History of Trinity's Windows
In October 1885, Porter joined with Trinity’s rector and the Building and Furnishing Committee to meet with John La Farge (1835-1910) who traveled to Buffalo after securing the commission to decorate the new church chancel. La Farge was a well-known artist and muralist who recently completed decorating the interior of Trinity Church in Boston (1876) and later became one of the foremost practitioners of decorative opalescent glass windows. Born in New York City, La Farge studied art in Paris with Thomas Couture but was introduced to the work of the English Pre-Raphaelites during his time in Europe, which became a major influence on his work. Upon his return to America, La Farge continued his art studies with William Morris Hunt who had also studied with the same artist in Paris. La Farge settled in Newport, Rhode Island where he had access to wealthy clients, and his work with Trinity Church, Boston brought him wide acclaim. Many members of Trinity Church, Buffalo traveled in the same circles as the New York/Newport crowd and would have heard or been introduced to the work of John La Farge. One member of the Building and Furnishing Committee was Charlotte Sherman Van Rensselaer Watson (1827-1900), whose ancestry could be traced back to Colonial Dutch New York and the Hudson Valley. Her recently deceased husband had been successful in the grain elevator trade in Buffalo. In addition to being part of the committee that selected La Farge, Mrs. Watson commissioned two memorial windows, one installed in the chancel in 1886 in memory of her husband and the other in the side chapel around 1889.
La Farge was awarded a patent in 1879 for using opalescent glass in decorative windows. In addition to highlighting the opalescent and iridescent effects while lessening the transparency, the glass could be plated to achieve various effects and depths. Lead lines often outlined the composition with only portrait details being painted on the glass. La Farge’s patent failed to include the plating process that was later patented by Tiffany, embroiling them in prolonged legal battles and in competition for commissions. Despite the rivalry with Tiffany, La Farge was recognized as having redefined what was perceived as a dying art form through a new method of literally painting with glass, rather than painting on glass. Its initial introduction to the American art world quickly spread internationally. Shortly before his death in 1910, a New York Times article stated that La Farge’s greatest achievement was his revolutionizing of the art of stained glass:
Technically, his greatest specific contribution has been, no doubt, the extension of the possibilities of what is called ‘stained glass’ and the discovery of new ways of turning it to artistic uses…[H]is discovery, made some forty years ago, is now being followed by all the recognized artists of Europe while even Japan has begun to imitate it and will soon make a strong bid for international recognition. Emperor William is greatly encouraging the American method among the artists of Germany, while in Paris, Vienna and throughout the artistic centres of Europe many artists are at work on it…The process of making a colored glass window is complex and the work laborious, intricate, and expensive. Mr. La Farge himself has been an inveterate experimentalist, trying many devices for increasing the beauty of his result and utilizing the most secret resources of his material, and in the sum of his work, from his first essays with bits of opaque glass, undertaken to while away certain hours of convalescence, to the wonderful cloisonné window recently bought by the Worcester Museum, we find almost every conceivable combination possible to an artist. (“La Farge Revolutionized the Art of Stained Glass,” New York Times, 1 May 1910, SM14)
La Farge’s visit to Buffalo in 1885 allowed him to see the church under construction and the placement and dimensions of the windows. The work at Trinity came at a crucial time in La Farge’s career when scandal kept clients from commissioning new works. In 1884, serious disputes with partners in his La Farge Decorative Art Company escalated into charges of grand larceny resulting in La Farge’s arrest in May 1885. The charges were dismissed but the damage had been done, as work was halted and new commissions failed to materialize. The company dissolved in October 1885 making La Farge’s trip to Buffalo necessary. He was keen to rebuild his reputation, and the opportunity to decorate the church almost seemed to be divine intervention. He already had the contract to decorate the chancel and by the time he left Buffalo, La Farge had additional contracts for the Rose Window and five lancet windows in the west wall. Part of the original contract included fourteen ornamental common stained glass windows in the nave that were intended to be replaced by memorial commissions. The Building and Furnishing Committee contracted with La Farge to produce the temporary windows for $1 per square foot. All but three of these windows were replaced in the years following the building’s completion up to the present, four of the commissions going to La Farge.
In addition to the glass work, La Farge also decorated the ceiling and walls of the chancel. In late March 1886, La Farge’s artists erected scaffolding and staging in the nearly completed chancel. The work began on April 1st and took approximately one week to complete. La Farge chose an ornamental design that was more geometric rather than scenic to complement the chancel windows rather than overshadow the glass. The ornamental designs were painted directly on the plaster ceiling and walls with encaustic paints specially formulated and normally used by La Farge. The area around the windows consisted of rectangular forms painted in green tones. The same green tones were carried into the vaulted ceiling and walls but overlaid with gilt scrollwork.
According to church records, Trinity’s Furnishing Committee raised $6000 for the interior work, which included a memorial chancel window for The Rev. Dr. Edward Ingersoll, Trinity’s rector from 1844 to 1874, and a Rose Window, referred to by La Farge as the St. Catharine’s Window. La Farge agreed to the sum of $400 for the Rose Window, paid by the Ladies’ Aid Society. Funds for the Ingersoll window were raised by general subscription from the congregation and amounted to $2000. Individual donors were responsible for the remainder of the chancel memorial windows at $1000 each. The Transfiguration was the subject for the Ingersoll window with the design based on a well-known painting by Giovanni Bellini (c. 1480). The window consisted of three lancets and was the largest in the chancel, intended to be the centerpiece in a series of scenes in the life of Christ. The window displayed a transfigured Christ with Moses on his left and Elijah on his right. Below, the disciples Peter, James and John recoiled in awe. The chancel’s projecting high altar threatened to obscure the disciples and La Farge reconfigured the lower portion of the window to account for the altar. After completion, the window was publically displayed at the H.B. Herts & Sons Fifth Avenue showroom in New York City before being shipped to Buffalo for installation. The remaining windows on the north were the Ascension, given by General Rufus L. Howard and his wife Maria Field in memory of one of their daughters, and Noli Me Tangere, given by Charlotte Sherman Van Renssalaer Watson, in memory of her husband Stephen van Renssalaer Watson. The window depicted a resurrected Christ commanding a kneeling Mary Magdalene to “Touch me not.” To the south of the central Transfiguration window was the Adoration of the Magi, an Epiphany theme showing the Magi kneeling in awe of the Christ Child, given by Mary Laverack in memory of her parents. Next was The Repose in Egypt portraying the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, given in memory of Dr. James P. White, a co-founder of the University of Buffalo’s medical school and a past member of the Christ Church vestry.
When the church celebrated its first service on Easter Sunday 1886, all the decorative glass in the sanctuary was by John La Farge. Between 1886 and 1897, twelve impressive memorial windows were installed in the sanctuary, four created by the studios of John La Farge and five by Tiffany Studios, including a Frederick Wilson (Tiffany Studios) designed window of the Archangels Raphael and Gabriel. One of the La Farge windows, the “Watson Window” was commissioned by Charlotte Sherman Van Renssalaer Watson in memory of her mother Anna Margaret Van Dalfsen Sherman and her aunt, Gertrude Van Dalfsen. La Farge wanted to produce a window for display at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris, one of several international expositions that highlighted culture, commerce and technology from around the world. Mrs. Watson only agreed to finance his venture with the assurance that the window be installed in the Trinity Episcopal Church side chapel following the exposition. In addition to personal acclaim for La Farge, the window added to the international reputation of American Art glass through its display in the Paris Exposition Universelle and contributed to the rebirth of stained glass window industry in Europe.
La Farge’s window for the exposition was formally titled the Angel Sealing the Servants of God with the scene based on the description of an event in the Book of Revelation where an angel sealed 144,000 servants of God. La Farge used four figures to depict the event with one being the angel. The imagery was produced with thousands of pieces of glass and flesh details that were painted by Juliette Hanson, La Farge’s preferred glass painter. La Farge also adapted the window to account for the peaked altar in the chapel leaving a space where the wood blocked the glass. The base panel of the window was inscribed “John La Farge with help of Thomas Wright”. (Wright was originally part of the La Farge Decorative Art Company who left to co-found the Decorative Stained Glass Company. He was one of La Farge’s preferred glassworkers. Julie Sloan and James Yarnall, “Art of the Opaline Mind: The Stained Glass of John La Farge, American Art Journal, vol. 24, nos. 1-2, 17)
The Tiffany windows contain the rich colors and window textures characteristic of Tiffany Studios achieved through manipulating glass and plating. The rest of the windows follow the more traditional flashed glass process of painting on glass and are more two-dimensional than the accompanying La Farge and Tiffany Windows.
Viewing all the windows reveals the revival and development of ecclesiastical art glass in the late nineteenth century that was begun by La Farge, perfected by both his and Tiffany’s studios and transported to Europe, represented by the Hardman and Mayer windows. The two windows from Willetts Studios symbolize the reaction to the art glass tradition and a return to the stained glass art form of the medieval craftsman.
One of the most striking features of Trinity church is the intensity of color in the windows. This is the hallmark of opalescent glass, invented by John Lafarge and refined by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the late 1800s – read the The History of Trinity’s Windows. Trinity is unique in that it has masterpieces of both of these artists who brought about an artistic and technical revolution in the art of stained glass making. Instead of painting on glass, as had been done for centuries, the color in opalescent glass comes from within through the addition of chemicals while still in its molten state. It is then manipulated to alter its thickness and surface. The folds and ripples in the glass along with the layering of multiple pieces, leaded together, give depth to the design.These are not nearly all the windows at Trinity. To see all of them and their true beauty, please visit us at 371 Delaware Ave. Buffalo, NY 14202 or email or, call 716-852-8314 ext. 10 for times you can visit.