OBJETS D’ART

By B. Gunar Gruenke
Published in Claims Magazine - Published 7/7/2009


Fires, hurricanes, tornados, floods, and other acts of God wreak havoc on hundreds of churches a year. Other times, an unattended vigil or altar candle is the culprit. No matter the cause, the evaluation of the claim is monumental.

What is our relic worth? Perhaps it is built into the altar, which is a permanent fixture attached to the floor. Does this mean it is personal property or part of the building?

For decades, reredos altars, statuary, tabernacles, baptismal fonts, stations of the cross, and valuable historic lighting have been walking the tightrope of being insured or not insured. What about the thousands of dollars of chalices in the sacristy? The ostensorium has rare jewels and semi-precious stones, like jade and emeralds. The murals that were once attached to the wall have been carefully removed, conserved, stretched, and installed in frames on the wall to prevent water damage.

There is a rare, turn-of-the-century, hand-carved nativity set in the basement. Each of the 17 pieces is approximately 15 pounds and measures almost two feet square. There are only three of this set known in the entire world. They are polychromed, glazed in multiple layers, and adorned with gold leaf. These old-world craftsmen techniques are rare and costly to replicate.

What should be scheduled and what is covered under the general property liability umbrella? This is the question that should be answered when selling insurance, not when adjusting for it. If it were only that easy.

So, the church burned down. Walls, floors, a roof, and electrical plumbing are pretty basic in terms of figuring replacement cost. But what about the art? Stained glass is a simple square-foot replacement cost so long as the cost is being determined by a studio capable of replicating the quality of the glass. Stained glass can have more fine-art values placed on it. The age of the glass and the original artist or studio are key. Artists have sold paintings that measured 24" x 36" for more than $5 million. What would a 10’ x 20’ installed stained-glass window be worth? Simple square foot pricing is out the door here.

Statuaries and other objects of fine art are a bit more complex, but easily tackled. Age, maker, style, medium, and quality are key. There are dozens of church-good suppliers that have catalogues of statuaries, chalices, tabernacles, and the like. These will offer comparable basics for valuation.

When it comes to mosaics, murals, and decorative paintings, complexity and quality help determine pricing. In a liturgical decorative arts studio today, it is easy to price a new 10-foot mural of the Annunciation from as little as $2,500 and as high as $25,000. The range is due to the quality, the artist used, the number of steps, and the techniques employed.

Pricing a painting with a few colors, some shadowing, and highlights is nice. But Michelangelo wasn’t even settled when he was done with the Sistine Chapel. He felt it was bright, flat, and garish. Time to add glazes. These glazes are traditionally used on ornament as an antiquing technique, but the great masters employed them in fine-art paintings, too.

Color mixing and matching, blending, and wiping and flashing can be time-consuming and should only be estimated by artists trained in the processes. These same turn-of-the-century craftsmen techniques are used on statuary and nativity sets.

Gold leaf comes in varying karats, just like jewelry. Is it silver leaf, aluminum leaf, white gold, or a composition? It would be appropriate to figure this in advance of any disaster rather than learn the "gold paint" was actually 23¾ Kt gold leaf too late.

Relics are priceless, as they are an actual piece of Christ’s cross or a bone from St. Joseph, yet they actually don’t carry a huge insurable value.

Whatever the case, if you are insuring a turn-of-the-century church with numerous traditions and valuable objects of art, be certain to cover your bases by having comparables in advance.

OBJETS D’ART (PDF 1.96 Mb)



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