THE RAVENNA MOSAIC COMPANY: A RETROSPECTIVE
|A HISTORY OF THE RAVENNA MOSAIC COMPANY|
(1882-1972) and his son Arno (1917-1989) were the mosaicists responsible
for the manufacture and installation of most of the mosaics in the
Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in St. Louis, Mo. Paul and his family
emmigrated from Germany to America in 1923 at the behest of his
employer, the Berlin mosaic and art glass firm Puhl-Wagner. In the
United states, Paul helped establish the Ravenna Mosaic Company, a joint
endeavor between the St. Louis art glass studio owned by Emil Frei and
Puhl-Wagner. The Ravenna Company was founded primarily to work on the
Byzantine glass mosaics which were to fill the new St. Louis Cathedral.
Under the direction of Gerdt Wagner, Ravenna maintained offices in both New York and St. Louis during its early years. Many of Ravenna's important early commissions were executed in New York, including murals at Rockefeller Center, St. Batholomew's Episcopal Church and Temple Emanu-El. Frei amicably broke with Ravenna in late 1929 or early 1930. In 1935, Arno, who had studied art at Washington University, joined the company. Paul took full control of Ravenna when, in 1937, Gerdt Wagner abandoned the company to return to Germany, where he became a high-ranking Nazi propagandist.
While business was uncertain for Ravenna during the Depression, the demands of America's wartime economy nearly closed Ravenna's studios. The demand for architectural glass mosaic murals plummeted during the war. Leaving Ravenna to subside on minimal commissions, Arno spent the beginning of the war working at a St. Louis ammunition plant. Even though he was employed in a vital war industry and was a father (his first son was born in 1943), Arno was drafted into the Army and served in the Air Force, where he remained until July 1946.
The 1950s and 1960s represent a period of prosperity for Ravenna, during which time they received a number of notable commissions, including murals for the exteriors of UCLA's music (1954) and physics (1962) buildings, Lumen Winter's "Labor" mural at the AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and numerous commissions in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This period saw renewed and intensive work n the St. Louis Cathedral. Ravenna executed eight major commissions throughout the cathedral with artist Hildreth Meiere between 1955 and 1961. They also executed mosaics in the cathedral for John de Rosen (1963) as well as installing the central dome's windows and the mosaics on the east and west sanctuary walls.
In 1972, Paul Heuduck died at the age of 90. He spent his last years working in the studio with his son, although he was too old to work on scaffolding. The 1970s were slow years for Ravenna. The company did, however, complete its final commissions in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Only one commission was received in the St. Louis Cathedral, the small panel installed in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel. In 1974, Arno entered semi-retirement and moved the studio to a farm in Fredericktown, Mo., where Ravenna would complete its final commissions.
The 1980s saw the completion of the mosaics in the St. Louis Cathedral; four designs by Mary Reardon were installed there between 1984 and 1987. Arno died of cancer in November 1988, bringing a long and prolific career to an end.