
climlDed the height, and from the summit looked 
down on the devious and rugged path by which he 
had ascended with a calm and satisfied mind. Over 
all this he had been led as in climbing a great moun- 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 201 

tain, from crag to crag, up dizzy heights, over 
foaming torrents, often well-nigh spent, but with 
eyes ever on the shining summit and trusting in his 
Master to help and support from day to day and 
year to year. 

Three of the great works were completed; he 
was free to go on with the last. Why should he not 
say *^ All is well, the spirit of divine wisdom through 
whom came the thought of these works and who has 
graciously helped me in the expression knew how 
to frame what would appeal to the greatest number 
at least of sincere persons in perfect conformity to 
scriptural truth. Myself had very little to do with 
the process except as an instrument. " 

Early in this year he painted a large canvas, 
4 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 3 inches of '^Christ Knock- 
ing at the Door of the Twentieth Century." Eev. 
Ill, 20. This was also presented to the University 
of the South. 

His belief that the end of the dispensation was 
approaching, that the ^4ast times were at hand" 
when the great battle of Armageddon would be 
fought, shows itself again, as in ^^Charlemagne," 
by the painting of ^^Barbarossa" from the well- 
known legend that in the center of the Plain of 
Sennheim (or Cernay) beneath a great rock called 
the ^'Biblestein" sleeps Frederick Barbarossa who 
bore the title of the Duke of Alsace. He is shown 
sleeping with his knights around him, his flaming 
beard grown through the table on which he leans, 
^^ awaiting the hour of destiny, when he will arise 
and lead the armies of the empire to victory." 

On April 16 he sketched the canvas for the last 



202 A VISION REALIZED 

of the '^Series" and for the remainder of the year 
most of his time was given to that. Mr. Hyde was 
very enthusiastic over the ^^ Series," and suggested 
that they should all be exhibited together. Mr. 
Oertel did not look with favor on the scheme, but 
consented that Mr. Hyde should request the loan 
of those already at Sewanee, provided he did so on 
his own responsibility. 

Mrs. Oertel writes: ^^You do not apprehend the 
condition of his mind in regard to them. They have 
been made a gift to the Lord, not to Sewanee ; and 
to try to use them to make money would be to him 
a sacrilege." How^ever, the trustees of the Uni- 
versity were not willing to loan the pictures, so that 
ended the matter greatly to his satisfaction. 

The last of the ^^ Series" was finished early in 
the year. Much to his delight ^^ Edward" came 
down from Boston to see it and him and remained 
about a week. This visit was the greatest pleasure 
that could have been given him ; days they spent in 
the studio together, these two— Master and pupil— 
who had clung to each other through the long years. 

On June 2, 1902, after his return, Mrs. Oertel 
wrote him : 

^*I want you to know that the great work is ac- 
complished! The last canvas was shipped on 
Saturday last. May 31, and the 50 years agony is 
over. Laus Deo ! Such a long time, and how dis- 
couraging it would have been to look forward to 
if it could have been foreseen. 

*^What a blessing it is that the impenetrable 
veil hangs over our future, and how evident the 
reason of the delay. Even 20 years ago he could not 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 203 

have made the works what they are now. Will it 
not be that way when we look back from the battle- 
ments of the New Jerusalem, will we not see in so 
many instances why our ways were overruled as 
they were, and we were not permitted to walk in 
the paths we fain would have chosen for our feet"?" 

After the big picture was sent to Sewanee he 
took no rest but continued with other designs, pro- 
ducing in succession several important works, a 
^^Rock of Ages" which was presented to Mrs. Kate 
B. Cannon, of Kansas City, Mo., ^^The Wandering 
Jew," and ^^The Vision of Canaan." 

^^The Wandering Jew" is an independent in- 
terpretation of the legend. The despised Jew has 
wandered restless for nearly 2,000 years. The sun 
of the Dispensation is nearly setting. The ruins of 
the centuries are about him and the sinking sun 
casts his shadow ahead of him in Cross form. The 
painting expressed the artist's belief that the day 
of the present Dispensation is very near its close, 
and the Jew divinely recognizes the time has come 
to wend his steps back to the land of his fathers, 
seeking rest and perchance to revive his national- 
ity. Of the truths bringing on the movement he is 
as yet prof oimdly ignorant, but a mysterious spirit 
impels him as the time draws rapidly near when 
ancient prophecies must be fulfilled. 

**The Vision of Canaan" represented Moses 
where he is shown the promised land that he may 
not enter. It is a typical scene of wide meaning, of 
the old and the new covenant, the covenants of law 
and of grace, of the land this side of the mystical 
Jordan and the wider land that stretches beyond. 



204 A VISION REALIZED 

We all occupy a situation like that. We look, by 
sublime faith, beyond the dividing Jordan flood to 
our promised land. It is the gracious Lord Himself 
shows us the way. 

This was also presented to the University of the 
South. 



CHAPTER XVI. 

On May 30 the vice chancellor of the University 
wrote asking him to come to Sewanee and lecture on 
the *^ Series" and art. Accordingly, about the 
middle of June, he went. Those who have followed 
in this narrative his struggles to attain the end now 
reached can perhaps to some degree appreciate his 
feelings as he came before the assembly in Sewanee 
to tell them of his works, at last completed. 

Of this he writes his wife : 

^^My Dear Wife : It seems months since I left 
home— the more so because I have heard nothing 
from you— and yet the time is only one week. 

''My usually quiet, uneventful life makes such 
a change appear like a revolution. Many faces turn 
up that seemed forgotten and wiped out with our 
memory of them, and it seems truly strange to have 
been remembered by them, so many years having 
passed since our living on the mountain. 

''Of course that which touches me is of first in- 
terest, and the great event, speaking on my pictures 
is happily over. A marked success it proved. 
There was a crowd in the hall, and the board of 
trustees adjourned their meeting in order to be 
present. Certainly I never before had so distin- 
guished an interested audience, nor was so warmly 
and cordially received. It was evident that my 



206 A VISION REALIZED 

labors were not without fruit, and I thank the Lord 
for the fruit of my toil. Bishop Gailor, in his 
happy manner, introduced me, and after conclud- 
ing my address, which was without reference to my 
notes except the concluding sentences, the Bishop 
of Georgia made a call for a vote of thanks which 
brought all to their feet, and the Bishop of Florida 
concluded. Since then Dr. Du Bose and many 
others have spoken to me. But even this is not to 
be the end. Many desire more information, among 
them the divinity students, so there is promise that 
I have not labored in vain. It is certainly true that 
on the great world-public by my labors I have made 
very ephemeral impression, and they have prac- 
tically ignored my doings and left me in poverty 
and alone. I care not for it. But here is a prospect 
of usefulness, for it, not fame, I have coveted, nor 
the gold that perisheth. 

^^ Bishop Gailor also in his address said I had 
brought art to the mountain and educated a race of 
carvers in wood. You see the seed is not sown in 
vain." 

June 29, 1902, the degree of Doctor of Divinity 
was formally conferred on him by the Bishop of 
Alabama, and he writes : 

^^So the august ceremony has confirmed the 
honorary proclamation of three years ago, and so I 
am a full-fledged D.D. Wonderful ! What would 
now my little mother say who always regarded me 
as such an extraordinary specimen under any cir- 
cumstances 1^ What if she and father and brother 
Fritz looked on unseen ! Who knows ? 

^^Well, perhaps there is more and sounder 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 207 

theology in my pictures and some of my old lectures 
than even is known or recognized by the authority 
that conferred the degree." 

And to this Mrs. Oertel replied July 2 : 

*'So you have come about to the climax of your 
career, the ^ Great Series' done and given away, and 
yourself invested with the hood of a Doctor of 
Divinity. Yes ; what would Grossmutter say ? But 
more, what would Fritz say'? (His brother Fritz 
was also a clergyman of the Church.) Well, it is 
not every man that struggles who is permitted to 
see the fruit of it all to such an extent, so we will 
be thankful. The way has been long and stony 
enough, and the top of the hill seemed unattainable 
—but you got there. ' ' 

It is quite certain these last words were not 
intended as slang, as probably she had never heard 
them so used. 

July 7 he lectured on the ^^ Revelation of the 
Beautiful" in the hall where the big pictures had 
been hung. *^ So that now the series are together," 
he says, ^^and I also can see the accomplished 
struggle of many years in one room. It really 
appears as if your old man, in the evening of his 
days, were being looked upon as an individual of 
some importance and might be useful in the world, 
and that when the great world of art has forgotten 
my name and existence. It is better so." 

With the works already mentioned the rest of 
this year was consumed. 

An immense amount of work was done during 
the next year, although considerably broken into 
by the serious illness of his wife. First came ^^A 



208 A VISION REALIZED 

Glimpse of Glory," an old man on top of a ladder, 
leaning against clouds, eagerly looking over to see 
what is beyond. He says: ^'I call it ^Looking in.' 
Various are the ladders set for us by God's kind 
providence during our time of training, by means 
of which we may get a glimpse of glory." 

Next he began to repair ^^The Final Harvest," 
which showed the effects of time and frequent 
moves, but after working on it for some days con- 
cluded it was not worth it and discarded it entirely, 
stretched a fresh canvas and repainted it. It was 
made the same size as the original, in a 6-foot circle, 
but the canvas was square so the frame could be 
made so, as the original had been in a circular 
frame, which was found to be a great disadvantage 
and very expensive. 

There followed ^^Mary Magdalene Embracing 
the Foot of the Cross," ^^The Expulsion from 
Eden," ^^ Noah's Sacrifice after the Flood," two 
figures of St. Paul, one of which was sent the Rev. 
E. L. Hyde with the note, ^^Keep the painting in 
memory of your old friend and the delightful visit 
he had from you. " '' The Victor, ' ' a design treated 
as statuary, the dead warrior carried from the bat- 
tlefield upon his shield, according to the Spartan 
mother's charge to her son when giving him that 
defensive arm, ^^Come with it or upon it," since 
the greatest disgrace to a Spartan was to cast away, 
in fleeing from the enemy, his shield, and which the 
apostle, admonishing the Christian warrior, calls 
'Hhe shield of faith." 

In August of this year (1903) he again visited 
Sewanee remaining about five weeks. He retouched 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 209 

the big paintings and assisted in taking them down 
to be photographed. 

He delivered six lectures, three to the students 
and three to the general public. ^*To the theolo- 
gians were given what is instructive in the symbol- 
ism of the Mosaic Dispensation"; to the public, 
talks were on "the use of art, the paintings in the 
Roman Catacombs, and Ary Scheffer.'' 

As the time for his return drew near he wrote 
his wife : ' ' Now my visit is ending and I go back to 
hard work, to -me the occupation that wears best 
and pays most. What solace there is in the persua- 
tion that our work of whatever kind is, by devout 
intention, a God service— be it acknowledged and 
valued by men or neglected and forgotten. We can 
do no more in the world of toil and tears than faith- 
fully sow our seed and let the Lord of Heaven, of 
the rain and the sunshine, take care of it against 
the day of harvest." 



CHAPTER XVII. 

And so he returned to his studio and plunged 
into work. The main object of his life was accom- 
plished, but he could not rest. His portfolios were 
filled with designs miade in former years but never 
painted, and his brain continually evolved addi- 
tional subjects. It was just as if he were driven. 
Work, work, work unceasingly, grinding out pic- 
tures. It was a general family joke how he was 
filling the studio with them— and they could not be 
disposed of except as gifts. 

From his portfolios came timeworn sketches and 
designs, and they were rapidly painted ; from the 
walls of house and studio were taken pictures to be 
revised and worked over according to what he 
considered the needs of each. 

^^The time has come with me,^' he said, "that 
instead of constantly rolling out new things, many 
of them have to be left as sketches or incomplete 
productions to give accumulations of many years 
more adequate expression, so that in case they can 
be brought together they form as it were by a cer- 
tain continuity of thought a harmonious gallery. 
I have come where many of the hesitancies and 
timidities or ignorance of former years can be 
corrected and a good subject redeemed from inade- 
quate expression." 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 21 1 

Immediately after his return he painted another 
^^Eoek of Ages" and a Crucifixion ^^It is Fin- 
ished/' and presented them to St. Mary's House, 
Sewanee. Then ^^The King of Truth," the thorn- 
crowned Christ in purple robe, seated. 

Besides these there were many sketches and 
studies. 

As the end of the year approached it seemed to 
admonish him of the rapid flight of time and his 
own shortening days and limit for action, and the 
pressure and speed were increased. 

In a letter to Mr. Hyde (Dec. 8), after enumer- 
ating the various works produced during the year, 
he says : ' ' There seems continually in my mind the 
resolution: 'I must work while it is day,^ How 
do I know that my strength or life will last very 
much longer ? And, having only a limited measure, 
solemn duty requires that I crowd it with work to 
the utmost. My big room is comfortable. You will 
not have to be informed, by an obituary in the 
papers, that an old artist with sluggish circulation 
and more persistency than prudence was found one 
cold day frozen to an icicle in his too large studio. 

^*0n the contrary, that same persistent individ- 
ual proposes and expects to do a huge amount of 
work during the winter months and in spite of the 
shortened daylight." 

It may seem strange to the reader that little is 
given in this narrative except the ^^work" done, 
but what else could be told of one whose life was 
spent in toil? Friends he had and visited, and a 
few came to his studio, but in these days, except to 
a very few, he seemed to grudge the time consumed. 



212 A VISION REALIZED 

Some little recreation and exercise lie allowed him- 
self, and persisted in riding Ms ** wheel" in spite of 
former mishaps and repeated warnings. 

He came to his meals after the bell had been 
rmig several times and he had also been sent for 
and told the bell had been rung, and after the meal 
was over it was always the same ^'Well, I must get 
back to my work." He read much, but his mind 
ran in a rut. He saw in the doings of the world 
only signs of the approaching ^'end of the Dispen- 
sation," and became almost morbid on the subject. 
It seemed to him that prophecy was rapidly being 
fulfilled, and in his reading of current literature he 
searched out only such things as pertained to that 
subject. 

The last work made in 1903 was a duplicate of 
^^The Holy Grail." 

What was done with this painting is not known. 
During these last years he became very secretive 
and often when he disposed of a painting, i, e,, gave 
it away, he would say nothing about it even to his 
wife. 

The first thing attempted in 1904 was the paint- 
ing of ^^The Death of Saul," or *^The Judgment of 
King Saul," from 1 Samuel 31: 36. This was an 
old composition, made years ago in pencil, which 
work he describes as "a, veritable specimen of 
laborious exactness and rigid classification of for- 
mer years." This is 31 by 53 J inches in size and 
painted in four tints only, from reddish brown to 
ivory black, and giving the impression of a mono- 
chrome. 

Then from his easel came in rapid succession 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 213 

'^Faithful unto Death,'' ^^His First Going to Jer- 
usalem," ^^Abel, the Proto Martyr," *^ Supper at 
Enunaus," and numerous landscape and animal 
pictures. 

To Mr. Hyde he writes. May 1 : 

^'You know how secluded we live, and myself 
more than my family, the 'Den' in which my 
work is done being my field of toil and conflict; 
a kind of fate impelling me to work on while 
the opportunity is given and do my very best, 
never at rest until means as well as knowledge 
compel a halt. 

''With that spirit driving me on, you need not 
wonder that yesterday I have again been at the 
'Final Harvest,' taking out dimness of color and 
shadows and introducing more light and clearness 
and brilliancy of tint as it becomes a subject which 
reaches forward to where the glory of eternity 
illumines. In consequence the picture has, since 
you saw it, risen miles above the thick atmosphere 
we mortals must breathe, and, as to a comparison 
with the old canvas, it is simply a smoke-begrimed 
affair not to be mentioned." 

One of the landscapes, "A Storm-tossed Vet- 
eran," is worthy of mention. A most picturesque 
old chestnut tree, lighted by the evening sun, behind 
it a storm cloud sinking away, and a piece of rain- 
bow ; on one side a yellow grain field with the grain 
shocked upon it, in the foreground a large limb 
freshly torn from the tree. 

On July 5 the following formal acknowledg- 
ment of his gifts to the University of the South 
were received : 



214 A VISION REALIZED 

"University of the South, 

"Sewanee, Tenn., July 5, 190 J^. 
"Eev. J. A. Oertel, D.D., 
''Vienna, Va. 
"Rev. and Dear Sir : I have the honor to transmit to you 
a copy of a resolution passed by the board of trustees at its 
recent session: 

" 'Resolved, That the thanks of the board are hereby tendered 
to the Rev. J. A. Oertel, D.D., for the valuable paintings during 
the past year presented to the University, placing us under 
renewed obligations to our venerable friend for his many valuable 
gifts to the University.^ 

"I am, dear Doctor, with great respect, very faithfully yours, 

"Jas. G. Glass, 
''Secretary of the Board of Trustees/' 

It is to be regretted that for lack of space more 
extracts from his letters can not be given, especially 
those written to Mr. Hyde, to whom he was wont to 
express his ideas on art and religious subjects more 
fully than to anyone else, as, for instance, when he 
says: 

''Our art has been for such a length of time wild 
and wayward experiment, the chasing after the 
novel and strange, that solid advance on lines of 
truthfulness has been impossible. The fever con- 
dition can only be followed by exhaustion. The 
high-pressure tension cannot be kept up for ever. 
It will wear itself out. Art, to grow and improve, 
must have contemplative repose. 

''In this matter also I believe the point of crisis 
has been nearly reached and experiment has ex- 
hausted itself. To my judgment magazine illustra- 
tions are a fair and quite infallible proof of decline. 
Straws show which way the wind blows.'' 

The last work finished this year was a subject 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 215 

that had waited over 30 years for him to have the 
time to give it expression, ''The Church Militant, '^ 
a canvas 41 by 64 inches. The Israelites on the 
holy war, the Conquest of Canaan, Joshua leading, 
priests with the sacred trumpets, Judah with the 
banner, insignia the lion and a star, Benjamin, 
Dan, and others. The Shekinah, overhead, the light 
of the picture. 

Early in 1905 he presented a painting to ''Dr. 
Bernardo's Homes, National Incorporated Asso- 
ciation for Eeclamation of Destitute Waif Chil- 
dren," London, England, but neither his record 
nor letters from the secretary of the association, 
acknowledging its receipt, state what it was. 

Then came "The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus." 
"This," he says, "is painted with a palette of great 
simplicity, having only a touch of yellow in it in one 
spot. It has a sleepy light, a different sentiment 
from others of my pictures, for why should not the 
color key correspond as much with the inherent 
character of a painting as form, action, and expres- 
sion?" 

In the evening he spent much time in carving 
and made two lions carved in oak for the episcopal 
chair of Bishop Leonard, of Ohio. 

Next came "Moses, with Aaron," invoking the 
plagues over Egypt; not the plague of darkness 
only, as in the monochrome formerly painted. The 
background was changed from the dark sky to Pha- 
raoh 's palace and relieved the figures dark against 
the light, giving increased power and more mystery 
and suggestion. Of this he writes Mr. Hyde : 

"Another added to the many unsalable can- 



216 A VISION REALIZED 

vases? Yes, indeed; well I know it. But what 
can a mortal do against Fate? I am doomed— 
or honored— to paint unsalable pictures, as my 
namesake (Simon) was to preach an unpopular 
doctrine of repentance to ^Scribes and Pharasees' 
many centuries ago. Not only so, but verily there 
must be attached a secret sign, or a smell, or other 
warning, to my pictures ; that a believer, a ' Chris- 
tian dog' has painted them, lacking the prophesied 
^Mark of the Beast' (Rev. 13: 16-17), and so they 
are persistently unsalable. 

''Yes, you know your old friend is a quite head- 
strong heretic with the world, in sharp antagonism 
with her ways, and, what is more altogether uncon- 
trovertible, to her modes of though and action. 

''I think we might as well give up the effort to 
bring his pictures into market, be they religious, 
landscape, or animal, for all are stamped with a 
seal the world flatly refuses to acknowledge as cur- 
rent in her dominion. 

''It is evident that my work, whatsoever its 
merit, is prevented from a display in the great 
exhibits of the world, and my name from taking 
a place among the lauded ones and honored by 
success. 

"Let us drop all further effort in that direction. 
With a thousand thanks for your willing kindness 
and inquiry, relinquish further attempts." 

The above was written after an offer to loan the 
"Ezekiel" to the National Metropolitan Museum 
in New York had been refused. 

In August he made another visit to Sewanee to 
varnish the big pictures, and then returned to his 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 21 7 

studio, revising previous works and going on wifh 
new ones. Among those revised were *^The Twelve 
Apostles," each on separate canvas, destined for an 
altar piece for the chapel of the theological depart- 
ment at Sewanee, the center being a crucifixion 
with the words underneath— ''We preach Christ 
crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the 
Greeks foolishness, but to them that are called, both 
Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the 
wisdom of God." ''This," he says, "is a constant 
admonition to the students who worship there what 
is the purpose of their future calling." 

Pictures were now piled all about him and 
stacked in rows against his walls, and yet he worked 
on. At times the humorous side of this struck him 
and he would joke about it. One of his letters to 
Mrs. Oertel at this time is written on a sheet of 
paper headed "Treasury Department," and he 
adds "of pictures, Vienna, Va.," and then he 
says: "The above is a description of a rightful 
title, or a fiattery, according to one's personal 
view of the place from whence this is written 
(his studio). 

"If money alone is treasure, or jewels, or other 
goods valued for their money's worth, then this 
poor room of mine has a low money standard 
indeed. However, if my canvases were valued like 
that of Chase's dead codfish, then I added only 
yesterday about $400 worth to my collection by the 
painting of a bunch of grapes. In the twilight last 
evening the painting could not be distinguished 
from the model alongside." 

November 3 he reached his eighty-third year, 



218 A VISION REALIZED 

but with health and vigor he kept steadily on. On 
this day he said : 

^'Another birthday! and a most memorable one. 
Is it on a down-grade, as the world thinks ; or an 
up-grade, toward the golden portal of life ever- 
lasting ? 

^'Why not rather take the quick-fleeting years 
in the latter sense?" 

In December he was called to Bel Air, Md., to see 
about an altar, reredos, and credence table desired 
by the people of Emmanuel Church to harmonize 
with the pulpit and lectern he made for that church 
while living there. 

For the sake of serving the Church his resolu- 
tion to do no more mechanical work and elaborate 
carving was broken. He never cared to do that 
kind of work, as it consumed so much time, and 
less thought could be expressed than on canvas. 
He was asked to give advice and make designs for 
the work. ^'AU very well and easy for me, to be 
sure," he writes, ^^but who that is competent would 
carry out my designs for less than a mint of money, 
and such a ^mint' the donors do not have, nor would 
be willing to spend. What, therefore, remained? 
Why, plainly that I make the articles myself." 

And so it was that at this age he once more 
plunged into the laborious task of constructing and 
carving in wood. 

The credence table was first undertaken. On 
this he worked from early morning until late at 
night, as he wrote, ** cutting or knocking chips from 
solid oak in the fashioning of an elaborate credence 
table ; grapes and wheat grow from hard wood two 




CREDENCE TABLE 

Emmanuel Church, Bel Air. Md. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 219 

inches thick, in many places cut clean through. 
Lamb and Geissler furnish no such carving, except 
perhaps for a mint of money. But then 'this 'ere 
child' is under the dominion of a different prin- 
ciple." This table is an elaborate structure some 
7 feet high and 2 wide, of oak and cherry, deeply 
carved and all put together by his own hand. 

This was work which should not have been un- 
dertaken at his time of life and with failing 
strength and sight, but no work was ever too 
arduous for him to undertake if he deemed it right 
to do so, and once undertaken it was pushed with all 
the energy and strength of his nature. 

So with this, he was ''up and at it" at 6 a. m. 
and far into the night could be heard the strokes of 
his mallet as he "cut away what should not be 
there." 

"Were you ever a slave to your work^" he 
asks. "It is now my experience. This mechanic 
labor can not be done but by steady application, 
especially in the hands of an amateur, for I am no 
better. It is strange that I should have been led to 
undertake so much of it. But it was almost exclu- 
sively for churches. All I have now to do has come 
to me unsought, therefore, how could I reject it? 
Doing God's work is not only painting religious 
pictures. He is truly served by anything that can 
in good conscience be done in His name, as Luther 
has it when he speaks of a pious servant girl labo- 
riously scrubbing the floor. Were it not so, small 
comfort would there be for the Christian drudges 
the world over!" 

As he proceeded, this task become more and 



220 A VISION REALIZED 

more irksome. He longed to get back to his easel, 
and during the first months of 1906 he aged per- 
ceptibly. It was impossible to make him talk of 
anything cheerful. He could only see the signs of 
the *^last times" and the terrible consequences 
which were to f oUow. 

It was the same story which has been repeated 
with every piece of woodwork he had ever done, 
very easy to make the elaborate design, but the work 
it was going to take to execute it not considered. In 
June there came to him the great trouble of his life ; 
the one who had stood by his side through aU the 
struggle of life and had been his help, his comfort, 
his adviser and critic, who had encouraged and 
cheered where the way was darkest, and rejoiced 
with him when success crowned his efforts, his wife, 
was stricken with what from the first was known to 
be a fatal illness, though she lingered for many 
months. 

This blow came when he was in no condition to 
bear it. Physically he had gone down under the 
strain of carpentering and carving 10 and 12 hours 
daily for nearly 7 months, yet he did not spare 
himself but kept up the pace set until the work was 
completed— the last of July. No sooner was his 
room clear of this work than he began painting on 
a canvas some 7 feet in length by 3 feet high, '^The 
School of the Prophets," the design and color 
sketch of which were made in Florida. This, '^The 
Sun of Righteousness Arising," *^ John the Baptist 
as a Young Man Watching," and several land- 
scapes were completed before the end of the year. 

In the meanwhile, November 8, he received a 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 221 

letter from the Eev. Wyllys Rede, D.D., dean of the 
Cathedral at Quincy, 111., saying that it was in- 
tended to place therein a memorial reredos and if 
possible he would like to have him undertake the 
work. 

He replied telling of the 7 months of laborious 
work on the Bel Air reredos, and of his renewed 
resolve not to do any more of the kind, being now in 
his eighty-fourth year. ''But," he says ''here 
comes your letter. Should I positively declined' 
At first he seriously considered accepting the work, 
but was forced to the conclusion that he was no 
longer able to accomplish so great a task. 

However, in his reply to Dr. Rede he suggested 
that while he could not do the work he could make 
the design. He told him of the "Final Harvest," 
which would make a suitable center piece, and sent 
a rough sketch of what in his judgment would be 
suitable as framing. This design included plans 
for the other paintings, the Christ above "The 
Final Harvest," "the representative apostles of 
Jew and Gentile on either hand," all to be life size. 
"This," he says, "I could do, insuring to the whole 
absolute unity of design and character." 

His offer as to compensation for all this was 
characteristic. Of the sum they had set apart they 
would pay for the woodwork and he would take 
what was left, "not for my own but for my chil- 
dren's sakes." Thank God at this time he did not 
need it— but he must still give. 

Soon after his eighty-fourth birthday he began 
painting "The Burial of Moses." This repre- 
sented the train of angels coming flying through a 



222 A VISION REALIZED 

defile in the mountains, Michael leading the proces- 
sion—the body of Moses supported by four angels, 
our Lord holding the head— The Law buried by the 
Gospel. This, he believed, would be his last work. 
Ever since coming to this country certain numbers 
had ruled and reoccurred with unvarying regular- 
ity, the numbers 4 and 7 especially so. The belief 
that important changes would occur on these 
periods w^as as strong in his mind as that the sim 
would rise and set at the proper time. '^ Three 
times already," he writes, "a period of 7 years 
in one place have happened, the fourth comes to the 
full next spring. Seven years since I moved from 
Bel Air and began work in this room. The seven 
years in it will not, it is my belief, be exceeded; 
something will happen to fit these seven years to 
my former singular experience. What? I know 
not, but a change I look for. 

*^My own labors in carrying out God-given ideas 
are coming to a close. I am now painting ^^The 
Burial of Moses." I have no plans beyond that. 
Moreover, my health, so wonderfully good for the 
last 20 years is giving way, and no medical treat- 
ment has effected any betterment. Am I not to 
conclude that my days on earth are near the even- 
ing hour, that it were best to put my house in order, 
and indeed I have begun doing that." 

He was confident that the mystic seven would 
not be broken, nor was it, though the ^^ change" 
was not what he expected. He was buried in his 
work and his mind filled only with it, and perhaps 
it was for this reason he could not see the change 
which was soon to come and which others could 



i^^iiiii 




infwfm 



REREDOS IN THE CATHEDRAL, QUINCY, ILL. 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 223 

see was impending. Mrs. Oertel was slowly 
sinking; bright and cheerful on her bed of pain, 
she was still the light and life of the house as 
she had ever been. Her mind was still bright 
and active, a marvel to all who saw her; but it 
was only too evident to every one but him— 
that the end must come soon. 

The design for the reredos at Quincy and the 
*^ Final Harvest" were sent on late in December 
(1906) and on January 3, 1907, Dr. Rede wrote him 
to proceed with the other three paintings. 

This seemed to rouse him from the morbid con- 
dition of mind into which he had drifted ; even his 
physical condition improved, and he began to work 
with all his old time dash and vigor. 

The central (top) picture was about completed 
by the last of January. ''It was not an easy sub- 
ject to treat becomingly," he says; ''the Saviour on 
clouds receiving the fruits of His Redemption from 
the harvest field, the Holy Spirit above Him in the 
blaze of light coming from the Father, invisible 
above, but suggested strongly as a Presence ; while 
on either side the suppressed light is filled with a 
multitude of adoring angels." 

In the midst of this work came the looked for 
' ' change ' ' of the seventh year. It were best to take 
his own words to describe this, and its effect on him. 
To his friend "Edward" he wrote, February 
13,1907: 

"First of all may I not have your forgiveness 
for the seeming neglect of letting you know at once 
of the departure to heavenly mansions of my dear 
wife on Wednesday, February 6, at 10:30 a. m. 



224 A VISION REALIZED 

She was laid to rest in the cemetery the day fol- 
lowing. 

^^You know she had been ill since June of last 
year ; * * * it was a case of final wearing out and 
we buried a veritable skeleton. Under such condi- 
tions how could we be anything but thankful when 
at last came the release ? On the day of sepulture I 
myself was so ill that to venture out of the house to 
the church and burial I dare not, so they carried the 
body to its resting place without me. * * * Of course 
the face of nature has changed for me. We have 
been companions so long. Her departure seems 
imreal— difficult to take home— and I have had to 
go over the fact so often in answering letters of con- 
dolence; the story was stamped deeper with each 
note. 

^^Tet I am looking at the bereavement from the 
upper, the skyward side. It is not depressing to 
me, but the opposite. The will of my Lord and 
master is the best. I understand the conditions of 
human life, know the Christian's promises, believe 
in the eternal God's faithfulness. What more is 
needed for perfect consolation? Not the dream of 
a doubt is there ever in my heart— and therefore I 
travel on. Only a short piece of road will bring us 
to the same entrance into Paradise. * * * In a 
strange manner I feel the ground from under me, 
as it were, moving away. The present physical 
world seems shifting and changing the relation of 
things, and the spiritual makes up the real sub- 
stance—a present reality." 

Indeed it seemed that the ^ Apiece of road" would 
be short He was very ill on the day of the f imeral, 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 225 

and the doctors gave no hope of his recovery, be- 
lieving that a week at most would see the end. 
Instead of this he improved, and when some days 
later his son, Dr. T. B., left for his home in Augusta, 
Georgia, he went with him. It was hoped he would 
remain there some time and rest ; but he could not, 
would not rest. The fire was still burning, the sun 
still shone, and, while it was yet day, he must work. 

The life in Augusta was new to him ; he cared 
not to meet strangers or to make friends. He had 
lived so long in the seclusion of his studio in the 
coimtry with his works around him that it had be- 
come his life, a part of himself. He must return to 
it to spend his remaining days— work in it so long 
as strength permitted and die in harness. 

He would not even wait to announce his coming 
by letter; no, he must go at once, and go he did, 
sending a telegram saying only *'I have left Au- 
gusta; home to-morrow." 

When he returned his condition was such that 
it did not seem possible for him to do any work, but 
he went at once to his studio and was soon hard at 
it again, and began at the same time to improve in 
health and spirits. He could even joke— as in writ- 
ing of the sale of an animal picture he said: ^^He 
carried away a pair of Devon steers, giving me only 
a piece of paper with his name signed. I was will- 
ing to make the exchange, for that kind of oxen may 
some day come back to me on another canvas when 
the price of beef goes up/' 

The pictures for the Quincy Cathedral were 
finished, ^^ Christ in Glory," 4 by 6 feet, the central 
piece for the top of the reredos, and ^^St. John the 



^26 A VISION REALIZED 

Evangelist'' and ^^Mary the Virgin," each 2 by 7 
feet for the side panels. 

After this he contented himself with painting 
small figure pieces, landscapes, and animals of 
which some 25 or 30 were made by midsummer. 
The only important works produced during the rest 
of the year were two figures on separate canvases 
18 inches by 3i feet 6 inches of ^^The Saints John." 
These w^ere painted for his son, to be presented to 
the Grand Lodge A. F. & A. M. of Virginia, and 
they now hang in the Temple at Eichmond. 

The family now was scattered, only himself and 
son Fred remaining at ^^The Roost," and as his son 
was absent all day at business his time was spent 
alone in his room painting, reading, and writing. 
The idea that the ^4ast times" were rapidly ap- 
proaching was uppermost in his mind and in every 
letter— in fact every conversation— it was the 
theme. 

To what it may point is of course a matter of 
opinion, but certainly he saw clearly the general 
demoralization of the world and society. '* When I 
glance over the newspapers from day to day," he 
writes, '4t does appear to me that the condition of 
mankind is rushing up with positive madness to the 
climax point of moral corruption and absolute god- 
lessness, page upon page being filled with accounts 
the very names of which leave a smirch upon the 
unwilling soul. 

*^How can a race handling such literature re- 
main pure and in unsullied godly frame? Moral 
corruption receives such constant food. To me no 
stronger argument is needed to prove we are com- 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 227 

ing to the final ^dumping point'." What would he 
say to-day, and what have been the effects of this 
literature upon the mind and heart of the American 
public ? Was he not right ^ 

Repeatedly he said he would never again under- 
take any large work, but as spring came on (1908) 
he repainted ''It is Finished" and later, when a call 
came from a church for several large canvases he 
undertook the work and went at it as he might have 
done 20 years before. These were for a church in 
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, ''Christ and Moses," the law- 
giver of the new and old dispensations. 

They were over life size and much of them had 
to be painted while standing on a ladder. They 
were painted in 24 days and when his son expressed 
surprise at the progress from day to day he said : 
"I ought to be able to work fast after over 70 years 
of experience." No place seemed to be touched 
twice. Every brush full of paint went on where it 
should be the first time, and the work grew while 
one gazed. It was the hand and brain of the Mas- 
ter. In a letter written for the Providence, R. I., 
library early in 1909, his son said : 

"Since the completion of these works he has not 
attempted anything of special note, and, by reason 
of failing strength, perhaps never will, but the un- 
failing courage and tenacity of purpose have won 
and though the years of youth and manhood were 
passed without the accomplishment of his 'life 
work,' it was at last done, and the message he 
wished to leave the world is before it. Now he lives 
among his many paintings and studies which crowd 
his large studio— satisfied— and only waiting for 



228 , A VISION REALIZED 

the call, and to hear the 'Well done, thou good and 
faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy 
LordM" 

''Few indeed there are who could say as he did, 
'I have accomplished all I had planned to do.' The 
amount he did do was prodigious, and it is almost 
unbelievable that one man could have accomplished 
so much. Only the more important works have 
here been mentioned, not including the hundreds 
of animal, landscape, still life, portraits, and 
marines or steel engravings and drawings on 
wood which at various periods consumed much of 
his time." 

His record of works produced during the years 
1854 to 1909 (nine years no record kept) shows a 
total for the 46 years of 1,183 major works. 

He worked in all branches of his profession, 
steel engraving, drawing, modeling, carving in 
wood, and painting in oil and water color, and in 
each executing with equal facility landscapes, ani- 
mals, figures, marine, and still life. "But,'' as he 
said, "why not?" If the knowledge, and ability to 
execute one form, why not others ? 

As to his landscapes, Halsey C. Ives, standing 
before one of them in the Nashville studio, said: 
"If George Innes had painted that it would be one 
of his best." In animal painting his work was 
often classed with that of Eosa Bonheur and 
Landseer; his figure pieces, both as to composi- 
tion and form have few equals; in his marine 
paintings, of which he made less than of any 
other class, note the power and beauty of "After 
the Struggle, Peace," and in still life is to be 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL. D.D. 229 

seen a close attention to detail and most deli- 
cate handling of color. 

In a letter to the Sunday Post in 1884 Charles 
Lanman wrote: 

"It is now about 20 years since I expressed the opinion that, 
in the higher characteristics of art, Mr. Oertel was without a 
peer in the United States, and that opinion remains unchanged. 
It was founded on his rare abilities as a draftsman; his con- 
summate knowledge of the human form ; his powers of grouping 
figures in large numbers and thereby depicting ideal scenes 
teeming with thought and instruction, and his thorough knowl- 
edge of color. 

"His skill in portraiture is also unusual; and his gifts as a 
painter of animals are simply marvelous. It has seemed to 
me, indeed, while looking through his portfolios, that there was 
no end to the variety of his studies, all of them teeming with 
beautiful thoughts and always betokening a most lofty purpose. 

"Charles Lanman." 

Sunday Post, 1884, Washington, D. C. 

This *' knowledge of the human form/' it may 
be said all form, was truly remarkable. In the 
execution of all his complicated figure pieces he 
never used a ^' model.'' Once in a while he would 
call his wife or one of the children into the studio 
and pose them for a short time and, as he said, the 
glass often served him ; but save for this, models he 
had none, nor needed them. In carving as well as 
painting he needed no copy ; grapes, wheat, flowers, 
foliage and even figures cut in the round, came into 
being with no guide whatever save perhaps a few 
charcoal scrawls when first cutting into the wood. 

He was a terse and thoughtful writer and an 
impressive and forceful speaker. His lectures and 
sermons bear evidence of careful study and 



230 A VISION REALIZED 

thorough knowledge of his subject. His language, 
spoken or written, was always carefully selected 
and expressive. 

Although playing an important part in his life 
his work as a clerg^^man was subordinate to his art, 
or, it may be said, a part of it. His services in that 
capacity were so far as possible a free gift, and 
would have been entirely so but for the stern neces- 
sity of making a living for self and family. Even 
where compensation was accepted there is no in- 
stance where it was not returned tenfold in artistic 
work. 

In his book ^'record of works produced" no 
special one is mentioned for the year 1909 although 
he was busy for the first eight months ; instead is 
written : 

'^Some of my previously painted pictures, set 
aside as completed, I have taken up again to work 
over more carefully, correcting and strengthening 
many parts, so that the pictures become practically 
new ones and so the time given was usefully spent. 

^'But the confession has to be made, now in my 
eighty-seventh year of life, I do, after all, not work 
any more with the same dispatch as in the earlier 
times. There is more deliberation, less hurry, more 
critical severity than in former times, and so the 
works show no decline and in certain respects they 
are more deliberate. Thanks to God for all His 
help to the old man. May He in His grace receive 
my humble offering. " 

This is the last entry made in the book. His 
work was done. 

He saw but few people this last year, and did not 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 231 

go out at all except on Sunday evenings, which he 
often spent with Prof. Edwin Wiley and his wife 
at their bungalow near by. They were his best 
friends, knew of his aims and the work of his life, 
and to them he could talk on art, literature, and 
religious subjects, feeling himself understood and 
appreciated. Toward the last his mind failed ; he 
could not remember faces or names, at one time 
even mistaking his son for Professor Wiley. Only 
a few weeks before the end Bishop Alfred Harding, 
of the Diocese of Washington, to whom he had ex- 
pressed his desire to present certain of his works 
through him to the cathedral being built in Wash- 
ington, came out to see them. When informed of 
the Bishop's coming he did not realize for what 
purpose and asked, ''Does he hold service here to- 
day T' However, he dressed and went to the studio 
to meet him. 

Once there among his cherished works all trace 
of bodily or mental weakness seemed to leave him 
and he appeared transfigured. His face shone as 
with a celestial light as he showed each picture and 
explained its meaning. Those present who knew 
his physical condition looked on in wonder and awe. 
His body and mind were incapable of the action dis- 
played ; it was his spirit, his soul that now spoke 
and moved among them; and when he stood with 
bowed head to receive the blessing of the bishop 
they almost expected him to be caught up to meet 
his Master as he had believed he might be— so ut- 
terly unlike a thing of earth and so ethereal and 
angelic did he appear. 

After the bishop had gone he did not remember 



232 A VISION REALIZED 

his visit, and soon relapsed into Ms former semi- 
conscious condition. 

By Ms expressed request three large paintings 
were later presented to the cathedral at Wash- 
ington— ''It is Finished," ''The Burial of Moses," 
and ' ' The Church Militant. ' ' 

He lived now only in the past, speaMng daily 
of his old friends, his father, brother, wife, and 
always ending with "They are all gone; it is time 
for me to go ; I am ready. " So he patiently awaited 
the call of the Master he had served so long and 
faithfully. It came December 9, 1909. 

On the night of the 8th he slipped and fell, 
breaking his hip. The shock was more than his 
weakened condition could bear, and after a few 
hours he lapsed into unconsciousness and passed 
away quietly, just 24 hours after the accident. 

And now the story is told. The aim has been to 
give history and description rather than criticism, 
and the object to set before the reader a Christian 
artist, a painter of ideas; always a good draughts- 
man and rich and fertile in composition, he later 
became a good painter, though he scorned the affec- 
tations of the fasMon of the day and adhered to 
solid and substantial work. His aim was too honest 
to permit Mm to descend to artistic tricks by wMch 
to draw attention to his doings. If his works are 
received at all it must be for their intrinsic merit 
first, because of what they say to the heart and soul 
of the beholder; and second, because technically 
they are full of conscientious study. And it must 
be that when vague impressionism and trifling 
decorative art has had its day these works of noble 



LIFE STORY OF REV. J. A. OERTEL, D.D. 233 

purpose will find an appreciative public and have a 
strong hold upon the affections of the true lover of 
American art.