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Master Carver Johannes Kirchmayer

Wife of Johannes Kirchmayer / Ernest Prouty photo

SeacoastNH is dedicated to introducing books you might never find elsewhere, especially quality self-published works by locals. Deidre Randall turned us on to this labor of love by a descendant of this extraordinary craftsman. Kirchmayer has been called one of the finest carvers since the MIddle Ages.



From Germany’s Passion Play Village

To America’s Finest Sanctuaries
1860 – 1930

by F. Shirley Prouty
Peter E. Randall, Publisher / Portsmouth, NH

JUMP TO: Where to see Kirchmayer’s Work


When F. Shirley Prouty was growing up, her family told stories of a great-great German "Uncle," with a shock of white hair, and an incredible talent for woodcarving. His name was Johannes (John) Kirchmayer, the gifted ecclesiastical carver. As part of a legacy she wished to establish, Ms. Prouty painstakingly gathered information on his vast body of work and created a list of his carvings. That "list" has grown into a catalog, biography, and a history of the works of Kirchmayer – now an essential reference for the carving enthusiast and ecclesiastical art historian.

Ms. Prouty has located over sixty different sites that display Kirchmayer’s work. Forty of the sites are churches, mostly Episcopalian, but including Catholic, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Unitarian Universalist. There are also ten schools, three museums, a library, a bridge, and many models pictured. The latter include plasterwork, which Kirchmayer learned as a potter in his hometown of Oberammergau, wax modeling, stone carving and ivory carving, with which he was always experimenting.

The distribution of these carvings is amazing, as they are found in many prominent cities. They are spread from Minneapolis-St Paul, to Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Quincy, Ohio, Baltimore, Washington D.C., New Haven, New York City, Providence, Boston, Concord and Peterborough, New Hampshire, Portland, Maine, and many small towns in between, as well as in The American Church in Manila and in Walkerville, Ontario, Canada.



Florence Shirley (Powell) Prouty grew up and graduated from high school in Arlington, Massachusetts. She attended Westbrook Junior College in Portland, Maine, finishing two years in one. Soon after she married Ernest L. Prouty. They have now been married fifty-seven years. They moved to Cape Cod, where they raised their family. She is an accomplished seamstress and a quilter, who also enjoys crocheting and knitting. Mrs. Prouty is a past adult advisor with the IORG, a fraternal organization for girls between the ages of eleven and twenty-one. Shirley and Ernest are retired and keep busy sharing hobbies of cooking, sewing, and tracking four parental lines of genealogy. This book is but one aspect of the treasures in their backgrounds.



Contemporaries described John Kirchmayer as THE GREATEST WOOD CARVER SINCE THE MIDDLE AGES. F. Shirley Prouty, a descendant, has sought to perpetuate that legacy by documenting every example of Kirchmayer’s oeuvre in America. The result is an exhaustive and meticulous study that will be indispensable for any scholar who wishes to investigate and understand ecclesiastical art and architecture in the early decades of the twentieth century.

-- Richard R. Seidel, Historiographer, Diocese of Chicago (Episcopal)

TEN YEARS of RESEARCH by Shirley and her family, especially son Deane, covered parts of New England , New York, Ohio, Minnesota, the Province of Ontario, and the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., uncovering more of Kirchmayer’s carvings than first imagined. Shirley’s creativity, determination, and vitality have brought this project to fruition, enabling Kirchmayer’s work to be enjoyed by a larger audience. Congratulations!

-- Rev. Harold F. Cooper, Ph.D., Minister Emeritus, West Yarmouth Congregational Church, West Yarmouth, MA


The time has indeed come for the art and craftsmanship of woodcarver Johannes Kirchmayer to be recognized, and F. Shirley Prouty is to be commended for bringing his biography and work to light in this book. Kirchmayer’s intricately carved white oak and Virgin Islands mahogany are the crowning glories of the James J. Hill House, and his masterful carvings adorn great homes, churches, and public buildings throughout the United States. His story is a glowing testament to the industry and abilities of thousands of immigrant workers who poured into the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- though few matched Kirchmayer’s extraordinary precision and artistry whose remarkable contributions so enrich our cultural landscape.
-- Craig Johnson, Site Manager for James J. Hill House Minnesota Historical Society 

Where to see the Master Carver's Works?


 To see Kirchmayer carvings we must travel just outside Seacoast New Hampshire. Seacoasters may find a wealth of his work in Concord at Saint Paul’s School. All of the saints on the reredos there are from his hand. It is interesting to note that the figure of William of Wykeham is holding a model of this chapel, (this feature is found in many of Kirchmayer carvings, often a replica of the building is shown within the other carvings). More works adorn the altar.

A further trip to Peterborough and you can view the precious golden reredos in All Saints Church. This piece above the altar is formed in five segments. Centered is the Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby and of course the always-present angels. To the left we find a segment with the three Wise Men, and the end segment contains more angels. Kirchmayer put angels everywhere. Be sure to look for them. To the right we find the shepherds and again in the last segment are the angels. Other carvings at this church are numerous and fine; the pulpit (angels), the lectern, the choir stalls (angels), the newel post, the communion rail. All are accounted for in the catalog.

Just a little more mileage will take you to Franconia, NH to find the Church of Our Lady of the Snow. Here you will find the Stations of the Cross, all carved and signed by Kirchmayer. An interesting point: when this book was compiled, those Stations of the Cross were at Christ the King Church in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. When the church closed, the carvings were moved. How wonderful that they were saved and placed where they could still be a part of the worship service. You will note that they are listed in the book as being at Christ the King Church.

These are the only places in New Hampshire that I discovered with Kirchmayer carvings. However, there is another close by—in Portland, Maine. At St. Luke’s Cathedral a small aumbry door features the Nativity, surrounded by what? ANGELS. Further trips to Boston and surrounding towns, New York, and others, can be discovered by reading the catalog. HAPPY TRAVELING.


Shirley Prouty, in preparing this biography and its accompanying detailed catalogue and checklist of Kirchmayer’s work adds enormously to our knowledge of this important artist’s life and work. Her efforts will be the inevitable starting point for future generations of scholars as they continue to refine our interpretation of Johannes Kirchmayer and his significant role in the history of American art.

-- Gerald W.R. Ward , The Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


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