In Memoriam Mary Clerkin Higgins († 25.12.20)

Mary Clerkin Higgins

Mary Clerkin Higgins

Mary Clerkin Higgins, renowned stained glass artist and conservator, died on Christmas morning, 2020, in Manhattan, following a four-year struggle with breast cancer. Steven, her husband of forty-four years, and their son, Walker, were by her side.

Mary was born November 16, 1954, in Queens, New York, the daughter of Thomas and Margaret Walker Clerkin. Her family moved to the village of Sandy Creek, New York when she was a young child. She graduated from Sandy Creek Central School in 1972 and earned a BA from Fordham University at Lincoln Center in 1976. She and Steven were married on October 9, 1976.

Mary was one of the nation’s leading artists and conservators of stained glass, entrusted with conserving panels dating as far back as the twelfth century, up to the present day, for public and private collections around the world. In addition, she was an award-winning artist whose original works received several awards, among them inclusion in the Corning Museum of Glass’s prestigious annual survey New Glass Review 36 (2015).

In 1976, she began an apprenticeship with Melville Greenland at his studio in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. She rose quickly to the position of lead conservator for Greenland and, in 1986, founded Clerkin Higgins Stained Glass Inc. in Brooklyn, New York. Over the years, she became a close collaborator with Rowan LeCompte, the renowned artist responsible, among much else, for the West Rose and clerestory windows at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Mary worked on over a dozen of Rowan’s Cathedral commissions and was wholly responsible for the fabrication at her Brooklyn studio of two large clerestory projects – “The Suffering and Redemption of Job,” and “The Faith of the Hebrew People.”

Mary presented her research at many conferences across North America and Europe and was a Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC). She was a co-founder and past president of the American Glass Guild (AGG), receiving the AGG Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. She contributed the chapter on “Origins, Materials, and the Glazier’s Art” to Stained Glass: From Its Origins to the Present (Abrams, 2003) and wrote the preface to Strangest Genius: The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke (The History Press, 2010). Mary was featured on NPR’s “Science Friday” website and in Peter Swanson’s films Let There Be Light (2012) and Rowan LeCompte: A Life in Light (2020). In 2018 she was an expert guide for Ama Waterways “Stained Glass Along the Enchanted Rhine River” cruise.

Mary’s restoration work lives on in numerous collections, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters, Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, and Duke universities, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Morse Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Wolfsonian, the United Nations, and the Neustadt Museum of Tiffany Glass. In addition to many original autonomous panels, she created an original ensemble of eleven panels depicting the risen Christ and the four evangelists for the Cloister Chapel at Sea Island, GA.

Mary is survived by her husband, Steven; their son, Walker and his wife, Ana, all of New York City; her mother, Margaret Clerkin, of Sandy Creek; eleven sisters and brothers; fourteen nieces; eleven nephews; several in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many friends and associates in the stained glass community, here and abroad.

Mary entered the stained glass world at a time when few women practiced the craft, or ran their own studios. She carved out a unique place for herself in the male-dominated field through humble tenacity and a simple dedication to the perfecting of her art. She inspired everyone she encountered with her unwavering courage in the face of her disease, with her brilliant laughter, wonderful cooking skills, and, above all, her kind and generous spirit. Her twenty-five nieces and nephews adored her.

A private celebration of Mary’s life, and the scattering of her ashes, will take place at a later date.

In Memoriam Elena Krylova († 16.01.2021)

Elena Krylova at her stained glass workbench

Elena Krylova (Photo: S. Pokrovsky)

Elena Krylova (Елена Махмудовна Крылова), who passed away unexpectedly from Covid-19, was not only the head conservator but also the spirit and driving force of the Stained Glass Conservation Department of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

Born on 7 November 1951 in Leningrad, Elena Krylova began working at the State Hermitage as a technical assistant in 1971. In 1974, she decided to study History of Art at the State Academy of Fine Arts alongside her work (graduating in 1980) and in 1976 she applied for the position of laboratory assistant in the conservation department of the Hermitage, which had just been restructured. A few years later, she was promoted by the museum management to follow a course of study in glass and ceramics at the School of Art and Design. After graduating, she became the first glass conservator in the Hermitage studio and, having been given a small light table, was able to gradually and, mainly autodidactically, become familiar with the stained glass collection, which had hitherto hardly been touched.

A new era in the history of research on stained glass in Russia dawned in 1992, when the then president of the international Corpus Vitrearum, Prof. Madeline H. Caviness, discovered a new repository of medieval glass and a few stained glass enthusiasts – including the conservator Elena Krylova and the art historian Elena Shlikevich – during her visit to the Hermitage. At Caviness’ suggestion, the Russian committee of the Corpus Vitrearum was founded in the same year and was accepted as the 14th associate member to join the international research project. The very next year, as a member of the Russian CVMA, Elena Krylova was given the opportunity of a research fellowship with Hannelore Marschner at the Zentrallabor des Bayerischen Landesamtes für Denkmalpflege (Central Laboratory of the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments) in Munich.

In 2001, the staff of the Hermitage received the long-awaited permission to have a closer look at some boxes of stained glass windows from St. Mary’s Church in Frankfurt (Oder) that had been kept secret for over 50 years. While politicians, the press and academics from both the German and Russian governments fought over the “spoils of war”, Elena Krylova pleaded with the museum administration to set up an in-house stained glass workshop. She herself became the head and unofficial instructor of an initially two- and later three-member team of the first Russian studio for stained glass conservation. Under the greatest political and social pressure, Elena Krylova, Vadim Lebedev and Ekaterina Dutova conserved, documented and prepared fifteen out of a total of 111 medieval panels from St. Mary’s Church for an exhibition within six months. However, this elaborately planned exhibition “The Stained Glass Windows of St Mary’s Church” was disassembled again in a very short time, because, as the result of a request at the highest political level, the return of the stained glass windows to Germany had to be handled very quickly.

Nevertheless, under the direction of Elena Krylova, the stained glass studio remained in operation and ready for the development of the in-house collection, which had been surrounded by myths. In 2002, the first 30 panels from the Hermitage depot were conserved for the exhibition “Western European Stained Glass and Vidimuses of the 15th – 17th Centuries”, followed in 2004 by the restoration of the medieval panels for the exhibition “The Cross of St. Trudpert”. In 2008, the team was entrusted with the conservation of the large-scale composition of the “Lamentation of Christ” by Bartholomew Bruyn the Elder. Finally, in 2010, on the occasion of the 25th International Colloquium of the CVMA in St. Petersburg, the conservation of a considerable number of 16th – 18th-century Swiss panels in the Hermitage was completed. In 2017, Elena Krylova fulfilled her long-time dream and made a set of copies of the panels she had conserved from St. Mary’s Church, Frankfurt, for the Hermitage’s museum education centre.

Since 2006, Elena Krylova offered a course in stained glass conservation at the Saint Petersburg State Institute of Art and Culture. In the last fifteen years she has also been increasingly active in the artistic field, taking part in several one-man and group exhibitions of paintings, graphic art and stained glass. She created the figurative east window for the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ in St. Petersburg. Other modern stained-glass windows, designed and made by Elena herself, now decorate the churches of St. Peter and Paul in Pargolovo and the Prince Vladimir Church in Lisiy Nos near St. Petersburg.

In recent months, Elena Krylova had been working intensively on two 16th-century French panels, depicting the Birth and Decapitation of John the Baptist, which will become the new highlight of the Hermitage’s Middle Ages collection. At the beginning of the new year, the restoration of an extensive collection of panels for the Dürer jubilee exhibition planned for October 2021 was already waiting for her.

Elena Krylova was a joyful person, a blessed teacher, a loyal friend, wife and loving mother, who had a life that was rich with her passion for stained glass and her wide-ranging interests. It hurts everybody who knew her to see her pass so soon.

Entire 800-year-old stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral to be centrepiece of British Museum’s Becket exhibition

In April 2021, the British Museum will host the first ever major UK exhibition on the life, death and legacy of Thomas Becket, whose brutal murder inside Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 shook the Middle Ages. Its centrepiece will be an entire thirteenth-century window from Canterbury Cathedral (Fig. 1), depicting miracles attributed to Thomas.

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint (22 April – 22 August 2021) will chart over 500 years of history, from Thomas Becket’s remarkable rise from ordinary beginnings to one of the most powerful figures in England, through to his enduring but divisive legacy in the centuries after his death. The story will be told through an array of over 100 stunning objects brought together for the first time, including rare loans from across the UK and Europe.

Originally due to open in October 2020 but delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the exhibition marks 850 years since the former Archbishop of Canterbury was killed on 29 December 1170 in his own cathedral. The murder was possibly on the orders of his bitter rival and former friend King Henry II. News of Becket’s gruesome death sent shockwaves across Europe and is considered one of the most scandalous acts of sacrilege in English history. Within days, miracles were being attributed to Becket, many connected to the healing power of his spilt blood, which lead to his canonisation as a saint by the Pope. His martyrdom had a profound impact on the power dynamics between Church and State for hundreds of years, culminating in King Henry VIII ordering the obliteration of Becket’s legacy in 1538, calling him a traitor to the crown. Becket’s role as a key figure in major moments of European history will be traced throughout the show.

Lloyd de Beer, who co-curated the exhibition with Naomi Speakman, said “The violent death of Thomas Becket is the ultimate true crime story. It’s a real-life tale as dramatic as Game of Thrones and we’re going to lead visitors through every twist and turn of this remarkable plot. There’s drama, fame, royalty, power, envy, retribution, and ultimately a brutal murder that shocked Europe.”

The exhibition’s centrepiece will be the extraordinary loan of an entire six-metre tall stained-glass window from Canterbury Cathedral. It is one of the surviving famed Miracle Windows which were made in the early 1200s to surround Becket’s now-lost shrine in the Cathedral’s Trinity Chapel. This is the first time one of these windows has ever been lent, and the first time the glass has ever left the Cathedral precinct, since their creation 800 years ago.

Miracle window, Canterbury Cathedral, early 1200s. © The Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral

Fig. 1. Miracle window, n3, Canterbury Cathedral, early 1200s (Image © The Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral)

These six panels tell the sensational story of Eilward of Westoning, a peasant who is blinded and castrated as a punishment for stealing. After praying to St Thomas, Eilward’s blindness is healed and his testicles miraculously grow back.

Fig. 2. Miracle window, n3, Canterbury Cathedral, early 1200s. (Image © The Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral) These six panels tell the sensational story of Eilward of Westoning, a peasant who is blinded and castrated as a punishment for stealing. After praying to St Thomas, Eilward’s blindness is healed and his testicles miraculously grow back.

Reliquary pendant showing Becket as archbishop. England, 15th century (Image © The Trustees of the British Museum)

Fig. 3. Reliquary pendant showing Becket as archbishop. England, 15th century (Image © The Trustees of the British Museum)

Reliquary casket showing the murder of Thomas Becket. Limoges, France, about 1180-1190 (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Fig. 4. Reliquary casket showing the murder of Thomas Becket. Limoges, France, about 1180-1190 (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The Miracle Windows, of which seven survive from an original series of twelve, tell the evocative stories of miracles attributed to Becket in the three years following his death. They demonstrate his remarkable transformation from a London-born merchant’s son into the renowned miracle worker known as St Thomas of Canterbury, who is still revered by Christians today.

The window that will feature in the exhibition is an exceptional example of medieval stained glass narrative design and artistry. The miracle stories it depicts include the healing of eyesight and the replacement of lost genitals (Fig. 2), with the latter being the earliest known depiction of castration in medieval art. New research, recently carried out due to its removal for study prior to the exhibition, has revealed that some of the panels have been in the wrong order for centuries. They were probably mixed up during a hasty rearrangement in the 1660s and the errors were discovered after close inspection of individual pieces under a microscope. When the window is shown at the British Museum, it will be rearranged in the correct narrative order, and this will be the first time in over 350 years that visitors will be able to view these panels as they were made to be seen. It will also be the very first time the window can be seen up-close at eye-level.

Leonie Seliger, Director of Stained Glass Conservation at Canterbury Cathedral, said: “The Miracle Windows are medieval versions of graphic novels illustrating the experiences of ordinary people. They greeted the pilgrims at the culmination of their journey to Becket’s shrine with images that would be reassuring and uplifting. The window that will be shown at the British Museum is only one of seven that remain, and they are one of Canterbury Cathedral’s greatest treasures.”

Becket’s story will also be brought to life through an array of objects including precious reliquaries, jewellery, pilgrims’ badges and sculpture from the British Museum collection. Spectacular loans, which make up almost half of the objects on display, include objects which may have been owned by Becket himself, such as manuscripts from Trinity College and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge that he is thought to have commissioned or was given. There will also be a single surviving wax impression made from Becket’s personal seal matrix – lent by the National Archives – providing a tantalising glimpse of his personality. An illustrated manuscript containing John of Salisbury’s Life of St Thomas Becket from the British Library, will show visitors one of the earliest known representations of the murder.

Thomas Becket: murder and the making of a saint runs from 22 April to 22 August 2021 in the Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery at the British Museum. Tickets will go on sale soon. Check the exhibition’s webpage and sign up to the British Museum newsletter for updates. Check the show’s website for updates.

News from the Stained Glass Museum

Although the Stained Glass Museum remains closed due to the current lockdown, the museum has scheduled a series of online lectures this spring.

The series begins this week, at 7pm on Wednesday 24 February, with a talk by Jeff Hopewell on ‘The Stained Glass of Douglas Hamilton’. This talk will give an insight into the life and work of Glasgow stained glass artist Douglas Hamilton (1895-1959), setting his importance in the wider context of 20th century Scottish stained glass. Particular attention will be paid to Hamilton’s war memorial windows and depictions of everyday life.

Details of the next four lectures can be found in our Lockdown Online guide and on the Stained Glass Museum website. All are £5 general admission, £4 for Friends.