August 3, 2012

Artifact: Portrait of Dr. Alfred O. Fuerbringer

Size: 40 x 60 inches

Date: 1974

Significance: Alfred O. Fuerbringer was president of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri, from 1953 to 1969. He came from a long-standing family of Missouri Synod pastors. His grandfather, Ottomar Fuerbringer, was part of the Saxon Immigration and one of the founders of the log cabin college in Perry County, Missouri, that became Concordia Seminary. His father, Ludwig Fuerbringer, was president of Concordia Seminary from 1931 to 1943.

Description of the Portrait:
The portrait was painted by Doyle Chappell in 1974 at the request of Fuerbringer’s brother Otto, an editor for Time magazine. The artist incorporated various documents, photographs, textiles and objects into the painting to tell the story of his life. The portrait almost comes to life with movement through its vibrant colors, sharp angles and varied textures.

Fuerbringer himself described in detail this intriguing piece of art:

The painting, including its narrow silver frame, measures 40 by 60 inches. It is a collage, with the canvas also painted and embellished on the reverse side. On the obverse my figure, in academic robe and presidential seal, is, of course, prominent. The fabric of a shirt I often wore to the office is worked into the representation of the robe, very effectively, I think. In the background around me are some photographs (dimmed by a light coat of paint so that one has to come within about six feet to recognize anything) of my parents, my wife and my children [see detail on right]. I like to say that that represents the first article of the creed in my life. Also in that category are the family coat of arms and the name of ancestor Martinus Bungerus, actually reproduced from a list of signatories of the Formula of Concord.

Then there is a large crucifix, also in the background, representing the second article. A circle of light at the top of the painting represents the Holy Spirit. It (the light) illuminates a page each of the Hebrew Old and the Greek New Testament. Church and ministry are represented by the title page of a 1580 Book of Concord, the statue of Martin Luther, a pair of medallions struck to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Lutherʼs birth and the dedication of the seminary on South Jefferson Avenue, a picture of a commencement procession, my baptismal and ordination certificates, and a few other items. There is also a photocopy of the title page of the first edition of Lutherʼs exposition of the Book of Jonah, a gentle reminder of some historical discussions. On the reverse side [see below] are similar representations, but the artistʼs idea of hanging the picture so that it can easily be turned is not very practical.

Fuerbringer’s description leaves out the references to the controversy of the 1970s in the Missouri Synod, which include a newspaper article concerning the seminary walkout on the front of the painting. The reverse side also contains numerous documents dealing with the controversy and his involvement in the formation of Evangelical Lutherans in Mission, as well as a tassel from an academic cap and other fabric materials.

About Alfred Ottomar Fuerbringer:
Fuerbringer was born in 1903 in Saint Louis. After attending Concordia Seminary there, he was ordained and served parishes in Oklahoma and Kansas. He was president of Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University Nebraska), Seward, Nebraska, for twelve years before becoming president of Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis. After retiring from the presidency, he became the director of continuing education for the seminary, serving until 1974, when he left for Christ Seminary-Seminex and joined what would become the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). He was also a founder and president of the Foundation for Reformation Research in Saint Louis. Fuerbringer died on 26 February 1997 at Norman, Oklahoma.

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