VOLUME 16 NUMBER 3
FALL 2015

Collaboration and Reflection on John La Farge Stained Glass in New England: A Digital Guide

Project Introduction and Summary

by Anna Kijas (Digital Scholarship Librarian, O'Neill Library, Boston College)

The John La Farge Stained Glass in New England: A Digital Guide is an open access (CC-BY-NC) website developed by the Digital Scholarship Group at the Boston College University Libraries and by Professor Jeffrey Howe between February and September 2015*. The site was built using a suite of open-source software and tools, including Omeka, a publishing platform, Timeline.js, a timeline builder, and Geolocation Plugin, a map builder.

Christ Preaching, the Rev. Charles James Bowen Memorial Window, 1889. McMullen Museum, Boston College. Christ Preaching, the Rev. Charles James
Bowen Memorial Window, 1889.
McMullen Museum, Boston College.
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

This digital project complements the physical exhibition, John La Farge and the Recovery of the Sacred, shown at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College from September 1-December 13, 2015. The content of this digital project is focused on the work of American stained glass artist, John La Farge (1835-1910) through images, text, and metadata. Individual item records (180) were created for the buildings, stained glass, and architects, which can be searched using keywords, subject headings, tags, and dates. In addition, there are 34 descriptions, as well as a brief biography of La Farge, which provide historical context and background that tie together the individual buildings, stained glass, and architects. Two timelines and a map were also created to serve as visual pathways to the content. A biographical timeline highlights significant events in La Farge's life and career, while the stained glass timeline provides a chronological overview of his stained glass output with accompanying images. An interactive map plots each building's location where the stained glass works are housed.

Reflection

by Dr. Jeffrey Howe (Art History, Fine Arts Department,
Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Boston College)

In the fall of 2013, Father Leahy accepted on behalf of the university a magnificent sesquicentennial gift of three large stained glass windows by John La Farge. These had formerly been housed in a Unitarian church in Amherst, MA, and were purchased for donation to Boston College by William Vareika (BC '74) and his wife Alison. Vareika is one of our most distinguished and loyal alums, and this gift gave us the opportunity to organize an exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art on the works of La Farge which attempt to visualize the sacred.

The Good Samaritan, 1889. North wall. Given by the friends of Dr. Thomas Rochester. Trinity Church. Buffalo, New York. The Good Samaritan, 1889.
North wall. Given by the
friends of Dr. Thomas Rochester.
Trinity Church. Buffalo, New York.

Although my research specialty is late nineteenth century art, I had a lot to learn about La Farge. His stained glass was a particular interest, not just because of the gift to BC, but La Farge is widely credited with revitalizing the medieval art form. He lived and worked in Newport, RI, and New York City, and many of his finest works are in New England churches and museums, including Trinity Church and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There is no complete catalog of his works yet published, but between earlier publications and the Internet, I identified many sites that contained his windows. Available images of many of these were incomplete or unsatisfactory, so I set out to visit as many of his windows as I could to study their subject matter and technique. In 2014-15, I put 4,000 miles on my car, discovering many treasures of the stained glass art. Cities such as Boston, Newport and New York had great concentrations of his windows, but they are also found in smaller towns such as North Easton and Methuen in Massachusetts, and Lincoln in Rhode Island. There are wonderful windows in churches in Newton, West Roxbury, Stockbridge and Salem – places I have often passed by without knowing of the great art to be found there.

As I visited these sites, I photographed them for study purposes. It occurred to me that it might be interesting for others to have access to these photos and the information I had found concerning the windows. I created an online archive of American architecture almost twenty years ago, in the dark ages of the Internet. In the meantime, I had become involved with other projects, and the technology of online presentation had changed. Mobile devices offered the possibility of onsite guides as well as armchair browsing. Although I use these applications, the prospect of creating one was daunting.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, 1890-91. Our Lady of Mercy Chapel, Salve Regina University. Newport, Rhode Island. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, 1890-91.
Our Lady of Mercy Chapel,
Salve Regina University.
Newport, Rhode Island.

One of the great advantages of an institution like BC is the depth of resources available here. When I mentioned my project to Thomas Wall, the University Librarian, he quickly offered to have information specialists in the library help me with the technology. Anna Kijas (Senior Digital Scholarship Librarian) led the implementation and development on the Omeka platform, Patrick Goncalves (Digital Services Assistant) contributed to the overall design, and several Undergraduate Research Fellows helped me transfer my notes and essays into a structured data format required for the publishing platform. The McMullen Museum director, Nancy Netzer, was enthusiastic about this project from the beginning. The future of museum and many scholarly publications is in online access, and this would be a pioneering project for us.

In the last two years I have learned a great deal about John La Farge and his art, and had the pleasure of working with very able colleagues. There are over thirty churches represented in this online resource, a number which may expand as I recoup my energy and refill my gas tank.




Anna Kijas
Senior Digital Scholarship Librarian,
O'Neill Library

Jeffrey Howe
Fine Arts Department



*Information about this project's methodology and technical aspects can be viewed on the Project Praxis page. Additional information about the project's collaborators can be viewed on the About the Project page.