The Courtier Recommends: Help The Spirit Of The Season Take Root In West Africa

As we approach Christmastide, people’s thoughts always turn to helping others. I’ve been fortunate over the last several years to see how a spirit of generosity in this country can directly impact for good the lives of people far away, and change the world for the better. So I’m taking a step back from the usual art world chatter to ask you to consider a group of people who really need your help, where you be able to actually see the good that you do as it quite literally takes root.


Over the past dozen years, Father Bill Ryan has done unbelievable work on behalf of the people in a remote part of Togo in West Africa, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him several times, when he comes to my parish of St. Stephen’s in DC to ask for our support. In addition to providing for their spiritual needs, Father Bill and those helping at the mission have created the area’s first primary health care clinic; dug eleven fresh water wells in the local villages (where previously only muddy and bacteria-ridden river water was available); opened six primary schools and one middle school; obtained farming equipment for the local subsistence farmers to process their own flour and oil; and much more.

You can read all about this on the mission’s website, which includes written reports, photos, video, and links showing the remarkable changes that have been wrought for these very poor people. I mean, these grade school kids who had never been able to attend school before are really, really cute. And when is the last time that you were filled with such joy because you had clean water to drink?


I hope you’ll join me this Christmas in supporting a new project that the mission is undertaking to provide a sustainable source of income for the local people. They’re seeking to plant a teak tree farm, which will provide renewable resources in the form of teak lumber: that super-hard, durable wood used to build quality outdoor furniture or that you see covering the floors and walls of high-end homes and hotels. A single teak tree seedling costs only $1, but a farm full of teak trees – which regrow from their roots after the trunks are harvested – should help to sustain these people for generations, whatever may happen to their other crops.

For more information and to donate, please visit this site.  If you aren’t in a position to help out financially yourself, please do me a favor and share this post via social media and email with anyone whom you think may be interested in lending a hand. And above all, please keep the mission in your prayers. Thank You!



The Courtier in Chicago: Video from the Catholic Art Guild Annual Conference

Apologies for the lack of posts last week; I was rather ill and otherwise overwhelmed with other duties. Instead of an overly long essay today, I’d like to share with you this video from my recent stint moderating the closing discussion panel at the annual conference of the Catholic Art Guild, held at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on November 4th. I think you’ll find this discussion with sculptor Alexander Stoddart, painter Juliette Aristides, composer and theologian Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and architect Ethan Anthony deeply interesting, sometimes surprising, and very thought-provoking. Plus, as you’ll see, there was quite a bit of laughter as well.

My special thanks to Catholic Art Guild President Kathleen Carr, Father Joshua Caswell, S.J.C., and everyone at the Guild for inviting me, and for putting on such a stimulating, well-planned conference. And for your advance planning purposes, the Guild has very graciously asked me to return to moderate the closing panel discussion at NEXT year’s conference, so I hope to see many of you in the Windy City next autumn. In the meantime, keep an eye out for my upcoming piece in The Federalist, in which I interview this year’s conference key note speaker, Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Queen Elizabeth II.


Art News Roundup: Recovered Gems Edition

Before getting to some art news of interest this week, I realize that over the weekend just past I forgot to link to my latest post in The Federalist, which you may have already seen, on pioneering World War I aviation artist Henri Farré (1871-1934). Due to the restrictions on space, it wasn’t possible to show more than a few of his paintings in the article, which I began researching on a recent trip down to the Tidewater Virginia area. More of his work can be seen on my Instagram feed, here and here, featuring some pics I shot at a current exhibition at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, which celebrates Farré’s art and marks the centenary of the end of World War I. It’s a small show, but definitely worth seeing if you find yourself in the area. If you can’t make it, pick up a copy of Farré’s superb first-hand recounting of his experiences as an aviator-artist, “Sky Fighters of France”, which you can find through online booksellers and auctioneers.

Pricey Pearl

Continuing this week’s market trend of low estimates and unexpected prices – I can possibly understand such a price for a Hopper, maybe, but who would pay over $90 million for a HOCKNEY? –  Sotheby’s Geneva just sold a diamond and natural pearl pendant once owned by Queen Marie Antoinette of France for $36 million; the pre-sale estimate on the piece, which has been owned by the royal house of Bourbon-Parma for centuries, was $2 million. The pendant was sold along with 99 other items of jewelry from the family collection, bringing a whopping $53.1 million in total. Rather bizarrely, this article in Art Daily states that the pendant was “owned by Marie Antoinette before she was beheaded…” I suspect it rather unlikely that it could have been owned by her *after* she was beheaded.


Wee Warriors

Speaking of royal caches, you’re probably familiar with the famous terracotta warriors buried with the first Emperor of China, as examples of these tomb sculptures always prove a popular tourist attraction when they visit this country. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Prince Liu Hong, son of the Emperor Wu, who reigned in the 1st century BC, commissioned his own terracotta army for his grave, but at a more modest scale than his imperial ancestor. The hundreds of figures in the Prince’s tomb, which have now been fully excavated and documented following their original discovery about a decade ago, average between 9-12 inches tall, rather than life-sized. They’re accompanied by chariots, watchtowers, and other elements, which can’t help but remind one of an action figure playset – albeit a far more breakable one – and are a rare treasure, indeed. Details on the discovery and excavation have been translated into English and are available in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.


Revived Retablo

The Art Newspaper provides an overview of the history and conservation of the Battel Hall retablo, a rare, circa 1410 jewel of a painted English altarpiece that survived the Protestants – sort of – albeit with the faces of Christ, Mary, and the saints scratched out. It later suffered numerous other indignities, such as being used as a desktop in a school, where it was further scarred and dirtied over the centuries; someone, possibly the students, even carved “witch signs” into it, as protection against evil spirits. Fellow fans of the Dominican Order take note, this object was probably painted for a Dominican foundation, possibly a convent, since it features both St. Dominic and another Dominican (St. Albert the Great is my best guess, given the book and miter, but I may be wrong) as well as St. Mary Magdalen and St. Catherine of Siena. After two years of conservation and restoration work, the scarred Medieval altarpiece has now been hung in the chapel of Leeds Castle. For more information on the jewels of Catholic art and architecture lost thanks to King Henry VIII’s incontinence, get a copy of Eamon Duffy’s classic “The Stripping of the Altars” from Yale University Press: saddening, sobering, but fascinating reading.