The Drawings of Jerome Fedeli
Jerome Fedeli was one of the most active and respected fresco artists in the Midwest during the later 19th century. Born in Milan, Italy, in 1844, Fedeli at an early age had been impressed with the beauty of the historic cathedrals of his native city. He determined that art would be his lifeís work. As his innate talents developed, he specialized in mural decoration. After a period in the Italian military during the Austrian-Italian war, Fedeli at age 25 immigrated to America. But for a short stay in St. Louis where he met and married Miss Sarah Smith, he resided for 12 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1881, Fedeli moved his family to Kansas City where he was responsible for the decoration of many public buildings, both sacred and secular, and residences in this and other cities. Among the structures which were adorned by his frescoes were the government buildings at Quincy, Illinois and Leavenworth, Kansas; the State Capitol Building in Topeka; the Atchison opera house and the Grand Opera House (Kansas City); the Independence Avenue M.E. Church; St. Patrickís Catholic Church; and the Kansas City Public Library at 9th and Locust.
During a dispute between the Missouri Pacific railroad and its Italian laborers, Fedeli acted as mediator and brought an amicable settlement to the strike. For this he was awarded appointment as Italian Vice Consul at Kansas City in 1885. In recognition of his long and faithful service in this post, and as a compliment to the other Italian residents of Kansas City, the King of Italy in 1901 decorated Fedeli with the Chevalier of Honor -- the equivalent of knighthood.
Jerome Fedeli died at his home at the age of 58 in March of 1902. He left a legacy of beautifully decorated buildings and homes in the Kansas City area. Unfortunately, few of his works are known to have survived. As an example, the murals he painted in the Kansas State House fell victim to the political maneuvering between the Populists and the Republicans. Others of his works suffered in remodeling or changes in use for the building where they were located.
The collection of drawings exhibited here are only a small representation of the more than 200 items donated to WHMC-KC by Fedeliís family. Most of the work is unidentified and undated. However, the collection as a whole provides a unique insight into the colors, motifs, and style of the late Victorian era in Kansas City and is one of the few extant of its kind in America. The exhibit is divided into four panels: general biographical information and public buildings; sacred structures; designs with naturalistic motifs; and, designs with classical motifs. Of particular interest is the range and combination of colors Fedeli used. Many may be too bright for todayís tastes, and certainly the blends of purples and pinks are not consistent with our view of Victorian decoration as perceived from faded fabrics and black and white photographs.