Collection of Religious Art Highlights the Victorian Love of Excess

HNP Communications Features

ALLEGANY, N.Y. – Inaugurating the 11th exhibition season of The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, Bless This House: Common Themes in the Religious Art of Victorian Homes, from the Collection of C. W. Lattin opens on Sept. 8 and continues through Dec. 9. The exhibition on St. Bonaventure University’s campus showcases Lattin’s extraordinary collection of mass-produced, 19th century religious images and objects in Victorian style, putting them in context for a contemporary audience. A smaller version of this exhibition originally appeared at the Amherst (N.Y.) Museum in 2005.

Nineteenth century American culture centered upon religion in a way that may be difficult to comprehend in the pervasively secular United States of 2006, notwithstanding the resurgence of religious fundamentalism in recent years. This exhibition demonstrates how the industrial economy of the 19th century, innovations in the art of lithography and the example of the English Aesthetic Movement filled American homes with affordable reproductions of religious images – of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish subjects.

At a time of profound social upheaval, with westward expansion, industrialization, urbanization and the growing abolitionist movement changing the face of America, people turned to religion for comfort and unity. The typical crowded Victorian parlor of the time suggested that the more goods its inhabitants displayed, the more morally upstanding they appeared to their neighbors.

“The exhibition is a step back to a forgotten time. Many of us grew up with the vestiges of this movement – almost everyone who’s previewed the show recognizes a familiar image from childhood – this is a chance to understand where it came from and to put it in context,” said Joseph LoSchiavo, executive director of The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

C. W. Lattin’s collection began when he started working at the Cobblestone Society Museum in northwestern New York State, where he noticed regularly spaced nail holes in the walls between the windows of the former church.

When he learned that reproductions of religious paintings had hung on the nails, Lattin used period photographs of churches from the same era as a guide and began scouring flea markets for replacements. Even after the church walls were filled, Lattin continued adding to his collection. After previewing the exhibition at the Quick Center, Lattin was astounded. “I had no idea I had so much,” he said.