South Rose Window
The South Rose window appears to be a different artist than La Farge. There are no records of this window in the La Farge archives, and the window does not look like a La Farge design.
The window is about 10’ in diameter. It is a Byzantine design, with a Greek cross in the center panel (which was originally an operable ventilator). At the four terminals of the cross, in a wide outer band, are the symbols of the four Evangelists. They are surrounded by a looping ornamental band in gold glass with red and blue ovals and diamonds alternating. In the fields created by this ornamental band are red flowers with intense green leaves and stems set against a field of deep purplish-blue.
The window is assembled in a single layer.
In coloration and in some details, such as the flowers in the pie-wedge-shaped panels, it looks like work by David Maitland Armstrong (1836-1918), probably working with his daughter, Helen. The flowers are very similar to those in windows in First Presbyterian Church, Twelfth Street and Fifth Avenue; the former Church of the Holy Communion, now Limelight, at 20th Street and Sixth Avenue; and the Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue at Tenth Street.
South Rose Window - detail
Although Maitland Armstrong (he rarely used his first name) was quite a prolific stained glass designer, even opening his own studio on Washington Square in the 1890’s, little is know or written about him. His autobiography, Day Before Yesterday: Reminiscences of a Varied Life (1920), reveals almost nothing about his own life, being more concerned with anecdotes about family and friends. Hamilton Fish Armstrong, his son (born 1893) also wrote an autobiography, called Those Days (1963), which is also largely anecdotal, but contains some images of his father at work in his glass studio. However, it does not refer to any commissions or clients, either by name or inference.
Armstrong seems to have begun his career in stained glass having the Tiffany Studios Execute his windows. This can also be interpreted as he was one of the designers of the Tiffany Studios. The relationships between Tiffany and many of his designers have yet to be researched. In an announcement of the reorganization of the Louis C. Tiffany & Co. into the Tiffany Glass Co., Armstrong is listed, along with Robert Blum, Will H. Low, Francis D. Millet, and Elihu Vedder, as one of the “well-known artists … who will contribute memorial windows and other special work” to that of the Tiffany Glass Company.1 He is not mentioned in the standard references on Tiffany, however. 2 By the 1890’s, he was clearly no longer working with Tiffany Studios. In the obituary of Thomas Wright, John La Farge’s principal glazier, Armstrong is mentioned as one of the artists for whom the Decorative Stained Glass Company made windows.3
In Armstrong’s autobiography, Tiffany is never mentioned. John La Farge, however, is described as a friend, and written about in some detail. Hamilton Fish Armstrong’s book implies that Armstrong worked with La Farge, saying,
“He [Maitland Armstrong] and his friend La Farge developed new techniques in opalescent glass, sometimes ‘plating’ their windows with as many as three or four thicknesses, one on top of the other, thereby giving them depth and glorious color. in this they differed from the windows later on manufactured by commercial artisans for church all across the country which gave ‘American glass’ such a bad name.4"
It is not known exactly what the working relationship between Armstrong and La Farge was, however. Armstrong kept company with the same artistic crowd as La Farge, which included Saint Gaudens, the architectural partners Stanford White and Charles Follen McKim, and artists Elihu Vedder, Francis D. Millet, and Will H. Low, all muralists, easel painters, and stained glass designers.
Armstrong took up art as a career in 1872, after spending several years in Italy as the American consul to the Papal States; he had been trained as a lawyer previous to that. La Farge and Tiffany had begun their experiments in glass around 1876. There is no indication that Armstrong was involved in these experiments. He began working in stained glass around 1885. In his autobiography, he mentions a window by La Farge, “Christ and Nicodemus,” (c. 1885), installed in the Church of Ascension, Fifth Avenue at Tenth Street in New York, and implies that it was installed at about the same time as his window for the same building, “The Annunciation.” He calls this window “almost my first figure window.”5
In 1890, Armstrong bought 58 W. 10th Street to be his home, previously the location of the famous Tile Club, whose membership included architectural partners Stanford White and Charles Follen McKim, and muralists Frank Millet and Edward Austin Abbey. This building, which still stands today, was across the street from the Studio Building at 51 W. 10th Street, where La Farge had his studio. By the mid-1890’s, Armstrong opened his own studio on Washington Square North. His daughter Helen (186901948) was his principal assistant in this studio and at Tenth Street, and she carried on his work in stained glass into the 1940s.
© 1995, Julie L. Sloan, used with permission
- “Tiffany Glass Co.,” Builder, Trade Supplement 4 (February 6, 1886): 2
- These include Alastair Duncan, Tiffany Windows (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980); Robert B. Koch, Louis C. Tiffany: Rebel in Glass (New York: Crown Publishers, 1964); and Hugh McKean, The “Lost” Treasures of Louis Comfort Tiffany (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1980).
- “Obituary [Thomas Wright],” Ornamental Glass Bulletin 12 (March, 1918), p. 8.
- Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Those Days (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 31.
- Maitland Armstrong, Day Before Yesterday, p. 309.