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Lutheran altarpiece adorns museum - Albia Newspapers: News

Lutheran altarpiece adorns museum

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Posted: Friday, August 11, 2017 10:36 am

An 8’x12’ altar piece originally hung in the Augustana Lutheran Church in Hiteman, Monroe County’s first Lutheran Church and painted by noted Swedish artist, Jonas Olof Grafstrom, is now at home in the Monroe County Historical Museum.

The Hiteman church was founded in September of 1891 by Swedish immigrant miners who purchased a lot from the coal company and building a church that could seat 140 parishioners. At its peak in 1898, the church had 155 members. The church also operated a parochial school to provide instruction in the Swedish language from 1893-1913.

After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1882, Grafström painted his way across Northern Sweden and Lapland, perfecting his landscape technique. One of his paintings was purchased by King Oscar II of Sweden.

In 1886, Grafström moved to Portland, Ore., and began painting the northwest. He also lived in Spokane and San Francisco. Grafström won medals in several art competitions throughout the United States, and his landscapes became popular in the Swedish-American community. Grafström also became a well-known painter of altarpieces, many of which found their way into Augustana Synod churches, including the Lutheran Church in Hiteman. The date on the painting is 1895.

In the fall of 1897, Grafström arrived at Augustana College (Rock Island, Ill.) to become the head of the art department. In addition to his classes and his own work, he painted several hundred pieces during his time in Rock.

Grafström ran the art department at Augustana until 1926, when poor health forced him to retire. He returned to Sweden after his retirement and passed away on March 30, 1933, in Stockholm.

The Hiteman churche ceased to exist in 1919 as the coal miners moved to the south and west in Monroe County. With only 13 members remaining, the church building was sold to the Hiteman High School and converted into the school’s gymnasium. The painting was removed and stored for many years. In 1958, Mrs. James Cox restored the painting for St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Albia. It hung in St. Paul’s first church building on South Second Street for many years. It was stored again after the church built its new facility.

The Monroe County Historical Society spent a little over $6,000 having a professional restoration done on the painting, which shows Christ arising from the tomb, a Roman soldier fainting in the foreground and an angel in the background.

This restoration was done by the Gerald Ford Art Conservation Center in Omaha.

Carolyn McAllister and her daughter, Anita, took the painting to Omaha and brought it back.

Clearly present on the canvas, despite the restoration, is the outline of the original curved framing. The painting is massive. “Had our ceiling been an inch shorter, it would not have fit,” said Museum board member Doris O’Brien. The painting has become the centerpiece of a collection of Monroe County church artifacts, including another, much smaller altarpiece, along with the church bell from Bethel Lutheran Church in Buxton.

© 2017 Albia Newspapers. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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