The stained glass piece pictured at right, the Three Kings over the Brooklyn Bridge seen at Trinity Cathedral on West State Street, is just one of Trenton and the region’s vast collection of stained glass — much of it world class.
And while a lot of it is on view and something to consider during this time of the year when seasonal celebrations emphasize light, they’re worth a visit all year.
I got interested in regional stained glass when I was working for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and started a database of public art in the region. While cataloging the New Jersey State House’s stained glass, I decided to start collecting information on the glass in regional churches. After all, sacred glass in public places is for many a primary art experience.
It was then that I discovered that while some churches maintain information and have the company signatures on the glass, many do not and the artistic identities of their makers — and the potential values of the glass -— are a mystery.
So off and on over the past decade I’ve been visiting and communicating with churches, hunting through libraries, and contacting stained glass associates and makers — both at home and in Europe.
And what follows are some observations about this important regional treasure and where to see it.
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 at least three regional churches (and maybe more, but that is undocumented).
In Trenton, St. Michael’s Church on Warren Street has a tall Tiffany landscape on the sidewall abutting the cemetery and was installed during the historic church’s 1906 renovation. It can be seen during services or during special events.
Other Tiffanys can be found in the Lawrenceville School’s Edith Memorial Chapel, Princeton United Methodist Church, Princeton University’s Alexander Hall, and the Princeton University Art Museum’s remains from the fire-ruined Marquand Chapel.
While Tiffany glass is impressive, it is the 20th-century American stained glass makers who gave the region its treasures.
One person connected to the region’s stained glass is Ralph Cram (1863-1942). He is the Boston-based architect who served as Princeton University supervising architect from 1907 to 1929. He was also a proponent for neo-Gothic architecture and designed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (started in 1912 and recognized as the largest Gothic-style church in the world), Lady Chapel of Trinity Church in Princeton (built in 1912), 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 whose careers grew while Tiffany glass waned.
One of North America’s largest (10,000 square feet) and beautiful collections of stained glass, the chapel is filled with treasures that include frequent Cram collaborator Charles Connick and Philadelphia-based stained glass maker Henry Willet (1899-1983) who also rebelled against Tiffany glass and worked with Cram on several projects, including St. John the Divine and Trinity Church.
Another stained glass artist working in the region was Nicola D’Ascenzo (1871-1954). In addition to providing glass for Princeton Chapel, St. Joseph’s Seminary (now Princeton Abbey), and the now-lost windows for several Trenton government offices and banks, his work also became the focus of a collection by Trenton parachute manufacturer Stanley Switlik.
While Princeton is a grand destination, it is not the end of the glass road. The New Jersey State House Complex is a center for secular stained glass with a few surprises of its own.
As the second oldest operating state house in the nation (Annapolis, Maryland, is the first), there is the expected traditional 19th and early 20th-century colored glass that bathes the chambers with a combination of soft colors and natural light.
Since the State House is currently closed, one will have to wait to visit the period decorative glass and the lunettes and skylights designed by a combination of anonymous glass makers and early 20th-century state house renovation architect Arnold Moses (1862-1934).
But there are weekly tours of the 1920s-era State House Annex that provide an eyeful of surprises, especially contemporary New Jersey-based stained glass artist J. Kenneth Leap’s “360 Degrees of New Jersey.” In this large skylight-like ceiling unit are some of the state’s famous moments, people, and even legends in brilliant colors.
Yes, that’s the Trenton-bound George Washington and the Delaware, Albert Einstein at Princeton, Martians attacking Grovers Mill, the State House, the Jersey Devil, and more. It’s both a delight and a hoot.
Then in the chamber that once housed the New Jersey State Museum there is glass showing the state dinosaur (Hadrosaurs Foulkii), insect (the bee), and animal (horse).
The new works by Leap join or replaced other state house glass created in the late 1920s by Cram-influenced painter and stained glass artist George Sotter (1879-1953). Since he also indirectly created a stained glass movement, Sotter is another person of regional importance.
Originally from Pittsburgh, where he — like Willet — had worked with Cram, Sotter studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, settled in Bucks County, opened a stained glass studio, and created works for regional and national clients.
Two former Sotter students also settled in Bucks County and established their own studios. They also created glass for Trenton’s two cathedrals.
At Trinity Cathedral, a 1956 Gothic-style structure on West State Street, Valentine d’Ogries (1899-1959) created the jewel-like glass images of Christ, saints, and even the Brooklyn Bridge, to honor the Roeblings. It’s open for services and special occasions.
The other is St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, where Edward Byrne (1898-1968) surrounds deep colored Biblical figures with light-hued panels to let brilliant beams and luminous glow fill the air of the 1956 structure.
So where did other Trenton glass come from?
Trenton’s Sacred Heart Church is one of the best documented churches in the region. The glass is clearly marked with the company logo-signature John Morgan and Sons, and the church’s website also talks about the glass and when it was built.
However, other churches were unwilling to allow glass markers to mark their work, mistakenly considering it advertising. Then as time and administration changes, the records were lost.
But research has shown that a good number are from New Jersey.
“Our firm made the stained and faceted glass at several Trenton churches,” said Judith Hiemer, president of the Clifton, New Jersey, Hiemer & Company glass maker.
Her list included St. Joachim, St. Stanislaus, and some windows for Holy Cross and Saint Hedwig in Trenton.
The J.R. Lamb Company in Midland, New Jersey, also forwarded a list that included work for Prospect Street Presbyterian Church and St. Matthias. The company also did glass for St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. Luther Studios in Passaic created the windows for Mosaic Baptist Church, formerly the Hungarian Lutheran Church.
And according to communications with the Willet Company — now Willet Hauser in Minnesota — they made the glass in the First Presbyterian, Galilee Baptist, and Saint Mark’s Lutheran in Hamilton, and Princeton Presbyterian.
Other Trenton-area stained glass comes from Europe.
Both Trinity Cathedral and St. Michael’s Episcopal in Trenton have glass from the Charles Kempe Studios in London (1866 to 1934). A student of influential Pre-Raphaelite and medieval-influenced artist William Morris, Kempe was one of the prominent glass designers in his day — creating more than 4,000 Medieval-inspired glass images.
The now closed Maumejean Company in Paris made the glass for Saint Anthony Church on Olden Avenue on the border of Hamilton and Trenton.
The Whipple Company in England provided the glass for St. Peters IGBO Anglican Church on South Park Avenue not far from the Trenton border in Hamilton.
The prestigious (Franz) Mayer Company in Germany — the same company that fabricated the contemporary public art work in front of the Princeton University Art Museum — is represented in two area churches: The Virgin, St. Shenouda & St. Thomas Coptic Orthodox Church, the former Holy Angels Church on the border of Hamilton and Trenton, and the Episcopal Cristo Ray Church on Hamilton Avenue in Trenton.
And the Tiroler Glasmalerei in Austria wrote to tell me that the company was the one that created the glass for Immaculate Conception Church in Trenton and forwarded a hand-drawn outline showing image placement.
It was the representatives of both Mayer and Tiroler who also provided some surprising information.
One was about record keeping. An email from the Mayer Company told me, “Most of our old documents were destroyed in 1944 by bombs and fire. We could save only a few books with photos of windows and designs and lists showing the churches with our stained glass windows, which are not complete.”
The other from Tiroler’s Gemot Fusseneggar showed he too was on a search: “Do the windows of St. Francis Assisi Church still exist? Or even the church itself? And could you find out, if the windows of the primary St. Francis Hospital (now St. Francis Medical Center) have remained? With these windows I feel connected in a very personal manner; my grandfather (Konrad Mignon) designed the cartoons of three of them. The artist who designed the other cartoons was Alois Declara.”
My answer was that no former chapel glass remains, and the glass of the former St. Francis Church on Front Street had gone to an out-of-state church glass supplier that returned my questions with only silence. But there is nothing to be silent about Trenton’s stained glass. It is important and needs to be protected.
Continue the conversation or provide information on the region’s stained glass by joining the Stained Glass Project of Greater Trenton and Princeton at www.facebook.com/groups/174284746555593/about or sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
Join Dan Aubrey for a glass talk and walk at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Trenton, on Saturday, January 25, and at Princeton United Methodist Church, 7 Vandeventer Avenue, Princeton, on Sunday, January 26, at 12:30 p.m., part of the church’s regular 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. tour of its glass created by Tiffany and its former studio’s artists.