Architectural Glass at All Saints, Ashmont
This is an expanded version of an article that first appeared in Historic New England Vol. 15, No. 3, Winter 2015. To subscribe, become a member today.
What Ralph Adams Cram (1863–1942) accomplished in ecclesiastical architecture in the United States beginning in the 1890s was not a Gothic “revival” per se (American architecture postdated the Gothic and was Classical at birth), but a creative adaptation of Gothic forms. Modern Gothic architecture required modern craftsmen—glaziers1, metalworkers, sculptors, woodcarvers—and Cram did more than any other architect of his generation in the United States to find, encourage, and provide work for such artists. It is largely due to Cram’s advocacy that twentieth-century stained glass windows were made in the United States using the materials and techniques of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and were considered appropriate and indeed sophisticated elements in a new architectural language based on medieval forms.
As Cram stated in his autobiography, he was particularly drawn to the stained glass craft and committed to finding qualified American glass craftsmen to design and make modern Gothic windows: “[W]e wanted to work with our own compatriots. I felt this particularly for I have always had a passion for stained glass…. I think we began first of all with the fine old artist, Otto Heinegke [sic]…. Charles J. Connick, formerly of Pittsburgh, came shortly after and with him we have labored ever since.”2
In fact, sixteen years passed between Otto Heinigke’s first window commissioned by Cram, The Annunciation (1893, left), at All Saints, Ashmont, and Connick’s first window for Cram, the George Champlin Memorial (1909–10) at All Saints, Brookline. The windows designed for Ashmont between 1893 and 1941 by Heinigke (1850–1915) of New York, Harry E. Goodhue (1873–1918) of Cambridge and Boston, Christopher Whall (1849–1924) of London, and Connick (1875–1945) of Boston “take their place among the most distinguished glass in the city”3 and Ashmont was a key formative site for modern American Gothic glazing.
In Britain and most of Europe, architectural glass windows were made the traditional medieval way; the glass, called “antique,” was hand-blown into a tube, then flattened and cut into irregular pieces. The glass used by virtually all American glaziers at the turn of the twentieth century, including those who first worked with Cram, was American opalescent glass—molten colored glass mixed with opaline (milk glass)— invented by John La Farge in the 1870s and aggressively marketed by Louis Tiffany. Cram, his partners, and the artists they nurtured, however, rejected La Farge’s “aesthetic goal of creating windows with realistic pictorial effects similar to those in the academic art of his day,”4 and viewed windows as light-transmitting, “flat” two-dimensional architectural elements in the wall. As Heinigke wrote to architect Bertram Goodhue (no relation to Henry): “[O]ur windows of today…should not be pictures with painters’ effects. They should be pieces of architecture as much as the stone, copper or wood.”5 Also, leading, which held the pieces of glass together, was valued not because it delineated naturalistic shapes, but because it focused the light and sharpened the colors. These architectural elements are found at Ashmont in Heinigke’s Annunciation (above, left) and Harry Goodhue’s Adoration of the Magi and Shepherds (1896, below, right).6
The rejection of academic Classicism by Cram and his colleagues working in Boston suggests the influence of William Morris, both through his writings and also through three major stained glass windows in metropolitan Boston designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by Morris & Company: the three-lancet North Transept window (1880) and the Baptistry window (1882) in Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, and Justice and Humility (1883) in the Church of Our Saviour, Brookline.7 Morris’s writings on stained glass, in particular “Glass, Painted or Stained” (1890) noted that “the special characteristics of glass…can produce effects that no opaque painting can approach” and “this art…is especially an art of the middle ages; there is no essential difference between its processes as now carried out and those of the 12th century; any departure from the medieval method of production in this art will only lead us astray.”8
Cram wrote that the work of Morris and Burne-Jones was “mediaeval in its suggestion, yet it is in no way an imitation… It is the immutable ideal expressed through modern methods”9 and Heinigke noted that “the strong old work is today called archaic and mediaeval and out-of-date; yet the formulas…are as true now as when they were invented.”10 The revitalization of medieval glass making was stimulated by Morris’s revival of medieval crafts and craftsmanship, his glassmaking partnership with Burne-Jones, and works by artists they inspired, like Christopher Whall, in what came to known as the Arts and Crafts movement.
Cram visited Gloucester Cathedral in England and saw a series of windows by Whall begun in 1898 in the Lady Chapel, windows that Cram characterized as “extraordinary new glass…at the same time perfectly Mediaeval and perfectly Modern.”11 The “profusion of deep, vibrant colours with a sparkling, silvery framework of canopies in pure white glass”12 is characteristic of Whall’s work. Shortly after Whall opened his own studio in London in 1906, Cram commissioned The Risen Christ (1906–07, left) for Ashmont’s north clerestory across from Goodhue’s Adoration. It was the third permanent window in the church. Immediately thereafter Cram commissioned five clerestory windows from Whall for the Church of the Advent, Boston, installed between October 1907 and December 1909. Whall authority Peter Cormack observes that “Cram’s intention in commissioning these five lancets, as well as the earlier Ashmont window, was to set forth definite exemplars of the best modern glass, thereby giving inspiration and guidance to the emerging school of American designers and craftsmen.”13
Whall is recognized as the leading English Arts and Crafts glazier and his book, Stained Glass Work: A Text-book for Students and Workers in Glass (London and New York 1905), is considered the definitive Arts and Crafts glass textbook. Whall criticized the Renaissance-derived desire to turn windows into naturalistic pictures “where the lead-line is disguised or circumvented.”14 “Keep your pictures for the walls and your windows for the holes in them,” he wrote.15 “[W]indows…should be so treated as to look like what they are, the apertures to admit the light; subjects painted on a thin and brittle film, hung in mid-air between the light and dark.”16
Charles J. Connick, trained as a glazier in Pittsburgh, worked in Boston 1900–02; he returned to Pittsburgh in 1903 but moved back to Boston in 1909. That year he met Cram and received the commission for the Brookline window.17 It was also about 1909 that Connick saw the Whall windows in the Church of the Advent and read Stained Glass Work. Connick described the former as “sections of glass glowing serenely and beautifully in light” and wrote that he found Whall’s book “so charming and enthusiastic that I became his convert overnight.” Connick’s fee for the All Saints, Brookline, window allowed him to travel to England and France for five months. He visited Whall at his studio and they kept in touch until Whall’s death in 1924. Peter Cormack observes:
Connick’s absorption of the great medieval glazing tradition…was through eyes opened by Whall. Whall’s work offered living proof that the medieval skills of manipulating light and color through painted and leaded glass were no “lost art;” and that the resources of the modern craft…enabled all its ancient glories to be re-created in new and expressive ways.19
Whall’s influence can be seen in Connick’s set of six two-light aisle windows depicting biblical figures and Christian saints designed and made 1920–1941 at Ashmont (and also in St. Stephen’s chapel window of the late 1930s). Saints Agnes and Ann from 1920 is shown above, right; Saints James Major and John the Evangelist from 1941 are below, right. “Whall’s…use of ‘staggered’ soldier-joints…is also a regular feature of Connick’s windows, and one which he seems to have found particularly inspiring," says Cormack. "It is at least partly the origin of that rhythmic use of leading which gives his windows of the late 1920s and the 1930s their quasi-musical syncopated or ‘swinging character.’”20
Connick wrote: “Ancient windows taught me that light changes constantly, and that a window balanced in light, is more like music than it is like any sort of picture. It sings in the light, and I learned to listen to the shifting colors in glowing windows, much as I learned to listen to vibrant sounds in music.”21
A Note on Illustrations
Illustrations accompanying this article include the Heinigke, Goodhue, and Whall clerestory windows and the 1920 and 1941 Connick aisle windows. Four aisle windows and St. Stephen by Connick, Lady Chapel windows by Herbert Davis, St. Michael by Joseph G. Reynolds Jr., two aisle windows by the firm of Vaughan, O’Neil & Company, and a three-light Crucifixion widow by Connick Associates are not discussed in this article but may be viewed in the church, at 209 Ashmont Street, Dorchester Center, MA, 02124. allsaints.net
We are grateful to stained glass consultant Julie L. Sloan for permission to reproduce her photographs of the Heinigke, Goodhue, and Whall windows. Photography © 2013. www.jlsloan.com
1. Unlike many other professions in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, female apprentices and glaziers were often found in British and American glass studios. Christopher Whall’s daughter Veronica is one of twelve British glaziers working 1890 to 1950 who are profiled in Peter Cormack’s pathbreaking exhibition catalog Women Stained Glass Artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement (London: William Morris Gallery, 1985). In Pittsburgh Alice Bennet met George Sotter in Rudy Brothers studio (where Charles Connick first apprenticed); they married in 1907 and worked together until the early 1950s. Anne Lee and William Willet of Willet Stained Glass Company signed their windows beginning in 1910 “William Willet and Anne Lee Willet, Designers.” William Willet wrote to a client, “Mrs. Willet does not merely advise or assist but does much of the work and in all our commissions we find each other’s help invaluable and in many cases divide the important features.” [William Willet to Dean West, Princeton University, January 31, 1913]↩