In 1867, when a fire ravaged the Trinity Episcopal Church, 32 Church Street, in Saugerties, one of the village’s respected citizens, Mrs. Else Vanderpoel, stepped up to help fund the repairs. Wanting to create a fitting memorial to her late husband, Judge Aaron Vanderpoel, and her two sons, who died at the age of 20, she commissioned a stained glass window from English artist, craftsman, writer, and publisher William Morris, an admirer of philosopher John Ruskin, whose Arts and Crafts Movement was later the driving force behind the establishment of Woodstock’s Byrdcliffe Colony of the Arts.
As a result of Mrs. Vanderpoel’s devotion (and her extravagance in paying $3000 for what the New York Herald called “one of the costliest works of the kind yet seen in this country”), this extraordinary example of pre-Raphaelite stained glass work stands over the altar of Trinity Church. The detailed figures, representing episodes in the life of Christ, are finely wrought in glowing red and stunning gold and blue. It’s hard to account for the presence of this brilliant work in a little upstate town instead of an urban setting, but as Florence Boos of the William Morris Society USA noted, “It was the first stained glass sold in the United States by Morris and Co., and the firm put extra effort into making it a magnificent example of their craftsmanship,” no doubt hoping to glean further American commissions.
Boos visited the church last year and found the window worthy of nearly two hours of study, requiring her to stand on the altar table to take in the details. Her article about the window appeared in the fall 2016 issue of Useful and Beautiful, a journal of Morris scholarship.
At the Morris and Co. workshop, the responsibility for design was shared by artists Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Morris, who oversaw the work of the Vanderpoel window and established the location of the lead borders, a key element of the process. The central image, Christ on the cross with Mary and St. John at his feet, was designed by Burne-Jones, as were most of the smaller scenes, except for Brown’s “Agony in the Garden.” Morris designed the series of rose- and red-winged angels holding Latin inscriptions that quote from Psalms and Lamentations, describing the crucifixion.
In her article, Boos praised the work especially for its details, such as “the delicate tracery on the shoes and cloaks…; the precise ripples in the water as the graceful young Jesus bows to receive baptism from the sturdier John the Baptist; or the carefully patterned sprigs of bushes and trees which spring from every unoccupied space of the background.”
When the window was on its way from the workshop to Saugerties, it was displayed in both London and New York, where it received mixed reviews in the newspapers but was acknowledged for its uniqueness, costliness, and elaborate design.
On a recent visit to the church, one observer noted several nicks and scratches on the surface of some of the figures and suggested restoration might be appropriate. Vicar Michael Phillips, learning that a restoration would probably cost tens of thousands of dollars, said his church didn’t have the means to undertake the project. However, museums have been known to invest in restoration in return for the loan of the artwork for a year or so. Phillips said he wouldn’t mind lending out the window if it could be preserved.