Saint James has been served by 27 rectors during its history, among whom is listed the Reverend Johannes A. Oertel, renowned Christian artist. In May, 1936, the Vestry of Saint James Episcopal Church, Lenoir, gratefully accepted a gift of eighteen works of art by the former rector, from his son, J.F. Oertel.
About the Artist...
Born November 3, 1823 in Furth, Bavaria, Johannes Oertel first studied to be a priest, but at the urging of his clergymen, studied painting and engraving in Munich under J.M. Enzin-Muller. He emigrated to the United States in 1848, with his art master, settling in Newark, N.J. where he met and married Julia Adelaide Torrey. He spent his life trying to better the conditions of humanity and was ordained to the diaconate in 1867 under the canons for restricted deacons.
In the summer of 1868, while visiting his brother in the Catskill Mountains, Oertel met an art student, Miss Laura Norwood, from Lenoir, N.C. Miss Norwood's story of the impoverished conditions of her town and her people, combined with her descriptions of the beauty of Western North Carolina, convinced Oertel to come here to help the people and the struggling church of Saint James. In 1869, he set out with his wife, three children and his parents. While attempting to raise money for the community among his northern friends, he ministered to the church, set up a school for girls in the rectory, and studied to be ordained as a priest. At the same time, he continued "earning" his living as a painter. Oertel was ordained a priest in 1871, and served Saint James and other churches for more than 20 years. After his retirement in 1895, he proceeded with his ambition to paint a series of pictures illustrating the Redemption, as well as many other paintings on religious subjects. he spent his remaining years in Vienna, Va and died there on December 9, 1909, leaving a heritage of wonderful religious art.