The Painted Churches of Texas – a brief and beautiful history

The Painted Churches are one of Texas’ historical gems. While not widely known, twenty of these churches appear on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these churches are available for the public to enjoy the amazing art of our ancestors; others are closed to the public. They are located from south Texas to north Texas to the panhandle, and a handful reside in central Texas.

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Saint Cyril and Methodius Church 1 : Prints Available

Dubina, Czech for Oak Grove, was first settled in 1856 by Moravian immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic. These Czech-Moravians traveled for 14 weeks across the Atlantic, finally landing in Galvestion. After much hardship, they found their way to the fertile lands just south of La Grange. Working together, these tough people forged a community and erected their first church in 1900. A hurricane (1909) and then a fire (1912) destroyed their small church. A third church was designed by Leo Dielmann. The community raised over $5,500 to construct this new parish, and the building the building has served as the community center since then. The Saint Cyril and Methodius Church is colorful and ornate. The frescoes on the walls and ceiling have undergone several transformations, the final one coming in 1983 to restore the art to its original state.

The beauty of these churches is stunning, but the journey of the immigrants that established and built these structures tell an even more amazing story. In the 1840s, large groups of Germans and Czechs made their way to central Texas and established communities in what is now Fredericksburg, Schulenburg, Shiner, Dubina, La Grange, New Braunfels, and many other areas. The journey to this new land was arduous and long, often lasting three to four months. For several groups, the trek required 14 weeks of sailing across the Atlantic. The Germans and Czechs that survived the trip entered Texas through Galveston, the “Ellis Island of the West.” From there, groups would scatter. Some traveled onto Iowa and others stayed in Texas. A ferry would transport them up Buffalo Bayou, then they would set out in wagons. Some of these groups settled in central Texas in the 1850s – many in Fayette County – and built the famous Painted Churches of central Texas in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
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Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Shiner 1 : Prints Available

In 1887, settlers exited the first train to roll through Fayette County, and not long after the town of Shiner was born. Czech and Germans of the new town met and, after purchasing two acres of land east of the traintracks, a new church was planned.

The church we see today is one of the famed and beautiful painted churches – St. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church. The first structure was completed May 31, 1891, but it did not last, as it was blown off its foundation by a tornado in 1892. Undeterred, the community did not abandon the building. Soon, the walls were straightened and the tower replaced.

As the town grew, more room became necessary for the parish to serve its people.

The structure standing today was designed by the architect, James Wahrenburger, in a beautiful Gothic style. The colorful stained glass shines with vibrant color, and rich, detailed frescoes bring the Garden of Gethsemane to life as it rises above the altar.

Today, and within a small radius near Schulenburg, some of the most beautiful parishes, not only in Texas but in the nation, show off their treasures and are open for the public to enjoy. In this area east of San Antonio, these small parishes resemble the Gothic architecture of the German and Czech homeland. The interiors are filled with magnificent works of art – frescoes on the ceilings, ornate columns, detailed statues of the saints and angels, and vibrant colors that fill the room with life.
Happy Travels, Texas, and I hope you can enjoy these churches someday regardless of your faith or persuasion.
Images from Texas

Which lens for landscape photography?

I was asked yesterday (and on many occasions in the past) which lenses I use for my photography. Most questions are related to my landscapes which make up 99% of my work. When I travel, such as my recent trek to Iceland, I took three lenses:
16-35L 2.8
I used the latter two lenses about 85% of the time in that trip. For wide-angle landscapes, the 11-24 is hard to beat. I absolutely love the way it captures and adds drama to skies.

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Seydisfjördur from the Fjarðará : Prints Available

The Fjarðará is a river that flows down from a mountain pass into the east Iceland town of Seydisfjördur. From this vantage point, views of the valley below and the distant fjord are beautiful on clear sunlit days.

This lens has a pretty wide sweet spot as long as I avoid the 11-12mm and 23-24mm range. At those ends of the lens, the edges become a bit blurry. (The same can be said for the 16-35L – I just avoid the extreme ranges.) Because I like everything in focus for my images, I’ve found that f/16 offers the best opportunity for sharp details in one image, especially when shooting a tight/close foreground of flowers or rocks. That said, I will still usually take the same image with different focal lengths and blend the two together to ensure the overall image comes out clear and sharp.
For the 16-35L, I do the same thing – take multiple images with different focal lengths and focus-stack the group. Even if I don’t use all the focal lengths, I at least have insurance that I have everything covered.
Another thing I consider with these lenses is the sort of starburst they produce. I do like to shoot at the moment the sun hits the horizon – either at sunrise or sunset. The way that light presents itself is influenced by the lens.
First, the 24-105 is out if you want a starburst. This lens will only produce a bright blur. It is a no-go for these critical moments of first light.
The other two lenses, the 16-35 and 11-24, both produce pleasing sun rays if timed correctly. (For these, I’ll bracket 7 exposures and blend them together to balance the light. More about this in a future blog).
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Kirkjufell Summer Sunset 1 : Prints Available

After all the tourists have gone, Kirkjufellfoss flows clean and cold and the regal mountain stands silently in the cool west Iceland air. The long summer nights make these falls a wonderful place to spend some quiet time appreciating the beauty and history of this ancient land.

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Spring Sunset at Pedernales Falls 314-3 : Prints Available

Nearing the last light of evening, the sun peeks through the clouds just above the horizon, creating a sunburst over the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park. This area is one of my favorites in the hill country, and I love exploring the winding river’s path.

And that’s what’s in my bag when I travel. When I’m hiking, I’ll usually only bring one lens – either the 11-24 or 16-35 – just depends on where I’m going.
As always, please ask if you have any questions. You can contact me through my website (see below).
In the meantime, have fun, stay safe, and be kind.
Images from Texas