by Megan Clement, MGMoA Trustee, Charter Member of MGMoA Friends
Fr. Gregory Gerrer’s talent was recognized as so important that in 1900 the Church sent him to study art in Rome directly from his ordination in England. Of course, he stopped in Paris to visit the Louvre on the way! The talent was Gerrer’s, but through rigorous training, four Italian masters taught him composition, portraiture, restoration, landscape (classical and impressionist), fresco, and tedious methods of identifying artists and schools among anonymous works.
“I was in Rome four years and the time grew near for me to return home, to Oklahoma. My older brother, Albert, who then lived in El Reno, asked me to paint a portrait of the Holy Father for the World’s Fair in St. Louis, and he insisted on me. Albert always went in for big things and this was about his size. How was I going to get permission? That puzzled me. They say where there is a will. As luck would have it my address in Rome was the address of our Abbot General, who works in the Vatican, through whom I hoped to get the permission. If I did not succeed, then his brother, Cardinal Dominico Serafini, or his other brother, Camille Serafini, who has been the Governor of the new Papal State since its restoration, could arrange things for me. “A few months later, I had permission to paint the portrait of the Holy Father. I had two long sittings in the Pope’s private library. “He remarked that I painted him wart and all, and he was pleased with it. I answered that I intended to send it to the World’s Fair in St. Louis. He wished me good luck. He seemed so pleased with it that I promised one to him, after the end of the Fair”
The Pope selected Fr. Gerrer’s painting from among all others for his official portrait, even though the monk had no reputation in Europe. Gerrer brought it back to Oklahoma and painted a duplicate for the Vatican. The original hangs in the MGMoA. Gerrer’s engaging personality, respected talent and truth-to-power honesty opened doors throughout his life. Resourcefulness, tenacity, and pluck – plus natural networking skill – enabled the monk with a vow of poverty to amass a phenomenal art collection from all over the world. Paintings by his contemporaries abound in the Gerrer Collection – 29 artists who exhibited with him at the World's Fair are represented. Many other works come from Italy and even the Vatican. It seems there was never a room or person too big for Fr. Gregory Gerrer to win over.
MGMoA Board of Trustees, Past President
Charter Member of the MGMoA Friends