WARREN - For what is believed to be more than 100 years, a painting of a young Jesus accompanied by Mary and Joseph has been hanging in First Presbyterian Church.
Unknown to many who walked by it each week, the piece is by well-known German painter Bernhard Plockhorst. Dating from 1902, the painting depicts Jesus at age 12 leaving Jerusalem in conversation with Mary and Joseph.
Plockhorst was among a group of religious painters of the late 19th and early 20th century, and few of his original pieces are left in the United States, the Rev. Rusty Cowden said. He died in 1907.
The Rev. Rusty Cowden, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Warren, stands by an original 1902 Bernard Plockhorst painting. The painting is believed to have been at the church since 1903. Photo by Bob Coupland
Cowden said the painting got their attention recently when he discussed moving it with Raymond Rubrake, clerk of session for the church.
''In the process of moving it, we tried to figure out exactly what we had. We know a little more about the painting thanks to Ray, who did research on the painter,'' Cowden said.
He said an art appraiser at Corcoran Fine Arts and Appraisal in Cleveland who knows Plockhorst's work determined it is an original painting done in 1902.
''We did get it verified. Because it is real, it is a fairly important religious painting by this painter. It was one of his later paintings done in his 70s,'' Cowden said.
James Corcoran, a nationally certified appraiser with Corcoran Fine Arts and Appraisals, said while religious art may not be in as high a demand as other artwork, there is a scarcity of Plockhorst's work, which is why this project interested him.
''This is the kind of project we like to do. Those at this church now know what they have,'' Corcoran said.
Corcoran said Gary Marshall, gallery director, came to Warren to verify the work's authenticity.
Rubrake said Marshall will be returning to Warren to see the painting outside its glass frame. Rubrake also contacted the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngs-town about the piece.
Rubrake, who spent four hours going over church records and session minutes, was unable to find out when it was donated to the church. He said there was nothing about the painting in booklets printed on the church's 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries.
''It is most likely it has been at the church since 1903. They probably bought this painting as part of the celebration of the centennial, although no one knows for sure,'' Cowden said.
Though founded in 1803, the current church at 256 Mahoning Ave. N.W. wasn't completed until the 1870s.
Cowden said the painting may not be as valuable as a Picasso or an Andrew Wyeth, but it is a great work by an influential religious painter.