Baldwin — Sculptures that were once part of a London cathedral find a home in Baldwin -- at least for a while.
Baker University has secured a 10-year loan. Although the private university won't be paying any principal, its officials believe the loan will draw a lot of interest.
The loan -- carved marble sculptures of cherubs, angels and saints that once were part of the reredos, or altar screen, at St. Paul's Cathedral in London -- arrived at Baker on Sept. 6 and will be on display Tuesday through Nov. 24 in the Holt-Russell Gallery in Parmenter Hall.
Art professor Walt Bailey said the artworks' owner, London art dealer John Brandler, called Baker University treasurer David Pittman last spring and proposed the loan.
"It was solely the owner's initiative," Bailey said. "He saw an article in the London Times about the chapel and thought we might be interested."
Baker University purchased, relocated and is rebuilding an English Methodist chapel on its campus. The chapel will be rededicated on Oct. 23 in a ceremony scheduled to be attended by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The collection includes 11 32-inch panels with gilded angels holding symbols of The Passion; a monochrome panel showing Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus during their flight into Egypt; 50-inch standing figures of St. Peter and St. Paul; a pair of winged cherubs holding shields; fragments of a frieze featuring winged cherub heads; two rush-seated chairs; and a hand-carved, 17-foot by 6-foot oak ceiling panel showing carved fruit and shells and thought to have been completed between 1695 and 1698.
The reredos was designed in the early 1800s by George Frederick Bodley, a member of the Royal Academy of Art and the foremost English ecclesiastical architect of the times. The artwork immediately became controversial, with religious and political groups debating whether the sculptures were appropriate religious symbols for St. Paul's or if they damaged the church's architectural integrity.
The reredos was damaged in October 1940 during a Nazi bombing and later dismantled. Brandler bought a small portion of the altar screen in 1978.
"Lots (of the sculptures) were lost and destroyed," Bailey said.
After the exhibition, the artworks will be moved to another site on the Baker campus for about five years. At that point, the pieces may be exhibited off campus.
Bailey said Baker art students will benefit greatly from having the sculptures nearby.
"Having this work here on campus will likely be more important than any of us can imagine at this time," he said. "The significance of the work, both historically and from an artistic point of view, provides an excellent study and teaching resource."