The presence of the La Farge and MacDonald windows in this building with the more traditional windows along the sides of the sanctuary provide an excellent history of the development of stained glass in America. The windows along the side are "cartoons," two dimensional depictions of sacred themes. The windows at either end of the sanctuary have perspective, most prominent in "The Sower" by MacDonald where there are hills, temples and clouds in the distance.
Channing Memorial Window
The commemorative volume of THE CHANNING CENTENARY gives an account of the windows at the time of the consecration of our building as a perpetual memorial to William Ellery Channing, Oct. 19, 1881. It gives a great deal of important information on the windows but is not entirely accurate as the Channing Memorial Window ["The Sower"] and the Kinsley Memorial Window in the west transept were not installed at that time. The majority of the windows were executed in the gallery of Samuel West in Boston. These windows include the Brooks, Munro, Coggeshall, Weld and Bush windows.
Samuel West was one of the most widely known "decorative glass-stainers and decorators in the country," according to his obit in the Boston Evening Transcript. He died April 25, 1891, age 64. He was a native of England but lived in the United States from early childhood on. Among his better known windows was one in St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester which was 52 feet high, the largest in the USA at the time. His work was exhibited at the 1876 Philadelphia International Exposition. At the time he did the work for our Church, his studio was at 115 Eliot St. in Boston.
The CENTENARY VOLUME says that West also did the windows in the east and west vestibules. The five windows in the main entrance with the words "Faith," "Hope," and "Charity" inscribed on them fit the description in the VOLUME, but the ones in the Choir Room do not. This window is now the Covell Memorial Window. The Church records give us a glimpse of what happened. At the meeting of the Trustees on Saturday, May 5, 1883, 5 pm, "Permission was given - upon request of Wm. K. Covell Jr - in behalf of persons who desire to place a Memorial Window in the tower, the present windows to be removed." There is no record of who made the Covell Window. Or what happened to the original window by West. Our Sexton, Richard Munro, recalls that some years ago a set of stain-glass windows was found in the attic of the Parish Hall. No one knew anything about them and so they were sold at an upcoming church auction. Does anyone know who bought them?
The best known window in our church is the Baker Memorial Window done by John La Farge. Photographs of this window have appeared at least twice on the cover of NEWPORT HISTORY. The fall 1985 issue carried an article on the window by James L. Yarnall of the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yarnall is today one of the leading experts on La Farge and helped arrange the La Farge exhibit which will be at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston during February and March. Margaret Baker, our Fellowship Trustee is talking with William Vareika at the Congregational Church on Spring St. about a combined tour and perhaps dinner party to see the exhibit.
Margaret Schwass and the Worship Committee have arranged for Yarnall to speak at the Sunday service on March 6th and he has promised to share with us the new information on the Baker Memorial window which he has discovered since his article. James Yarnall is a native Newporter who one day was looking around town for a project for his college degree; he came into our church, saw the Baker Memorial Window, and discovered John La Farge.
There has been quite an explosion of interest in La Farge's work recently. Carmel Iriti of Serpentino Stained & Leaded Glass, which has been doing the work on our windows, recently gave me an article from the Fall, 1987, issue of Stained Glass Quarterly on La Farge. There La Farge is described as "the greatest innovator in the history of modern stained glass." Just looking at the Baker Memorial Window you can see that. The article goes on to say that La Farge's work served as a prototype for subsequent designers such as Louis C. Tiffany.
One of La Farge's innovations which Tiffany and most others did not follow was that of the artist who designed the window actually executing it himself. Most windows were designed by one person and another craftsman cutting and leading the window. La Farge frequently complained of this method, considering that it led to less artistic, more commercial quality in the windows. So La Farge resolved that "I should follow the entire manufacture, selecting the colors myself, and watching every detail."
Just where La Farge learned the craft of executing stained glass windows is not clear. There is an interesting note from him, however, regarding one of his windows, one originally in the Watts Sherman House in Newport and now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. La Farge wrote to Watt Sherman on June 5, 1877: "Mr. McPherson asked me to delay sending you the drawings until a few days later, that the piece of glass, made as a trial piece, might be added." Perhaps McPherson and La Farge needed a little more time to develop the first opalescent glass which is La Farge's great innovation. This innovation makes it possible to eliminate painting on the glass and to use the material itself to create pictorial effects. La Farge's various experimentations with glass can easily be seen in the Bates Memorial Window, south of the east transept
This Mr. McPherson was a leading stained glass craftsman in Boston. He set up his studio about 1845, and in the late 1860's a Scotsman, trained in London, was urged to immigrate to America and joined McPherson's studio. He later took over the studio and changed its name to his own: Donald MacDonald.
Our Donald MacDonald window we call "The Sower" and its proper title is the Channing Memorial Window. A newspaper article from the time of its dedication in 1883 says that at the time his studio was at 16 Hayward Place in Boston.
A very interesting story is suggested in the account of this window in the CENTENARY VOLUME. There it says that the window representing the Parable of the Sower would be placed in the western transept window as the Kinsley Memorial Window which overlooks the Giroux estate and the Bay: "This window is being made in Boston, and will represent the 'Parable of the Sower.'" The semicircle window over the pulpit, according to the CENTENARY VOLUME, was to be given by the relatives and friends of Channing as a memorial to him but designed by Mrs. Edwin Arnold, of England. This is the only mention of her name in our records.
This of course is not the case. What happened? Why did the switch occur, moving "The Sower" from the west transept to over the pulpit? Was the fact that neither window was in place at the time of consecration indicative of some fascinating episode now lost to history? Our minister at the time, Charles W. Wendte, relates that the subject of the window was suggested to Channing's daughter, Mary Eustis, by William Ralph Emerson. Emerson was an architect who designed many homes around Newport, including the Sanford Covell House on Washington St. Had Emerson seen MacDonald's work and told Mrs. Eustis that it would far outshine what she had planned? Whatever Emerson's curious involvement in this affair, we know that "The Sower" was originally meant for the west transept
MacDonald's work was well known throughout New England. The McPherson/MacDonald studio had done most of the windows for Harvard's Memorial Chapel. I recently received a postcard of "The William Ellery Channing Memorial Window" in the Newton, MA, Presbyterian Church which was done by MacDonald. It is a stunning depiction of St. Paul preaching in the market place in Athens. Its shape is similar to our transept windows and suggests what "The Sower" might have looked like there. The upper circles and bottom border are traditional with temples in the background and powerful human figures. If you would like to see a picture of it, drop by the office. MacDonald manufactured all the windows in the Newton church, based upon cartoons by Raphael.
A picture of MacDonald's window in the National Arts Club (the former Samuel J. Tilden Mansion), 15 Gramercy Park South, Manhattan, may be seen in James L. Sturm's STAINED GLASS FROM MEDIEVAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT: Treasures to Be Seen in New York.
Instead of the MacDonald window in the west transept is one by S. P. Belcher of Newark, NJ. Belcher also executed the Shaw Memorial Window in the east transept with the figures of Faith, Hope and Charity. The two transept windows look very similar to me. However Carmelo Iriti and others from Serpintino's thought they were so different that at least two different artists must have done them, if not two different studios. Among the differences is that the panels in the west transept window are signed "S. P. Belcher Newark" while the east transept panels are not. What was most significant to them is that the borders are different. Any studio would keep a record of their work and if installing windows in the same church, even 30 or 40 years apart, would use the same border design. My untrained eyes had to have these things pointed out to them.
--Frank W. Carpenter: 4/26/88