Trenton Stained Glass with Dan Aubrey

We gathered for the first time at The Blooming Grove Inn, which offered us a nice menu and a beautiful new venue.   Rob Bullington set up an excellent video-audio arrangement for the presentation.

Joe Teti called us to order at 12:15, and George, our Treasurer, reported a balance of $1453.  He asked that people please remember to pay their annual dues of $35.

Lunch being delayed, we had the minutes reported and Shan introduced Dan to begin the program.  Lunch arrived during the program, but Dan carried on, and ended up carrying his lunch home with him in a carton.  Brave speaker!

Dan is arts editor for U.S.1 and the general editor and columnist for Trenton Downtowner.  He has worked at the State Museum and at Foundation Theatre and Passage Theatre.  He came to the Trenton area in the 1970s.

A general curiosity about public art in Trenton led him to the stained glass project.  He thought it would be relatively simple to find and survey, starting with the marvelous glass in the Statehouse, but it turned into mission impossible.  His collection of identified stained glass is still growing, even though he has already written extensively about the project.

One hurdle was that many church sanctuaries are only open on Sunday during worship services, which made it challenging to find to introduce himself, explain his interest, and take photographs without feeling like an intruder. Finding documentation that enables him to identify the glass artist for each window created a second hurdle.  He showed us a shot from Sacred Heart Roman Catholic church that he called “Looking At You.”  He noted that Catholic and Episcopal churches sometimes have an artist/company mark on at least one window, but many churches resist maker’s marks as commercializing a spiritual artifact.

Munich, Germany glass makers Franz Mayer and Co have a number of windows in the area.   Dan started with a window of Mary Magdalene that had a distinctively bright, sharp green, which made him think it was a Mayer window.  Looking closely at other windows, he found the Mayer mark, and when he wrote to the company, the Mayer company helpfully sent him a directory of more Mayer glass in the region.

While the pastor there was open to Dan looking around before the service, others are not and have given him the bum’s rush, saying they knew nothing about the windows. But he generally gets photos before he leaves.

These stages have been a regular part of the work.  Starting with just a window, Dan tries to figure out who made it, with more or less help from the organization where it is on view.  Then, Dan ends up hoping the maker will respond to an inquiry, which has taken a year or more in some cases.  In other cases, both churches and glass makers have been very helpful.

The glass generally reveals the ambitions of the city, as many purchased glass internationally and from famous glass makers.  Notable makers of local glass include Tiffany, Franz Mayer of Munich, Germany, Tiroler glass of Innsbruck Austria, and Kempe Co of London, England.  Tiffany glass allegedly was installed in the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, to complement its grounds designed by famous landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing.  The Roebling family had a Tiffany window of the Brooklyn Bridge installed in its Trenton mansion, but that window seems to be missing.  Tiffany, famous for the distinctive opalescence of its glass, rarely let the actual artist sign the work.

A number of the German glass companies lost a large portion of their corporate records in World War II.  Some records have turned up in London and New York, where they had international offices, but in some cases, Dan’s list and images help inform the companies about their own corporate history.

Catholic churches tended to commission all the windows at once and so leaned toward the major window providers.  Protestant churches, by commissioning one window at a time, created opportunities for smaller producers to contribute.  Following these trails, Dan found a community of local artists organized around providing glass in churches. 

Ralph Cram, a Boston architect famous for his Gothic revival churches (including St. John the Divine in NYC and the Princeton University Chapel) thought that Gothic architecture could help solve the social ills of the late 19th and early 20th centuries by bringing in light and godliness.  Something of an Anglo-Saxon supremacist, Cram found an admirer in Princeton’s president, Woodrow Wilson. 

Cram hired several artists and companies to supply glass for Princeton University Chapel and other university locations and for Trinity Church in Princeton. The chapel main artist was Charles Connick who created glass depicting images from British and Christian literature:  Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

Under Cram’s leadership translucent neo-Gothic glass became more popular than Tiffany’s opalescent and, after the death of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the studios closed.

Meanwhile George W. Sotter (1879-1953) moved to Bucks County from his home in Pittsburgh and opened a studio where he worked a new generation of stained glass artists. That included the Austrian-born Valentine d’Ogries, who in the 1950s was commissioned to create the windows for the new Trinity Cathedral in Trenton.  Also included in Trinity Cathedral are the Kempe windows from the former structure. .

Trenton, Princeton, and lower Bucks turn out to have been a real hotspot for American glass design. Another Sotter protégé was Edward Burns who created the glass for St. Mary’s Cathedral in Trenton. He had a studio in Doylestown that was continued by his son, Edward Burn Jr. A few years ago Dan contacted Burn Jr. , then in his late 80s. He told Dan that he too had worked on the Trenton glass and would be happy to show Dan the designs. Burn, however, had moved outside Harrisburg, PA, and by the time Dan had scheduled the time for a full day visit, Burn had died. Since then the Burn archives went to the Michener museum for preservation. 

Another important stained glass maker was Nicholas d’Ascenzo , who was classically trained in Italy, did glass for the City of Trenton Courthouse building, Trenton Savings Bank, St. Joseph Seminary in Princeton, Horn and Hardart outlet in Philadelphia, and the “Nipper” emblem on the RCA Victor building in Camden.