Beaverbrook Art Gallery adds historic stained glass to collection

·4 min read
The Beaverbrook Art Gallery's newest addition is a stained glass work from a St. Stephen church. (John Leroux - image credit)
The Beaverbrook Art Gallery's newest addition is a stained glass work from a St. Stephen church. (John Leroux - image credit)

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery has acquired its first piece of stained glass art and collections manager John Leroux says it's replete with New Brunswick historical significance and the beauty of the craft.

"It's a stunning piece and we're so lucky to have it," said Leroux.

"It really connects to New Brunswick. So New Brunswickers will absolutely love this window."

The two-metre in diameter, round glass came from a Baptist church in St. Stephen that was demolished a few years ago and is dedicated to candy-company co-founder and former New Brunswick Lt-Gov. Gilbert White Ganong, who had been in the role less than a year before he died in 1917.

It shows a field of lilies — which are typically viewed as representing sympathy or rejuvenation of the soul, noted Leroux — surrounding the New Brunswick coat of arms.

In the background, the sun is setting over a city, possibly meant to look like Jerusalem.

It has many shades of blue and green and white opalescent stained glass, he said, "similar to what you'd see in a Tiffany window."

"When we turn people around to see it, they're just awestruck by the quality and the colour."

New location

The glass has been installed in front of a large north-facing window in a stairwell in the new wing of the gallery, overlooking the river. Leroux expects it will be there permanently.

"It has beautiful light coming through it all day," he said.

When you look at it, you can see both the artist's landscape in the piece and the natural landscape of trees and water in the background.

Sarah Morin/CBC
Sarah Morin/CBC

"It's beautiful," he said, and a "very fitting" location.

All the more so, said Leroux, because Ganong himself would have had a similar vantage point, coming and going from the provincial legislature across the street.

The gallery is working on a way to light up the glass so it can also be appreciated at night.

St. Stephen origins

Originally, this window hung behind the altar of the Union Street Baptist Church in St. Stephen.

It was installed there in 1919, said Leroux.

He found out about the piece a couple of years ago from friend and renowned stained glass artist and restorer Ned Bowes, of Fredericton.

Bowes has worked on restoring "most of the stained glass windows in New Brunswick," said Leroux, and he described this work as "one of the greatest windows he's ever seen in the province."

Rev. Angela Wade
Rev. Angela Wade

Bowes said he came across the piece while restoring about a dozen other windows that were being relocated to a new church next door.

It was hanging about six metres (20 feet) above the altar, he said, but no light was shining through it.

The glass had been completely covered on one side, said Bowes, and partially covered on the other with a large screen, when an addition was built on the church about 50 years ago.

When he climbed up to check it out, he discovered it was dedicated to Ganong and became excited about the historical significance.

Since the church didn't have a place for the piece in its new building, he was given permission to find it a new home.

"The hunt was on to find some place of significance where it would be brought out of the darkness," he said.

Bowes said he's "very happy" the glass is now in the Beaverbrook gallery where "everyone" can enjoy it.

Rev. Angela Wade
Rev. Angela Wade

One of the things Bowes likes about the window is the "beautiful message" it carries.

"Consider the lilies of the field," he said, citing a Biblical verse, "how they grow, they neither toil nor spin."

Leroux said the lilies are one of the features that first struck him when he went to St. Stephen to check out what Bowes had found.

Installation

The window was in four pie-shaped pieces, he recalled.

"He held one of them up to the light," said Leroux, " and I could see these beautiful lilies come through."

He was also taken with the enormous New Brunswick shield in another quadrant.

"You rarely see heraldry in things like this in church windows," he said, but it was done because of Ganong's involvement in politics.

"Typically in church windows, you see figures, you see whether it's Christ or other saints or people doing things of a kind of sanctified nature."

Ned Bowes
Ned Bowes

This one has no people in it at all.

"The other major thing" about this window, said Leroux, is that the glass was made at the Robert McCausland Stained Glass Studio of Toronto, "one of the most important stained glass artists in Canadian history."

They've been in business for 165 years, he said, and are the oldest stained glass studio in North America.

"And it's a 100-year-old window. So just preserving a piece of beautiful history and artistry, it's of Canadian importance. It's just a great thing."

 

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