Ecclesiastical Art Contexts and the Works of the Lithuanian Artists in the USA (Summary)

Laura Petrauskaitė (PDF)

Until now, the ecclesiastical works of the Lithuanian architects and artists in the USA were analysed in terms of their relation to the Lithuanian traditions and the search for a “Lithuanian style”. This paper offers a much broader approach to the said ecclesiastical heritage looking at it in the context of the transformation of the US church architecture and art as well as in the light of cultural, social and political changes and ideological movements. This context allows the author to reveal new aspects of the ecclesiastical heritage of the Lithuanian emigrants and to demonstrate the expanded field of artistic opportunities the emigrants had. In the panorama of the ecclesiastical and secular architecture in the USA, the sacred buildings and their interiors created by the Lithuanian artists in the 1950s and 1960s appear to be typical for their time. The architecture, interiors and liturgical vessels created by Kazys Varnelis, Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas, Jonas Mulokas, Aleksandra Kašubienė (Kasuba) and other artists reflect the transition from Revival styles to the Modernist aesthetics that was prevailing in the whole country from the 1940s to 1960s. Coming from Europe, Lithuanian artists brought their understanding about the value of a professional, meticulous manual work which became particularly evident in large-scale commissions for public buildings, as well as their attraction to Art Deco style. Very quickly, their initial perception of modern religious art was expanded by the general cultural climate and sociopolitical realities of the destination country, such as optimism characteristic of the era, the modernisation of the Catholic Church referred to as aggiornamento, rapid development of technologies and Space Race, lifestyle and design trends and the new-found interest of the general public in the indigenous cultures. This context was directly or indirectly reflected in the ecclesiastical works of the Lithuanian artists. The architecture and interior décor of churches was actively used to form various political, social and cultural identities, from a religion-based ethnic identity to the concept of a modern, inclusive Catholic Church.

Keywords: religious architecture, ecclesiastical art, Revival styles, Modernism, Second Vatican Council, Cold War, migration of artists, Lithuania, United States of America