Vatican shares art treasures

Texas Tech museum to exhibit 31 medieval frescoes

— The arrival of 31 medieval frescoes from the Vatican may still be a year away, but residents and officials are already working overtime to ensure a piece of Italy glistens in West Texas.

A media consultant has been hired. Contacts are being made in cities in a 150-mile radius to get estimates for hotel and motel availability. Work is under way to put together a printed catalog that details each fresco.

"Anytime you put the Vatican name on anything, a lot of people come," said David Sharp, head of Market Lubbock Inc., a city-appointed economic development corporation. "I think the lingering thing from our standpoint ... is that five years from now, 10 years from now, everyone's going to say, 'Lubbock, that's where they had the Vatican exhibition."'

Painted some 900 years ago by unknown artists under the tutelage of Italian artist Pietro Cavallini, the frescoes have never been viewed as a group and have never left Europe.

Officials anticipate 4,000 visitors will view the frescoes each day when they go on view at Texas Tech University from June 2, 2002, to Aug. 31, 2002. Since the works then return to Italy, organizers hope the exhibit will generate publicity for both Lubbock and the university.

"I think people perceive the magnitude of this and that it is indeed going to present an educational opportunity," said Donald Haragan, former president of Texas Tech University and chairman of the exhibit's steering committee. "I believe none of us really realize the impact this is going to have, not just on Texas Tech but on the entire community."

The story of how Lubbock won the right to exhibit the frescoes began in 1988, when the Rev. Malcolm Neyland first toured some of the vast collection at the Vatican Museums in Rome, adjacent to St. Peter's Basilica.

"It was so powerful to me," said Neyland, who pastors churches in two small towns near Lubbock. "I was so impressed and so awed that I said, 'If I could bring one-one-thousandth or one-one-millionth of this feeling I have, wouldn't it be nice if others could experience this."'

The priest's vision was to bring home the Vatican art, so West Texans who never travel to Italy will still get to see some of the extraordinary work. Neyland believes the exhibit will have appeal far beyond Roman Catholics.

"This is everyone's history," he said. "I think each individual will gain something. You can't look at these without finding something that helps you identify yourself."

At first, few curators in the Vatican Museums had a clue about where Lubbock was. Major art exhibitions usually go to museums or galleries in large metropolitan areas and it was unusual for the Vatican to share its treasures, especially those in storage.

Still, Neyland was patient and dogged.

He traveled to Rome 14 times to facilitate the agreement between officials at Tech and museum. He set up a nonprofit foundation to underwrite and promote "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums." He took a two-year leave as judicial vicar of Lubbock to work on the project.

"It was his effort that got this going and obviously his tenacity and push has made it happen," said Gary Edson, executive director of the Texas Tech Museum.

In conjunction with the Vatican exhibition, a second gallery will display art of the same era from North America. The purpose, Edson said, is to show the relationship between the development of art in Europe and the New World.

The Vatican frescoes, which largely depict the lives of saints and martyrs, once adorned the walls of St. Agnese and St. Nicola, two early Roman churches. They have been stored in the Vatican since the 18th century.

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