Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, March 31, 2017

William Jay Bolton's Stained Glass Windows in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn

William Jay Bolton was a son of the Reverend Robert Bolton, founder of Christ Church and owner of the Priory, built beginning in 1838.  His mother was Ann Jay.  The Priory, in Pelham Manor, has been known as The Priory, Bolton Priory, Pelham Priory, the Priory School for Girls, and Pelham Priory for Girls.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

William Jay Bolton was born in Bath, England.  He attended an evangelical school in Mill Hill near London and then attended Cambridge University.  In 1836, he and his family moved to Eastchester in Westchester County, New York.  In about 1838, the family moved to Pelham and began to build the Priory.  About 1839, famed author Washington Irving (a family friend), introduced William Jay Bolton to Samuel F. B. Morse.  He became a student of Morse at the National Academy of Design as he honed his skills as a talented artist.  According to one account:

"In 1841 Bolton went to Europe where he saw masterpieces of art, mostly in Italy. Here he did many drawings and sketches of these and bought art for the family home. In 1842 Bolton returned to Pelham where he earnestly began his work in stained glass. Here he had a small shop at the rear of a house near the "Pelham Priory," the Gothic Revival family home in Pelham. The equipment he had to work with was sparse. He had a muffle kiln, which was used for firing his work after he painted details on the coloured glass. Bolton's younger brother John (1818–1898) assisted him in making and designing stained glass."

Source:  "William Jay Bolton" in Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (visited Mar. 19, 2017).

William Jay Bolton was an exceptional artist eventually admitted to the National Academy of Design.  He taught himself the art of stained glass by creating a few small panels for the windows of the Priory.  He later created for Christ Church a monumental stained glass masterwork entitled "Adoration of the Magi."  It was the first figural stained glass window created in America.  (See image later in this article.)  The "Adoration of the Magi" figural stained glass work was completed and in place by the time the church was consecrated on September 15, 1843.  This work preceded his master work, the extensive stained glass windows at the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, New York.

"Miriam and Jubal," Painted and Stained Glass Window by
William Jay Bolton with Assistance of His Brother, John
Bolton, Installed in Holy Trinity Church, Brooklyn, New York.
Source:  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, William Jay Bolton.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

William Jay Bolton moved to England in about the late 1840s where he opened a stained glass studio in Cambridge.  After the death of his first wife, he ceased his stained glass work and became an ordained minister in an Anglican Church in about 1853.  He was Vicar of Stratford East Church in London from 1866 to 1881.  He also was associated with St. James Church in Bath from 1881 to 1884.  He died in Bath in 1884.  Se"William Jay Bolton" in Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia (visited Mar. 19, 2017).

William Jay Bolton's stained glass works in the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn are considered his masterworks.  The church, with its masterful Bolton windows, still stands at Montague and Clinton Streets, Brooklyn.  There are fifty windows in the series.  All were not only designed by William Jay Bolton, but also were personally executed by him.  Some believe he was assisted in the execution by a brother, John Bolton.  The church opened in 1847, although the Bolton stained glass windows reportedly were not complete at the time the church first opened.  According to one account, "neither the exact date of completion nor their original cost is recorded."

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of an extensive article published in 1933 about the Bolton windows.

"WILLIAM JAY BOLTON, A. N. A. 1816-1884"
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

"Adoration of the Magi," America's First Figural Stained Glass Window.
Created by William Jay Bolton for Christ Church, Pelham Manor, NY.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Bolton Cottage Used by William Jay Bolton as a Stained Glass
Studio During the Mid-19th Century, Since Razed.  Source: Courtesy
of the Office of the Historian of the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

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"Art Treasures in Church Windows
Rare Examples of Stained Glass Adorn Windows of Brooklyn Heights Church
By Esther A. Coster

STAINED glass has always made a strong appeal to lovers of beauty, not only for the fascinating play of color but for the romance that still surrounds the art in its most glorious period.  Many of the secrets of the matters of the Middle Ages have been lost, although modern craftsmen have evolved beauties in glass with increasing skill.

One of the stories showing the value placed upon stained glass windows is that of the capture of Francis I at the battle of Pavia and the subsequent demand that part of the ransom should consist of a specified window of the Middle Ages are still treasured and their loss or injury considered a national calamity.

In the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity at Montague and Clinton Streets, Brooklyn, are some of the finest examples of stained glass windows in this country, and they are considered by art authorities to compare most favorable with the best of European glass.  These are all the work of one man, William Jay Bolton, who not only designed but personally executed the entire series of fifty windows.

His method was one essentially his own, being closely akin to the old Flemish manner with the design painted and fired into ground or colored glass, using the strong simple colors of the great artificers of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries.  His colors are clear, strong and exceedingly brilliant.  His leads are so placed that they enhance rather than interrupt the drawing, and his shadows distributed with full understanding of the effect of light shining through rather than of realistic lines.

These windows are placed along the sides of the church, one set below and one above the gallery, in both sides of the clerestory, and in the choir loft.  The climax of the series is the huge chancel window of many panels, representing the 'Glorification of Christ,' often called 'The Ascension.'

The windows portray history as given in the Bible, the clearstory, giving Old Testament scenes beginning with Adam driven out of Eden.  Above the gallery the series is continued with the life of Christ, the original crayon drawing of the Babe for 'Adoration' being one of the treasured possessions of the church.  Below the gallery the windows deal with the genealogy of Jesus, closing with 'Joseph-Mary-Christ.'  The Tree of Jesse serves as a connecting thought in all.  In the choir are the four writers of the Gospels.

The windows as well as the church building were due to the foresight, devotion and generosity of Edgar John Bartow, one of the wealthy men of his time whose dream was to build and equip a beautiful church which should be free in every sense.  The Gothic design with its flamboyant stone tracery for the windows was the work of Minard Lafever.  His design was more simple than the donor at first desired, but the building, formally opened in 1847, remains today essentially as Lafever left it.  Unfortunately financial reverses prevented the complete fulfillment of Mr. Bartow's dream.

The windows were not completed when the church was opened, and neither the exact date of completion nor their original cost is recorded.  However, some indication of the difficulty in replacing Bolton's work is found in a recent accident to one of the choir loft windows.  Boys casting stones at pigeons pierced one of the windows through both the exterior protecting glass and the precious inner color.  A piece that happened to be the head of one of the Apostles was shattered.  The best expert available was engaged and at a cost of much study, considerable time, and $40 the small piece was restored as closely as possible to its original appearance.

The late Otto Heinigke, one of the leading stained glass workers of his time, said in January, 1906, of these windows:  'There is nothing in this wide country so worthy of our effort at preservation as this valuable work of one of our pioneers, based as it is on the best traditions of a most influential phase of the art, the Flemish style of glass painting.  Let us pray for the quality of courage that this man displayed when he dared to do such work.'

In the vestibule is a window of more modern date and type, but even the veriest amateur must at a glance note unfavorably the contrast in color and craftsmanship with the Bolton glass.

These windows of Holy Trinity belong in a class of which only four outstanding examples exist, and which are described as 'shrines of the glass lover.'  These are in Sainte Chapelle in Paris, Fairford near Oxford, Egmontiers and Sainte Foye at Conches.  Holy Trinity's windows are catalogued by foreign critics
(Continued on page 17)

Art Treasures in Church Windows
(Continued from page 7)

among the art treasures worthy of attention by visitors to this country, and are listed as one of the worthwhile 'sights' of New York City.

The artist Bolton was grandson of an Englishman  who settled in Georgia and became a prosperous planter.  His father was a clergyman who lived for some years in England where William was born, in 1816.  The family returned to American in 1843 and erected Bolton Priory at Pelham, Westchester County.  There, anticipating the William Morris movement, they developed art and handicrafts.  William turned his attention to stained glass and executed some of the windows in Bolton Priory.  These and the Holy Trinity windows are the chief examples of his work in America, as he established a glass studio in Cambridge, England, soon after the Trinity windows were completed.  There he restored the windows in King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

Dr. Robert L. Dickinson, one of the enthusiastic admirers of the work of Bolton and Lafever and to whom the church owes the collection of photographs and drawings of the windows, told of a visit he made to England to visit a daughter of Bolton, who though bedridden for many years recovered sufficiently to visit America to see the windows of which her modest father had never spoken.

In her garret home Dr. Dickinson discovered the drawing of the baby for the 'Adoration' window, which had been lost for sixty years, and brought it back to become one of Holy Trinity's historic treasures.  

The Gethsemane window with its three panels is one of the designs that is planned especially to be viewed at a distance.  In this also in one of those 'asides' introduced as a personal link between the artist and the beholder.  Dr. Dickinson speaks of this as 'the dove, the spirit of peace, dropping down out of the dark toward the lonely figure that kneels in the central panel.'

Above the panels of every window is a marvelous rose window effect with each small inset of glass perfect in design and color and allied in significance with the window beneath.  In many of the windows the text in the Bible upon which the design is based is painted in the glass.

The entire interior of the church glows with the rich color that flows through the glass.  One's first impression is of a very limited palette of strong hues, but then the delicate shadings become evident and give an indescribable effect of harmony and peace."

Source:  Coster, Esther A., "Art Treasures in Church Windows -- Rare Examples of Stained Glass Adorn Windows of Brooklyn Heights Church" in The Eagle Magazine, pp. 7 & 17 Section G. of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 8, 1933 (Brooklyn, NY).  

Immediately below are black and white images of some of the Bolton windows that were published with the article above, on page 7 of The Eagle Magazine.  

NOTE:  Click on Images to Enlarge.

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I have written before about William Jay Bolton and his stained glass creations.  For a few of many examples, see:

Fri., May 08, 2015:  More About William Jay Bolton of Pelham: Creator of First Figured Stained Glass Windows in America.  

Wed., Sep. 24, 2014:  Where Was the Bolton Family Cottage Where Stained Glass Windows Were Created?

Tue., Oct. 09, 2007:  Biographical Data About William Jay Bolton of Pelham.

Fri., Jan. 19, 2007:  The Harp of Pelham: A Book Published in 1844 by William Jay Bolton of Pelham Manor.

Mon., Apr. 4, 2005:  Art and Poetry of William Jay Bolton of Bolton Priory in Pelham.

Thu., Apr. 7, 2005:  Another Volume of William Jay Bolton's Sketches and Ruminations Located? 

Fri., Apr. 1, 2005:  The Earliest Newspaper in Pelham?

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