Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stained Glass in Dutch New York

As I researched a branch of my family, I came across references to the Teller family coat of arms that was supposedly displayed in stained glass at the Reformed Dutch Church in Albany in the 17th century. Conveniently for the family legend, this church was destroyed by fire so nothing remained.

Piecing together my family tree, I began to suspect that the stained glass window and the coat of arms was a myth. The first red flag came when I learned, from looking at New Netherlands and early New York City court records, that the family came from Scotland and the name was Tailler.

The next red flag arose when I learned that in the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century a "family coat of arms" industry emerged. My research of the people who came to the Dutch colony in the 17th century, were farmers, mariners, traders and trades people. Certainly not the kind of person with a coat of arms.

Another red flag sprung up after I studied what a coat of arms was and how one was awarded. At that moment, I did not believe that my Teller ancestor's had a German family coat of arms nor that the family donated a stained glass window with the family coat of arms to the Albany church.

Next I made a virtual visit to the Stained Glass Association of America website and found a page on the history of stained glass. ( At this site, I learned that stained glass fell out of favor as a result of the Reformation. Protestants frowned on elaborate art and decoration in both church and home. By 1640, colored glass was scarce.

This did not surprise me in the least as it was consistent with what I learned in my Lutheran confirmation classes.

A painter and glazier in New Amsterdam, Evert Duyckinck created small windows for public buildings with the city crest painted on white glass rather than using stained glass as it was not used in Europe during this period. In fact, much of the stained glass in the churches in England was destroyed. At the time of the French Revolution, stained glass was still considered decadent. It wasn’t until 1843 that stained glass was revived as an art-form. This coincided with the Gothic Revival period in architecture.

Reading page 390 of "The Preservation of Historic Architecture" written by the United States Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, Technical Preservation Services Division, I learned that glass manufacturing was attempted in Jamestown, Boston, and Philadelphia between 1607 and 1700, but the endeavors failed and glass was imported from England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The book also indicated that windows painted by Duyckinck and others were oval or round medallions that typically bore an illustrated Dutch proverb. In line with information from the Stained Glass Association of America, the book also states that the social values in addition to the high cost restricted the use of stained and ornamental glass and in particular with regard to churches.

Esther Singleton in her book, "Dutch New York" published in 1909, says on Page 43 the following:

"In numerous pictures by the Little Masters we see coats-of-arms in colored glass in the windows of the prosperous class. This taste was undoubtedly indulged also in New Netherland."

I am afraid the Ms. Singleton has engaged in speculation. She is writing her book in the midst of the mass immigration from Eastern Europe and at a time that an industry emerged to illustrate one's family coat of arms.

Back to stained glass. Its renaissance first occurred in the United States where a very wealthy class was emerging. Not only did we begin to see stained glass used in churches but also in private homes. Tiffany and later Frank Lloyd Wright created items besides windows using stained glass.

The Protestant religions that had vigorously opposed elaborate art and decoration embraced this revived art-form. As churches needed funds to renovate, the church leaders saw an opportunity to raise funds. Thus was created the memorial window. The Stoutenburgh windows in the Reformed Church in Hyde Park are examples of such windows.

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