Oddenino mural restoration, Culpeper Courthouse, VA
Fine Line would like to introduce two artists who lived and worked primarily in rural Virginia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Both men immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century. Both men were conscripted into the American Civil War (on opposite sides). In addition to being visual artists, each of these men played the violin. Both men painted illusionistic, architectonic-themed wall and ceiling murals, which had recently become popular in the United States. Work similar to theirs was simultaneously being produced at high-end projects such as the United States Capitol and Library of Congress, though no evidence exists that either man worked on these projects.
European art schools of the period utilized plaster casts of architectural ornament in drawing classes. From these models, students would produce chiaroscuro studies that exhibited a full range of tone from light to dark. Also during this period, several color-illustrated design books had been printed, such as Racinet’s Historic Ornament, which was published in France c. 1873. Within this book are color-plate illustrations in many styles: art of antiquity, Asian art, art of the Middle Ages, and European art of the Renaissance, as well as the 17th and 18th centuries. Publications such as this no doubt helped to inspire many decorative artists whose clients were interested in displaying classic motifs and proportions within their classically inspired homes.
Our company's introduction to both of the following artists occurred in the mid-1990s on separate sides of the Blue Ridge mountains. In each case, Fine Line had been hired to restore damaged plaster and intricately painted, multi-hued murals. Each of these projects led to the discovery of more of their works. The process of studying each of their stylistic nuances, and then working to faithfully preserve, and when necessary, reproduce, their works has been an incredible “internship” for Tom Thomas and the company. Also, thanks to extant family records and remaining personal effects (correspondence, patterns, tools, etc.), we have gained insight into the professional and personal lives of both men. Many of their struggles, problem-solving abilities and successes parallel Thomas' own. Together, these experiences have added greatly to both Thomas' and Fine Line's abilities, and have informed much of our decorative paintwork.
William Frederick Rupp was born in Heilbronn, Germany on January 3, 1834. He attended Oberin Stats School of Design, where he studied drawing and music. He continued these vocations throughout his life as a decorative painter and violin instructor. In the spring of 1854, Rupp left Germany and immigrated to the United States. He soon came to Luray, Virginia to work as a draftsman for a copper mining operation on Stony Man mountain. That ended quickly, so Mr. Rupp redirected his career.
Anecdotal accounts indicate that his first mural in the United States was painted at the home of Captain Thomas Jorden in Luray. He gradually worked his way across the mountains to the Shenandoah Valley town of New Market, Virginia. There, he met Mary Catherine Spitzer, whom he married in 1862. He made the Spitzer home his own, and lived there for the rest of his life, with the exception of his time at war.
Mr. Rupp, like many recent German immigrants, was forced to participate in the American Civil War. He was believed to have been a musician in the 13th Virginia Regiment. At the end of the war, William Rupp resumed his occupation as a decorative painter. Records confirm that he worked in Philadelphia, Delaware, Tennessee and North Carolina. However, the majority of his work was in the Shenandoah Valley He worked in homes of the wealthy, most often decorating their entry halls and formal parlors. He also decorated churches, and it is reported that he painted his amazing trompe l’oeil murals in many of the churches built in the valley during his lifetime.
Rupp’s painting style is extremely precise, with laser sharp lines. Colors are laid down with confidence and accuracy. His compositions are generally made up of five tones, from light to dark. In depicting trompe l’oeil molded surfaces, these tones are intermittently combined in a hard-edged fashion, or blended to imply a gentle, curved surface. His early work was somewhat simple and appears to have been executed partially with stencils. His later work may also have been done with hand-cut stencils, but they were refined with skillful brushwork which left no evidence of a stencil. In the rare cases where these works survive, they continue to impress and astonish viewers. From all accounts, William Frederick Rupp was a prolific and successful artist.
Joseph Dominick Phillip Oddenino was born on August 23, 1831 in Chieri, Turin, located in northwest Italy. This is in the Piedmont region at the foothills of the Alps. In March, 1862, he immigrated to the United States. Almost immediately, he was inducted into the Union army as a musician. He was discharged in 1865 at Harpers Ferry, WV. It is said that his love of the mountains brought him to the Piedmont region of Virginia. He lived alternately in Madison, Culpeper and Orange Counties.
Mr. Oddenino became well known for his skills at remarkably transforming the interior surfaces of churches, private homes and civic buildings in the tri-county area. His remaining works include the Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison County, VA; the Mitchells Presbyterian Church in Culpeper County, VA; and the Culpeper County Courthouse in Culpeper, VA; as well as at least one private home in Culpeper, VA.
Joseph Oddenino worked in a much more fluid and painterly style than Mr. Rupp. He did utilize perspective, and also generally had five values of paint applied to infer dimension and depth. Having restored his work at both the Culpeper County Courthouse and at Mitchells Presbyterian Church, Fine Line artisans can attest to the fact that, while Oddenino did utilize pencil and string to lay out the patterns and designs of the murals, there was no evidence of the use of a stencil. He may have worked freehand from a smaller sketch.
Oddenino lived out his final years at his son’s home in Aroda, in Madison County, VA. He died at the age of 82 on September 23, 1913.
As time allows and more discoveries come our way, we at Fine Line hope to continue to share our findings. There are more archived materials that we would like to review. We are particularly interested in whether or not these two men knew each other, or many have once worked together. For example, William Rupp is known to have worked in Madison County, VA and other areas nearby. In fact, Rupp’s records show that he worked at Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison County, where he painted an archway and colonnade scene on the wall behind the pulpit, giving the church a more spacious appearance. This work was destroyed in the early 1960s when this area of the church was remodeled. The ceilings of this same church are decorated with trompe l’oeil moldings and other design, but this is definitely the work of Joseph Oddenino.
New Market Historical Society. nd. The Spitzer-Rupp House. Retrieved from http://www.newmarkethistoricalsociety.org/The_Spitzer-Rupp_House.pdf
Oddenino, Michael. nd. Oddenino Family History. Retrieved from http://oddenino.com/joseph_oddenino.shtml
Page County Bicentennial Commission. 1976. Page, The County of Plenty. Luray, VA: Page County Bicentennial Commission, privately published.