Detail from stained glass window, The Resurrection, by John La Farge (1902) at Trinity Church in the City of Boston.
Detail from stained glass window, The Resurrection, by John La Farge (1902) at Trinity Church in the City of Boston.
Posted in Inspiration, tagged American history, art, art history, beauty, emigration, faith, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Inspiration, race relations, religion, storytelling on February 9, 2017| 10 Comments »
Editorial note: This post was written in part in response to the current Presidential administration’s recent remarks this Black History Month, and its seeming lack of knowledge regarding black history in this country. It is also written to share in brief the life and work of an artist whose work I have always admired.
Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859 and grew up in Philadelphia. Tanner’s father, who happened to be a friend of Frederick Douglass, was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church. Tanner’s mother, who had escaped slavery in Virginia via the Underground Railroad, taught private school in the home. Both staunch believers in education, they made sure their son, the eldest in a large family, was well-educated and prepared for a successful career in a conventional job.
Tanner had a slightly alternative idea. He too wanted to be successful and he wanted to be a painter. He’d known since the age of 13 after watching an artist at work in a Philadelphia park. Eventually, his father relented and he was allowed to pursue his artistic calling. In 1879 he was admitted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the first African American student to attend full-time.
Biographers refer to the fact that Tanner would write little about his time at the academy, mostly focusing on what he learned from Thomas Eakins with whom he studied. Regardless, it was an important period in Tanner’s life, not only for what he learned about art but also about human nature.
Already in attendance at the academy prior to Tanner’s arrival was student Joseph Pennell who would one day be recognized as a great American illustrator. In his 1925 memoir Pennell makes note of Tanner’s arrival at the school in a chapter titled, The Coming of the Nigger.
“There was no dissenting voice in the academy against Tanner’s presence. He came, he was young, an octoroon, very well dressed, far better than most of us. His wool, if he had any, was cropped so short you could not see it, and he had a nice mustache. … he drew very well. He was quiet and modest, and he “painted too” it seemed “among his other accomplishments.” We were interested at first but he soon passed almost unnoticed … Little by little however we were conscious of a change. I can hardly explain, but he seemed to want things; we seemed in the way, and the feeling grew.”
One night while out on the town with Pennell and other students, Tanner was mocked by other African Americans for being with the white students. Pennell recalls, “Then he began to assert himself and, to cut a long story short, one night his easel was carried out into the middle of Broad Street, and though not painfully crucified, he was firmly tied to it and left there. And that is my only experience of my colored brothers in a white school. Curiously there has never been a great Negro or great Jew artist in the history of the world. …”
Tanner studied at the academy through 1885. By 1889 he moved to Atlanta. He was unsuccessful in a photography business venture. During this period he made the acquaintance of Bishop Joseph Hartzell of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Hartzel and his wife became patrons, helping Tanner secure a teaching position at Clark College, encouraging him to exhibit his work and eventually funding a trip for him to Europe. In Europe, Tanner discovered an environment where he was not a “negro painter,” he was simply an American painter. In 1891, he emigrated to Paris where he would study at the Academie Julian.
After contracting typhoid fever, he returned briefly to the U.S. to recuperate. During this period he delivered a speech at The Chicago Congress on Africa at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition about negro artists and sculptors. In 1893 he would also complete one of his most iconic works, The Banjo Lesson. Tanner had originally sketched this scene in the late 1880s while traveling in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
In two paintings, Tanner portrays the beauty and dignity of African Americans, and does so in a way that is purposefully counter to the increasingly derogatory depictions of African Americans in art, newspapers and other consumer publications. Numerous prints of these paintings were made and hung in the homes of African Americans as a source of pride and inspiration. Tanner would produce few, if any other, such paintings of African Americans. Regardless, wherever Tanner traveled in the world, he captured the vibrancy of the people he saw around him.
With his religious paintings, he especially played with color and light.
After being moved by Tanner’s Resurrection of Lazarus, department store magnate and art critic Rodman Wanamaker offered to sponsor a trip to Palestine. Tanner traveled throughout North Africa and the Near East. The journey further informed Tanner’s work with religious narrative.
Aside from The Banjo Lesson, Tanner is now most often remembered for the breadth and beauty of his religious themed works.
In 1899, Tanner married Swedish-American opera singer Jessie Olsson. They had one child, Jesse. Tanner continued to paint, exhibiting internationally. He expanded his list of patrons. In 1902, over the course of four months, four of his paintings – Sarah, Hagar, Rachel and Mary – were reproduced in the Ladies’ Home Journal. He became renowned though he would always struggle financially.
As World War I broke out in Europe, Tanner became depressed. He was unable to paint. Or what he painted while respected was not being purchased. He wanted to serve in some way but he was too old to enlist. He shared an idea with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page. His idea: turn the unused fields around the base hospital in Vittel, France into a vegetable garden and organize the convalescing soldiers as a work force. Provide food. Build morale. Page reached out to his counterpart in France and soon after Tanner was attached to the American Red Cross as a Lieutenant in the Farm Services Bureau. In 1919, for his efforts, Tanner received a Foreign Service certificate signed by Woodrow Wilson.
Postwar, Tanner would resume painting and once more receive accolades for his work. In 1923 Tanner was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour for his work as an artist. In 1927 he became the first African American to be granted full membership in the National Academy of Design in New York.
Tanner lived during one of the most contentious periods in U.S. race relations. While he chose to emigrate to France, he always considered himself an American. He was a mentor and adviser to artists of all races studying in Europe. He was vocal in print and in person in support of equal opportunity for artists of all backgrounds. On May 27, 1937, he died at his home in Paris.
Today, Tanner is most often referenced as one of the great African American painters. I suspect he would simply like to be known as a great American artist. His painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City was the first work of art by an African-American artist to be added to the White House Permanent Collection. It was acquired in 1996 from Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter, grandniece of the artist.
Sources & Additional Reading
A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner by Will Smith
Henry Ossawa Tanner: Race, Religion and Visual Mysticism by Kelly J. Baker
Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist by Marcia M. Mathews
Posted in Inspiration, tagged architecture, art, beauty, faith, Inspiration, Jewish history, judaism, Old Testament, stained glass windows, storytelling, Sumter, synagogue, temple, travel on October 6, 2016| 8 Comments »
While traveling in Sumter, South Carolina it was my pleasure to visit the Temple Sinai, founded as a Reform Jewish Congregation. The history of Sumter’s Jewish community dates back to 1815. The first Jews who settled in Sumter were Sephardic and came from Charleston, SC. The current congregation was formed in 1895 by the merger of the Hebrew Cemetery Society and the Sumter Hebrew Benevolent Society. Construction of the congregration’s present temple was begun in 1912 and completed in 1913.
A feature article in the March 1913 Sumter newspaper The Watchman and Southron notes “The Temple is situated on the corner of Church street and Hampton avenue and is an imposing structure of red brick with domed roof … The architectural lines are simple, but the proportions are so good and so well harmonized that the general impression is one of beauty, allied to strength and permanence. As impressive as is the exterior of the Temple, it is the interior that is its chief beauty and glory …”
In terms of architectural style the brick building is Moorish Revival. Eleven stained glass windows grace the interior. Ten of the windows are 5 feet wide by 20 feet high and their shape mimic the building’s moorish towers, each a tall window illustrating a story surmounted by a half-window with further decorative detail. The eleventh window is round and is located high on a back wall. While the specifics of the window designer and makers are elusive, the windows are thought to be handmade in Germany. Installation began in 1912 as indicated in a local newspaper article from September 1912, “The beautiful stained glass windows of Temple Sinai have arrived and are being placed in position.” One month earlier, the same publication had noted, “The work is winding up on the new Jewish synagogue in this city and it will be only a short time now before the remodeled Temple Sinai will be one of the most beautiful places of worship in the city.”
At age 95, Sumter native Robert Moses, a descendant of one of the first Jewish families to settle in Charleston and then in Sumter, is one of the last active members of Temple Sinai. As part of an educational presentation, he describes the windows as late Victorian in style, with rounded tops and interlacing borders giving them an eastern/Moorish look. Known as drapery glass due to the folding of the glass to add depth and color, the brilliant blues have cobalt added and gold was added to brighten the reds.
Each window depicts a scene from the Old Testament including as described in a 1913 newspaper article:
The Test of Faith, involving Abraham and Isaac …
The Blessing – Isaac Blesses Jacob …
Jacob’s Dream …
Vision of Moses when he sees the burning bush …
Moses on Sinai with the Ten Commandments …
Moses on Nebo overlooking the promised land which he is forbidden to enter …
Moses Delivering Laws to Joshua …
Samuel Before Eli …
Elijah in Solitude …
David the Shepherd Boy …
and Solomon at the Dedication of the Temple.
Members of the Moses family were kind enough to allow me entrance into the Temple to photograph details of the windows and share just a bit of the history of people and place. The windows of this place are unique for their pictoral illustration.
Temple Sinai is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, or to inquire how you can help preserve this historic structure, contact Temple Sinai, 11-13 Church Street, P. O. Box 1673, Sumter, South Carolina 29151 or call (803) 773-2122.
Sources and Additional Reading
(1) “House of Worshop of Jewish Congregation to be Dedicated on March 28th, ” The Watchman and Southron, March 8, 1913.
(2) The Watchman and Southron, September 21, 1912.
(3) The Watchman and Southron, August 10, 1912.
to photograph its stained glass windows and along the way I stumbled upon Raphael’s Transfiguration (1516-1520). Not the original of course. That’s in the Vatican. This painting, which my guide at the time knew little about, appears to be a 19th century reproduction. The history of this particular painting – its creation and who gave it to the church – may be lost to history. However, I’ve since learned from a research fellow at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that such reproductions were popular and prints being produced as early as the 16th century.
Transfiguration was Raphael’s last painting. He died at the age of 37 leaving the painting incomplete. It is considered one of his most beautiful works out of a very large body of work. It was a treat to chance upon the reproduction and perhaps one day I will see the actual painting in person. Meanwhile, below is a photograph of Raphael’s handiwork and you can read details on the Vatican Museums website here.
Posted in Inspiration, tagged architecture, art, beauty, churches, colors, design, diversity, faith, Inspiration, Photography, religion, stained glass, stained glass windows on May 11, 2016| 2 Comments »
These windows at St. James’s Episcopal Church by local artisans Daniel Maher and Lyn Lovey express a creativity and diversity that is very modern. It is almost startling to look up and see them in the clerestory after viewing older works by Tiffany, Clayton & Bell, Goodhue and others in other parts of the building. In part that’s because of my own ignorance around stained glass making today and how churches continue to commission their design and installation. Working with glass remains a popular and contemporary art. And in places like St. James, the past and present harmonize quite nicely.
I’ve lived in Boston for almost twenty years and I can’t even imagine how many times I’ve walked along Massachusetts Ave past this church. When I’ve been tired I’ve stepped into its adjacent garden and sat on the church steps. I’ve always wondered, what was behind the red stone? I’m grateful to the rector, sexton and other staff for allowing me to appease my curiosity and glimpse the beauty inside. Until you can make your visit, below are a few images for you to enjoy. And there’s also a link to a very interesting overview of the windows available online.
Detail from chancel windows …
Detail from one of the choir angel windows …
Detail from the Resurrection window…
Detail from David with Harp …
Detail from Dorcas window …
Detail from Saint Dorothea window …
Detail from the Greenleaf window …
Detail from the Nativity window …
Additional Reading and Links
Posted in Inspiration, tagged architecture, art, beauty, Cambridge, faith, Inspiration, John La Farge, religion, St. James Episcopal Church, stained glass, stained glass windows, Tiffany on May 11, 2016| 2 Comments »
As you travel along Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, just outside of Porter Square, you will find St. James’s Episcopal Church, a beautiful stone structure designed by Henry Martyn Congdon in a Richardsonian Romanesque style. While the church was founded in 1864, the cornerstone of the particular building in which I peered today was laid in 1888. Inside is quite a variety of stained and painted glass (and a bell re-cast by Paul Revere!).
While I visited at the wrong time of day and time of year for the best effect, the opalescent windows along the west wall still caught my attention. I visited in early morning in spring but for the windows to be seen as their designers — John La Farge and possibly Tiffany — intended, I will need to visit again in winter in the late afternoon just before sunset.
I’ve already marked my calendar. 🙂
I’m still sorting through pictures and their stories. More to come from my delightful visit. Meanwhile you can learn more about the church, its people and the history of the building here: http://www.stjames-cambridge.org/
Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston is an Episcopal parish located on Newbury Street. Consecrated in 1861 it is a masterpiece among the many architectural treasures to be found in Boston’s Back Bay. Its history as a place of worship and advocate for social justice for over 150 years are well documented on the church’s website. On the day that I and a friend visited to view the interior, an arts program for the homeless was concluding. Based on brief interactions with some of the participants it is clearly an empowering project, and just one of many offered in service to those in need. I hope to learn more in the future but on that day my focus was the stained glass windows. From the literature shared by one of the clergy, the stained glass artists whose work can be found in the church include John Ninian Comper, Charles Connick, Frederic Crowninshield, Harry Eldredge Goodhue, Heaton Butler & Bayne, Charles Eamer Kempe, Tiffany, Samuel West and Henry Wynd Young.
With expansion and construction into the 1920s, there are many different styles represented in the windows of Emmanuel Church.
Windows have been lost over time.
Others have been beautifully restored including the church’s signature window, Emmanuel’s Land, comprised of 15 panels of leaded glass with 17 smaller sections of tracery above, and done in the opalescent style made famous by John La Farge, Louis C. Tiffany and Frederic Crowninshield. Emmanuel’s Land is one of Crowninshield’s largest works.
The window is especially notable because it does not depict a religious scene but instead a scene from John Bunyan’s book, The Pilgrims Progress.
Piety, Discretion, Prudence and Charity show Pilgrim Emmanuel’s Land. The window was designed in memory of Mrs. Howard Payson Arnold, Crowninshield’s mother.
The windows are housed in a structure that has evolved quite a bit over its history from its original construction in 1861. As the parish grew, adjacent plots of land were purchased and new adjoining structures were built including a parish house, west transept, and two chapels. The Lindsey Chapel was the last to be built between 1920-1924. A poignant tale is at the heart of its construction but I shall save that story and those images for another post.
In this post I’ve shared just a brief glimpse of the windows inside this lovely church. I hope you have the chance to see firsthand. Learn more about the church via the following link: