The “Faith” Maker
The subject of church ornamentation, like many others, twists in the Episcopalian’s ambivalent heart. The Protestant in us may deem needlepoint cushions and woodcarvings “trivia” -- or worse: To enjoy and maintain – and write about -- these objects, aren’t we avoiding the real work of the church? Through our Catholic heritage, though, we may see things differently: Beauty as God’s gift, and beauty-making as a form of worship, even evangelism. Rev. W.G.W. Smith, a native of Philadelphia who became St. James’s first full time rector in 1881, certainly sided with the beauty-makers. Like many Episcopalians of his day, Smith appears to have been caught up in the “high church” spirit of the times.
Theologically, the Oxford Movement had succeeded in bending Anglican practice toward greater formality and ritual. In English arts and letters, John Ruskin and William Morris, among others, extolled fine design as a bridge between the leisured and the laboring classes. Meanwhile, late 19th century innovations in production and transportation were making ornate metalwork, fancy wallpapers, and stained glass accessible to more and more people. These liturgical, aesthetic and consumer trends converged in church architecture and decoration as the Gothic Revival. Strange and naïve as it seems in our own times, proponents of the Gothic Revival believed that steep gables and leaded glass could change lives. The making and appreciation of such forms, they argued, could re-establish the virtues of craftsmanship, bring grandeur to everyday life, and offer spiritual depth in an era of runaway industrialization. We don’t know too much about Reverend Smith. We do know that in 1876 when he first came to La Grange, shortly after Reconstruction, it had been less than a decade since (by one account) “half of the congregation” of St. James had died of yellow fever, in the fall of 1867.
Then two major floods, 1869 and 1870, had “blighted the prospects of the town,” wrote an early historian of the parish, “so much that it turned all the channels of thought into self-preservation.” Swayed by the Gothic Revival, Rev. Smith arrived as La Grange was in many respects starting over. In 1883 he retained R.M. Upjohn to design a new building for St. James. The architect and even more so his father, Richard Upjohn, were renowned for their dedication to “high” church style. The Upjohn firm had designed several large urban churches: Trinity, Ascension and Calvary in New York City, Christ Episcopal in Raleigh, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo, and St. Marks in San Antonio. Having established his reputation as a master of Gothic Revival design, Richard Upjohn senior turned signature style into an architectural ministry. By midcentury he was offering his services for free “to at least one mission church a year.”
As word spread, Richard Upjohn was overcome with requests. He responded by publishing a guide and pattern book that could be adapted in small towns everywhere. Upjohn's rural architecture: Designs, working drawings and specifications for a wooden church, and other rural structures (1852) initially sold for $5 a copy, spreading what came to be known as “Carpenter Gothic” architecture throughout the U.S. Historian Lawrence Wodehouse cites the key elements of Carpenter Gothic as “steep roofs, board and batten walls, and narrow pointed windows, suited to the skills and materials of local builders.” Scores of country congregations used Upjohn’s specs to achieve some of the gravitas of medievalism whether in the piney woods of North Carolina or along the front range of Colorado’s Rockies. The design for St. James was, of course, original, the brainchild of R.M. Upjohn rather than a knockoff based on his father’s published drawings. But it too could be described as Carpenter Gothic in its simplicity, its steep roof, board and batten construction, the dominant ribs and beams of the sanctuary, and its abundant stained glass. For many of us, these windows are the most awe-inspiring and beloved physical feature of St. James. Who made these windows? John Carey, who restored them in 1980-81, told the parish ECW last year he believes the majority of the windows were ordered from a catalogue. Carey told the ECW that even Tiffany, famous for its one-of-a-kind lamps and windows, had a mail-order department through which customers could choose from an array of designs.
A search through the St. James church records thus far has turned up no letters or receipts to identify either the artist who designed the windows or the glass studio that produced them. In “The Passion of St. James,” a parish history from 1976, Rev. Frank E. Fuller wrote that as well as raising most of the money for the church building and hiring R.M. Upjohn, “Rev. W.G.W. Smith also designed and built the altar, lectern, communion rail, and Bishop’s chair, all of which are still in use. The windows and cross on the tower were also his selection.” (Rev. Fuller added, “The pews are original, designed by Mr. Smith and built locally in the shop of Mr. Frank Reichert.” This same booklet identifies Carl Michaelis, a German-born carpenter from Round Top, as contractor for the overall project.) Calling the windows Rev. Smith’s “selection” suggests they were indeed chosen from a catalogue or perhaps a showroom Smith visited on one of his fund-raising trips to the Northeast.
The only more specific mention of the windows concerns the elaborate trio on the lower south transept. In part, they speak for themselves. As inscribed, they were gifts of Benjamin and Georgiana Shropshire’s children in 1885, memorials to their parents. The Shopshires had come to La Grange in 1852 and were some of the earliest St. James parishioners, back to the days when the church held services in the county courthouse and private homes. Mr. Shropshire, a captain in the Confederate army, had come from Bourbon County, Kentucky. In 1866 he was elected judge of Texas’ first district. Shropshire was “removed from office” about a week before he died in the yellow fever epidemic, September 1867. The window notes his death “AET 40 years” (abbreviation of the Latin aetatis, meaning “of the age”). He is buried in the old La Grange city cemetery.
In September 1868, St. James church received the land on the corner of Colorado and Monroe from Mrs. Shropshire, a gift “in accordance with her late husband’s wishes.” Georgiana (whose name is shortened, or simply misspelled, in the window as “Georgia”) died at age 45 in 1877, the year after Rev. Smith arrived as St. James’s part-time rector. The most vivid early reference to these windows comes from a letter Bishop Alexander Gregg wrote to the Texas diocese following his participation in the church’s consecration, February 28, 1886. He admired the memorial windows as “chaste and handsome” and noted that they had been “executed by a celebrated artist in Europe.” Bishop Gregg clearly was more of a newshound than an art historian, for he dwelled on the windows’ journey from England to the U.S. aboard the Inman line’s steamship “The City of Berlin.” In his letter to the diocese, Bishop Gregg related that the steamer “encountered an iceberg on her voyage and was injured, but most happily this most precious part of the cargo escaped harm.” We aren’t certain whether the “precious” cargo, and the Shropshire family’s gift, included the three south transept memorial windows only or all the windows at St. James.
(Some may find of interest The New York Times report May 24, 1885 of The City of Berlin’s adventure off the coast of Newfoundland. A dramatic account of the accident, it fails to mention stained glass.)
To attribute the memorial windows to “a celebrated artist in Europe” tosses a very dull needle into a very tall haystack. For at the time of the Shropshire family commission and the building of St. James, the zeal for Gothic Revival church construction across Europe and the U.S. was full blown; there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prospering glassworks, not only in England but also in Scotland, Germany, Belgium, France, Austria, Spain, and the United States. Until a sketch, bill of sale or diary entry materializes (or a deftly camouflaged signature can be recognized), we have only our eyes to go on.
We began by looking at the striking central figure, identified in the early St. James church history as “Faith.” A somewhat mannish redhead, she holds a cross against her shoulder and points a long, pale hand to her breastbone and heart. With red curling hair, the allegory of Faith looks, to us, decidedly Anglo. This stained glass panel and even more noticeably the two mandorlas on either side of it are loaded with flowers: chrysanthemums, lilies of the valley, violets, sunflowers, daisies, roses, hyacinths, as well as fanciful blooms. The two side panels contain ribbon like forms inscribed with the opening lines of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd,” “Therefore can I lack nothing.” (This inverted phrasing follows the Church of England’s “Common Worship” – “The Lord is my shepherd; there can I lack nothing.”)
These three windows are far more elaborate than the others at St. James, though there are certainly features that suggest all were designed by the same maker. For example, the decorative glass squares at the bottom of all three memorials include a flowing leaf motif that’s repeated in the simpler windows along the north transept. The stylized shamrock and other designs etched into the background of the memorials recur in several of the simpler windows also. After piling through hundreds of images of stained glass, principally English and Scottish, made in the late 19thcentury, we came upon these arresting images.
They are windows from what’s now called the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village, New York, formerly the courthouse for the city’s Third Judicial District, built in 1877. The two women, unlike any other female faces we saw in our survey, appear to be pagan cousins of St. James’s “Faith.” They share her bow-shaped mouth, pale skin, crescent brows, heavy but graceful jawline, and coils of wavy red hair. The three quarter profiles, a penchant for crowns, and the gesture of the figure on the right, touching her heart, are also “family traits.”
Other windows at the Jefferson Market Library are starkly geometric. The combining of circles, squares and diamonds resembles St. James’s “catalogue” windows: those along the nave, in the sacristy, at the church front, and along the north transept. All these are geometric rather than pictorial, and quite simple, unlike the florid renderings of “naturalism” that prevailed in the 1880s. Finally, the delightfully strange colors at the Jefferson Market Library stood out among the many hundreds of windows from this era. Conventional reds, greens, blues and browns are displaced by lavender, an acrid yellow, pinks, maroon, sea green and orange. The library colors reminded us of the surprising tertiary hues of the stained glass at St. James.
St. James’s three memorial windows are indeed dominated by the more standard colors of ecclesiastical stained glass, but not so the “plainer” works. The north transept is subdued but gorgeous, amethyst purple set sparkling with clear panes and accents of apricot and umber. The windows’ simple geometry lets color predominate. Designs of stylized flowers are subtle and stenciled onto some of the smaller panes.
So at last, a name! The Jefferson Market Library’s glass artist has been identified as Charles Booth. Booth worked also in watercolors and oil paints, but he was busiest making windows during this heyday of church building, operating studios both in the United States and in his native England. Like most stained glass artists of his time, however, he worked in relative anonymity. During this era, it was typically the patrons of stained glass windows whose names were recorded, not the designers or fabricators (as is the case with our own Shropshire memorials). Booth gained some international attention only after 1986, when the Metropolitan Museum mounted In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement. Art historian Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen writes “Booth’s published designs, which consist solely of outline, are abstract formal patterns of rigidly symmetrical flowers and leaves. In some cases, the original plant shape has been flattened, simplified and formalized until it appears only as halves or quarters.” She notes the “lighter and fresher” tones of his palette and his use of the “sunflower motif.” There are many stylized sunflowers on the simpler St. James windows and a prominent pair to the right of the “Faith” figure. Several of the St. James geometrics closely resemble Charles Booth’s drawings from 1878.
At the time of the Metropolitan Museum exhibit and catalogue, only “a handful” of Booth windows had been identified. But Donald Clapper, an amateur art historian and music director in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, would change that. Clapper had taken an interest in Booth’s windows at his own Pine Street Presbyterian Church and sometime in the 1980s began studying Booth’s life and compiling an extensive inventory of his pieces both in the U.S. and abroad. He learned that Booth, born 1844 in Liverpool, had come to the United States by 1875 and set up both a glassworks in East Orange, New Jersey, as well as a showroom at 47 Lafayette Place in Manhattan, in a building owned by the city’s Episcopal Diocese.
Booth appears to have shared this display space with Charles F. Hogeman, who specialized in ecclesiastical metalwork. (Hogeman made the jeweled chalice and flagon of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, and may also have made the original cross Rev. Smith “selected” for the steeple of St. James, La Grange). In 1876, they published together “Hints on Church and Domestic Windows, Stained and Decorated” (a thinly disguised sales pamphlet?). And from 1880 until Booth’s death, nearly every issue of The Churchman, the monthly magazine of the Episcopal Church, included a small notice for “Charles Booth -- Glass Stainer,” an ad space shared with Hogeman. (Otto Gaertner, a decorator who specialized in wood and embroidery for churches, shared both advertising and display space with Booth and Hogeman for a period in the 1880s. He may in fact have made the “Holy Holy Holy” which fronts the retable behind the altar at St. James, as well as other wooden decorations in the sanctuary. An identical “Holy Holy Holy” woodwork-facing can be found on the retable at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Maitland, Florida, consecrated in 1883. Charles Booth made several of the windows for this church also).
By 1880, Booth had returned to England and established a studio in London, though he continued to take U.S. commissions regularly through his partner. Once Booth left the U.S., Hogeman took over the studio in East Orange and maintained the showroom at The Churchman building in New York City to market both their work. The archives at the Corning Museum of Glass includes a letter Hogeman wrote to a prospective client, September of 1889, on Charles Booth stationery; he asks for more detailed measurements and requests a face to face meeting with the customer in East Haddam, Connecticut.
Donald Clapper donated his extensive research on Charles Booth, 16 boxes of it, to the Corning Museum. Eventually some St. James parishioner will travel to New York State and enjoy piling through it all for more clues about the windows in La Grange. Unfortunately, Clapper died in 2012, but, thanks to the efforts of Wyn Stephens Flo of Granite Falls, NC, we have come upon a long letter, undated, that Clapper supplied to another small Episcopal church, St. Luke’s in Lincolnton, North Carolina. This church was consecrated in August 1886, less than six months after St. James. Parishioners at St. Luke’s contacted Donald Clapper suspecting that their windows, too, had been made by Charles Booth. We can afford to breeze past similarities (of which there are many) between the Lincolnton windows and our own, and go straight to sure fire evidence: one of St. Luke’s windows duplicates precisely St. James’s memorial mandorlas: “The Lord is My Shepherd” “Therefore Can I Lack Nothing.” St. Luke’s version, also a memorial, bears a different inscription running down its ribbon -- “He Giveth His Beloved Sleep” -- but the design is identical. The same acanthus leaves fill the triangular borders about the mandorla. We see the wound scroll, the same plants and flowers – white hydrangea, the pair of large sunflowers, orange mums, and a cluster of turquoise tinted bay laurel leaves – just bunched somewhat differently about the serpentine inscription.
In reference to this window, Clapper wrote to St. Luke’s parishioner, this design “must have been one of [Booth’s] favorites. There are six or eight copies of it across the country” -- now eight or ten, as we can include the pair at St. James. St. Luke’s also has an image of “Faith,” though not a full-length figure like the woman in St. James’s window. She likewise holds a tall cross with one hand and touches her breastbone with the other. Clapper calls this image “typical of [Booth’s] work.” Now speculation must resume: It seems very likely that Rev. W.G.W. Smith would have encountered Charles Booth’s stained glass on his fundraising trips to the Northeast. Not only was Booth work on display at Grace Episcopal, Calvary and the Jefferson Market Library in New York City, but in the showroom at The Churchman building. Seeking craftsmen to complete the new St. James, La Grange, Smith would likely have seen Booth’s advertisements, too, in The Churchman magazine.
We surmise that Rev. Smith contracted through Charles Hogeman to have Booth make the elaborate memorial trio commissioned by the Shropshire family and ship them on that tortuous journey from England. The other windows, we propose, were designed by Booth for a catalogue collection. Rev. Smith “selected” the designs he favored, and the simpler windows were produced in London or perhaps in the East Orange, New Jersey, studio Hogeman kept in operation after Booth’s departure for England, and even after Booth’s death in 1893.
Does it matter who made the windows of St. James? Probably not. It mattered so little to Charles Booth that he neglected to sign his own work. Do these pieces of church ornamentation and the “Carpenter Gothic” building where they reside communicate anything genuine about our creed, our fellowship, or the mystery of a working, non-allegorical faith? We may well ask. And asking, we find at least one answer: Gratitude, for this place where, like many hundreds of others, we meet to worship and to learn. “Praise God for those in every generation in whom Christ has been honored. Pray that we may have grace to glorify Christ in our own day.”
Booth, Charles. “Examples of Stained Glass, Etc.” Art Worker (February 1878).
Church of the Good Shepherd, Maitland, Orange County, Florida. Continuation Sheet. National Parks Service, National Register of Historic Places, United States Department of the Interior, (8-86) http://www.goodshepherdmaitland.com/about-2/historic-chapel/bobjones.pdf
Clapper, Donald. Collection on Charles Booth. Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY.
Clapper, Donald. Letter to Anita Suttle, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Lincolnton, NC. n.d.
Doros, Jay and Micki, Collection, Box 1, Folder B. Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY.
“Florida’s “Carpenter Gothic Episcopal Churches.” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. June 1991. http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/nrhp/text/64500106.PDF
Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney. “A New Renaissance: Stained Glass in the Aesthetic Period.” In
In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement.
New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1986, pp .177-197.
Fuller, Frank E., et al. The Passion of St. James: A Brief History of St. James Episcopal Church, La Grange, Texas 1855-1976. La Grange, TX: Fayette Publishing, 1976.
“The Historic Chapel: The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.” Maitland, FL. Church of the Good Shepherd, n.d.
Perrin, Richard W.E. “Richard Upjohn: Anglican Churches in the Wilderness.” Wisconsin Magazine of History, Autumn 1961, p. 40ff.
“Running into an Iceberg.” New York Times, May 24, 1885.
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Eltingville, Staten Island, NY (also designed by R.M. Upjohn). http://stalbanssi.dioceseny.org/history.html
St. James Episcopal Church, La Grange, TX. Church ledgers, registries, and vertical files.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Youngtown, Ohio. Registration Form. National Parks Service, National Register of Historic Places, United States Department of the Interior, March 15, 1990.
The Upjohn Collection of Architectural Drawings by Richard, Richard Mitchell, and Hobart Upjohn (c. 1827- 1910). Columbia University Libraries.
Upjohn, Everard M. Richard Upjohn: Architect and Churchman. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1939.
Upjohn, Richard. Designs, Working Drawings, and Specifications for a Wooden Church and Other Rural Structures. 1852
With many thanks to Cathy Sterman, Fr. Eric Hungerford, Pinky Wilson, John Carey, Helen Hays,
Bill Bishop, and Wyn Stephens Flo.
Photos by Bill Bishop and Julie Ardery