The stained glass image of the Nativity to the right can be found over the entrance of Princeton University Chapel. The glimmering work by Charles Connick is just one piece of a mainly translucent yet always transcendent visual art legacy that Princeton and the region are blessed to have inherited.
And during this time of year when seasonal spiritual celebrations emphasize light and color, it is time to celebrate the glass that surrounds us.
Let’s start with Louis Comfort Tiffany. It is the name most people connect to stained glass in America. His company, established in New York in 1878, is represented in Princeton at one church, a Princeton University building, and at the Princeton University Art Museum.
Princeton United Methodist Church on the corner of Nassau Street and Vandeventer Avenue is proud of its windows and holds weekly stained glass tours. And why shouldn’t they? The Tiffany Studio image in the choir loft window is stunning. It depicts St. George slaying a dragon and came to the church in 1910. And while the glass shows a victorious saint, the reason for its being is poignant: It is a memorial for a Princeton-educated young man who unexpectedly died young and whose minister father raised the funds. Some of the other glass windows on the tour are Tiffany-connected and created by a former Tiffany artist, Louis Lederle.
Tiffany windows can also be found in Alexander Hall on the Princeton University campus. The large circular windows (aka rose windows) go against the usual Tiffany practice of using the company name and credit artist Jacob Adolphus Holzer (1858-1938). He worked with American stained glass innovator John Lafarge (who is credited with creating the Tiffany milky or opaque glass approach) and prominent American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He also designed the hall’s interior mosaics.
The Tiffany glass in the Princeton University Art Museum represents the artistic remains of Marquand Chapel, the predecessor of Princeton University Chapel. Built in 1882 and destroyed by fire in the 1920s, Marquand had two sets of Tiffany windows, both of which served as memorials to notable alumni. The first, given in honor of the late Frederick Alexander Marquand, Class of 1876, by his mother was first exhibited in Philadelphia, where it won first prize in an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before being installed at the chapel circa 1890. That’s the same Marquand family for whom the chapel is named.
A second Tiffany window, in memory of Horatio Garrett, Class of 1895, was installed in 1898. While Garrett and his two brothers were students in the 1890s their mother lived at 1 Bayard Lane, a home that was later bequeathed to Edward Palmer and now is known as Palmer House, the university’s guest house.
Yet, as well-known as it is, Tiffany isn’t the final name in glass. In fact, it was the style that a generation of architects and glass makers rejected before making their own mark.
One of their leaders was Ralph Cram (1863-1942). He was the Boston-based architect who served as Princeton University supervising architect from 1907 to 1929. He was also a proponent of neo-Gothic architecture and designed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Lady Chapel of Trinity Church in Princeton, and numerous other campuses and churches.
You can stop in to view one of his masterworks almost any time: the Princeton University Chapel. But as you gaze at the colored light spilling through the nave, it is difficult to realize that in 1924 this was something revolutionary — or reactionary.
Cram wanted the drama of flowing colored light piercing the interior in such a way to “lighten the hearts so that, through true lights they can reach the one true light.”
To get that effect Cram created a movement against the era’s most fashionable glass style, Tiffany’s opalescent glass. Cram felt the style hindered light from flowing into the chamber, called attention to itself, and was distinctly too modern.
When the Tiffany Company would not accommodate Cram’s request to adjust its approach, Cram hired and groomed other designers. And Princeton Chapel is a showcase for a generation of artists who had lucrative careers, with Tiffany closing soon after.
To get an idea of the crafters’ high aim, step up to the chapel’s chancel and gaze at the work of frequent Cram collaborator Charles J. Connick (1875-1945), mentioned earlier. Here the artist — and author of the influential book “Adventures in Light and Color” — dazzles viewers with four wall-sized units using color, lead, glass, and light to retell four key works of Christian and English literature: “The Divine Comedy,” “La Morte d’Arthur,” “Paradise Lost,” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” They give the phrase “illuminated manuscript” new life.
Also included in the chapel are works by two Philadelphia-based stained glass artists, Henry Willet (1899-1983) and Nicola D’Ascenzo (1971-1954). Both made their marks as secular and sacred glass designers and left a legacy.
With the chapel’s 10,000 square feet of stained and painted glass and the university listing it as “one of the finest ensembles (of stained glass) to be found in the Western Hemisphere,” it certainly puts the region on the stained glass map.
It also has plenty of surprises, including Princeton alumnus James Madison and a section by artists Irene and Rowan LeCompte featuring poets William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Milton, William Blake (with a Princeton tiger next to him), Emily Dickinson, and T.S. Eliot (a former Institute for Advanced Study visiting member).
Both Connick and Willet also created art for Trinity Church in Princeton.
Open during services and during the week, Trinity Church has several highlights. That includes the glass depicting St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” colorful Old Testament scenes that mix the figurative with abstract design, and a window with scenes of other area churches and synagogues — a thank you for their support for helping the church rebuild after a mid-20th century fire.
While one small side chamber houses 20th-century glass from Scotland, the glass over two doors is from the 19th-century Kempe Glass Company in London, England. A student of influential Pre-Raphaelite and medieval-influenced artist William Morris, Charles Kempe was one of the prominent glass designers in his day — creating more than 4,000 medieval-inspired glass images.
St. Paul’s Catholic Church’s glass connects with both Europe and New Jersey’s tradition of making stained glass. The creator was the Hiemer Company in Clifton, New Jersey. Founder Georg Hiemer had developed his craft in the late 1800s working with stained glass artists and companies in Munich, Germany, a center for European glass.
Hiemer and his family, including his stained glass-making son, Edward, arrived in the United States and eventually settled in New Jersey, where the company still exists and has supplied the glass for more than 1,110 churches.
As mentioned Munich, Germany, was a center for glass, and one of the major companies is Franz Mayer & Company, where one of Hiemer’s main collaborators had trained and worked. Although the Vatican-approved company provided glass for several area churches, Mayer & Company is represented in Princeton by something different but just as visible: the project in front of the Princeton University Art Museum. Called “(Any) Body Oddly Propped,” the commissioned work comprising six 18-foot-tall glass panels using new glass coloring techniques was created by contemporary artists, brothers Doug and Mike Starn. And while the museum says the 2015 installation “continues the artists’ long fascination with energy systems found in nature,” it is also the most recent contribution to the region’s rich heritage of stained glass.
Something to celebrate during a season where we yearn for color and light.