Five years ago, the Museum of London donated to the Rakow Research Library a large collection of rolled, full-scale design drawings from the Whitefriars Glass Company, formerly Powell and Sons (1834-1980). This collection, the Whitefriars Collection of Stained Glass Designs, contains over 1800 drawings and came to us inside 113 large crates.
The drawings were very much working documents at the time of their creation (as evidenced by the number of coffee rings we’ve spotted on the designs themselves!). However, the role these drawings played in the process of assembling stained glass windows was essential. They provided—in full-scale and with a little imagination—an accurate representation of how a window would appear after installation. Pinpricks can often be found along the outlines of the designs; these holes provided enough space for soot to be packed against the paper and left behind on the walls in order to gauge how a design would look in real space. When they came to us, the drawings were housed in plastic bags covered in soot; additionally, in most cases, the paper was very brittle.
I was part of a small team that worked diligently for over two years to rehouse these fragile designs and protect them from further damage. As a result, the rolls are now housed inside multiple layers of acid-free tissue paper, tied at each end with archival twill tape, and arranged by size and geography in an environmentally controlled space in the Library.
Many of the windows that resulted from these drawings can still be found today in churches and homes throughout the world. We were hoping for just such a match when we happened upon four designs labeled “Park Church, Elmira, NY.” This church, just a twenty minute drive from the Museum, has a rich history. It was founded in 1846 by a group of people so strongly opposed to slavery that they broke away from their former church over the issue. Among those founding members were Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon who helped Frederick Douglass escape slavery. Their daughter, Livy, married Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) and Samuel and Livy Clemens also attended services at the church.
The Park Church staff was delighted to learn of this discovery and immediately invited us to come over for a scavenger hunt. We were all thrilled to discover a matching window for each of our four stained glass design drawings. Three of those windows—and the matching designs—are below.
Since this collection is still largely unprocessed, mostly because of conservation needs, we are excited about the possibility of discovering more matches in the future.
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (#LG-55-14-0110-14).