The region’s stained glass has been a U.S. 1 topic of interest for the past few years. And while the practice of creating the glass reaches back centuries, the practice has also been very much alive in this region, where there are links connecting glass artists and traditions.
Roosevelt Artist’s Stained Glass Shines in Morven Talk
“The commissioning of Jacob Landau to interpret these prophets and to translate their message into the 10 stained glass windows that depict ‘The Prophetic Quest’ could hardly have been more appropriate. He, too, uses symbols and visions; his messages, too, are prophetic,” wrote Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Kneeland McNulty in 1974 when the late Roosevelt artist’s stained glass works were completed in Elkins Park.
Landau and his stained glass works will be discussed on Wednesday, January 22, at Morven as part of its current exhibition, “Dreaming of Utopia: Roosevelt, New Jersey,” on view through May 10.
Landau was one of the artists who helped build Roosevelt’s reputation as a community of artists. He had previously lived in New York City and Paris.
A nationally noted illustrator, painter, and printmaker whose works are in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum, the Philadelphia-born Landau balanced commissions for major publishers and recording companies with his own artistic vision.
Known as an artist who explored the extremes of the human soul, he used his works to illuminate injustice and brutality and often used language and quotations and Biblical and literary allusions.
Commissioned by the Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel to commemorate the occasion of leaving its Philadelphia origins to the its new building in Elkins Park, the series of 24-foot-by-5-foot windows reflects Landau’s combination of flowing imagery and powerful statement and a dynamic and changing evocation of the readings of the prophets Abraham, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Second Isaiah, Job, and Malachi.
It was Landau who proposed the subject matter in order to explore God’s decree that humans live justly and the human struggle to deal with evil and pain.
Landau’s first and seemingly only stained glass work, the work featuring 30,000 pieces with 100 colors was fabricated in Philadelphia by the Willet Company. One of the premier American stained glass companies, Willet also created glass for Trinity Church in Princeton and Princeton University Chapel. The company, now Willet Hauser, has relocated to Minnesota.
Landau’s collaborator was Benoit Gilsoul, an internationally known Belgian-born stained glass maker who created for Willet as well as with his own studio. In addition to designing the glass for universities and churches, Gilsoul also created the artistically etched glass walls for the Hughes Justice Center in Trenton.
David Herrstrom will lead the illustrated presentation at Morven. A Roosevelt poet and writer, Herrstrom is the president of the Jacob Landau Institute and co-author of the forthcoming book “The Prophetic Quest: The Windows of Jacob Landau.”
Jacob Landau’s “The Prophetic Quest,” Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. Wednesday, January 22, 6:30 p.m. $10. 609-924-8144. www.morven.org.
Regional Stained Glass Artists Maintaining the Faith
With design and work in three Trenton churches and a studio in Bucks County, stained glass artist and fabricator Don Hector is following a tradition set up in the region in the early 20th century.
That was when noted Bucks County artist and stained glass maker George Sotter opened his studio and attracted or trained glass makers Edward Byrne and Valentine d’Ogries.
Sotter moved to the region in part to work with Princeton University architect Ralph Cram, a proponent of the Neo-Gothic approach where stained glass would let bands of brilliant light pierce the atmosphere and stimulate the imagination or soul.
And while the three worked nationally, they also had an effect on Trenton. Sooter created stained glass for the New Jersey State House Annex. d’Ogries created the glass for Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and Byrne provided the colorful windows for St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Even though Hector, 67, only met and talked to Edward Byrne Jr, who worked with his father on St. Mary’s, Hector was actually picking up the pieces of a shattered Trenton stained glass tradition.
“I met (Edward Byrne Jr.) when they were selling off his assets,” says Hector in his Upper Black Eddy home that houses his studio.
That was in the early 1980s, and despite some occasional work, the stained glass industry started falling on tough times.
“There isn’t much money in it,” says Hector, who has created glass designs for restaurants and private homes. “And getting glass isn’t easy.”
He says the problems are related to fewer churches being built and national Environmental Protection Act regulations involving stained glass manufacturing.
The latter involves the use of metals that cause cancer and the need to build taller smokestacks.
“A lot of (glass providers) were really old and weren’t making too much in the first place. So they just stopped,” he says.
The result is less available quality glass, higher prices, and churches struggling to keep open and service their communities.
Hector says that when he started in the business, there were 10 major suppliers. Now there are two.
“Stained glass is really on hard times,” says Hector. “Even if I get a commission I have to rely on my 40 years of stock. It’s hard to get stuff.”
Looking back, Hector says, “One of my first jobs was removing glass in Trenton.”
The city is also where he lived and worked before turning to stained glass design.
Hector was raised in Oradell, New Jersey. His father was vice president of Prentice Hall Publishing and his mother stayed at home.
After studying English at Rutgers and planning to teach, he changed his direction and ended up working for the State of New Jersey Department of Insurance.
Playing music on the side, Hector — then married and with a house in East Amwell — came in contact with Bucks County musician, sculptor, and engraver Charles Ellis.
“When I saw his work I was blown away, and I said to myself, ‘Let me see if I could be an artist,’” says Hector.
He left the state job around 1980, sold the house in East Amwell, and moved to Tyler Street in Trenton to keep his expenses low.
While living in Trenton, he began to learn to draw and took informal lessons from an associate who convinced him to “get his feet wet” by entering competitions.
After getting honorable mention in the annual Phillips Mill juried art show, he says he was encouraged and ready to take the next step to make a living as an artist.
His medium of choice was stained glass. “At the time you could make money at arts crafts fairs,” he says. “There was also Jinx Harris Productions. She’d have artists for malls. After about a year of doing that, I was in Flemington and people were opening a restaurant, and asked if I could do their glass. I said, ‘Of course I could,’ but I hadn’t done a large-scale work. They gave me my first big commission to do the inside of the restaurant.”
“I taught myself everything,” he says. “I had to teach myself how to carve and paint glass. No one was teaching (stained glass). You could pick things up, but there weren’t any old guys taking apprentices. It was really hard to get guidance.”
Hector credits word of mouth references for his 39 years of business.
Some of his early work involved restoring Trenton churches, but he stopped because of health concerns related to chipping and breathing in powder from lead-based putty. “I got a lead test and it spiked, and I said I wasn’t going to do it,” he says.
While early clients included Trenton’s Diamond’s Kent Cafe and other restaurants, later ones included Catholic churches, synagogues, the Lawrenceville School, and Princeton University.
About his artistic approach, Hector says, “I try to master every period. I do traditional saints. I do very traditional portraits, yet I do abstract. That’s the way it is. You look for juxtapositions that are interesting. To work in one particular style is boring.”
Although he says he emulates no particular stained-glass artist or painter, he readily mentions fin-de-siecle Irish stained glass maker Harry Clarke. “What he did with glass no one else did.”
Hector says his current business includes “an English Folly” for Helen Chaitman, the Frenchtown-based lawyer who is suing Bernie Madoff. “We’re doing a Greek temple, and all around the exterior we’re doing the stained glass.” “We” includes his partner, muralist Joann Mazzeo.
He also created 12 windows for a Jewish congregation in New Hope, one of which remembers the late Trenton boaster Caren Franzini, former head of the New Jersey Economic Development Association and a catalyst for the creation of the development corporation Greater Trenton.
And he is working with English architect Sarah Susanka. “The book she’s famous for is ‘The Not So Big House’ — a modernist style with efficient use of space. I’m working on a stained glass mosaic of Katsushika Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ for a pool area. And I still do commissions for private homes,” he says.
Then, he says, there are a lot of things he makes for himself and then sells. That mainly means a series of rosettes — round glass pieces, ranging in price from $2,000 to $3,000. Other works can reach into the five figures.
While Hector is now in the process of transitioning like the stained glass makers before him, he actually has seeded the Trenton-Bucks County connection to another generation.
In Trenton he became friends with a couple who had a son, Zach Green, who became interested in art and stained glass and now owns and operates Princeton Stained Glass in Jersey City.
In addition to taking class with taking classes with contemporary New Jersey stained glass maker J. Kenneth Leap, Green also received guidance from Hector, who gave him a box of Tiffany glass.
“He’s done some Irish bars in New York City,” says Hector who sums everything up by saying, “If you get into an art form, you have to know it all.”
Don Hector/Art Glass, Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania. www.donhectorstainedglass.com
U.S. 1 editor Dan Aubrey will provide talks and tours of the region’s stained glass at two churches featuring glass works by renowned Tiffany Glass Company: St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 140 Warren Street, Trenton, Saturday, January 25, 3 p.m. , and Princeton United Methodist Church, 7 Vandeventer Avenue, Princeton, Sunday, January 26, 12:30 p.m. The events are free.
Aubrey has been documenting and writing on the region’s glass heritage and manages the Stained Glass Project of Greater Trenton and Princeton Facebook page. For more information, contact Aubrey at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.