William Willet graduated from the Mechanics and Tradesman Institute (assumed in New York City) and studied painting with William Merritt Chase. Later he assisted in painting portraits for John LaFarge. He traveled extensively in Europe, where he viewed medieval glass for the first time. Back in New York he worked for Arnold and Locke, and was a partner at Heuser and Hausleiter at the time our church was built.
William Willet was married in 1896 to Anne Lee, and shortly thereafter moved to Pittsburgh working as the art director in Goodwin's studio. In 1898 he struck out on his own when he purchased Ludwig Grosse's studio, thus founding Willet Studio. Anne was a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and assisted him. They worked with the noted architect Ralph Adams Cram. In 1913 they moved the studio to Philadelphia.
After Willet's death in 1921, Anne directed the studio until she retired in 1943. The company thrived for many years afterwards; first under his son, Henry Lee Willet and later his grandson, E. Crosby Willet. Willet Studios merged with Hauser Art Class Company in 1977 and continues on as Willet Hauser, well over a century after its founding.
At the time of his death, Willet was considered by many a premier American designer. Today his importance is increasingly recognized and his masterpieces continue to come to light. Willet lectured extensively and is credited as a major influence by many glass artists. One, Charles J. Connick, in 1937 stated that Willet’s use of “active light and color” converted his own way of working. Willet was a stained glass master.
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constants be,
Come wind, come weather;
There's no discouragement
Shall make him one relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He'll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He'll care not what men say;
He'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
|Tiffany Studio||Heuser & Hausleiter / Wm Willet||Colgate Glass Company|
The left panel, above, is attributed to the Tiffany Studios. To learn about its design and restoration, click here.
Christ Healing the Sick
The center window was designed by William Willet and executed by Heuser and Hausleiter at their studio on Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn where Willet was a partner at the time.
William Willet is known for perfecting a medieval painting style on glass that employed modern, quick brush strokes, the beginnings of which are noticeable in this window within the beige of Christ’s robe. The most famous example of his later modern method can be found in the Cadet Chapel at West Point; further examples can be found throughout the northeast including New York City. His style was unique and new, and not always appreciated at first – it has been said that the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh hid Willet's glass behind a massive organ.
In our window of Christ Healing the Sick (ca 1890) Willet is clearly following the American stained glass style learned from LaFarge; his painting blends well with the opalescent pieces used elsewhere in the art. Note that much of this window’s texture still comes from Willet’s masterful use of opalescent glass and it is a strong example of his early work. The window appears to have been a favorite of the church in 1896; they had this to say about it:
"The treatment of this theme reflects great credit upon the skill and taste of the firm doing the work. The benign dignity in the face and figure of the Christ is especially attractive, while the masses of foliage on the pillar at whose base the cripple is lying, the folds of the robe and drapery, and the distant vistas of trees and sky is wonderfully realistic and beautiful. The effect of the opalescent glass freely used in the construction of the window is soft and deep…"
Within the rosette (right sidebar) is a descending dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit. In the foreground lies a cripple, his head resting on the knee of a companion whose gaze directs us to the figure of Christ. The massive pillar is suggestive of the donor’s place in the community as viewed by his family who gave the window.
In the two lower panels, shown here, filigree evokes the stencil patterns of the sanctuary wall. The laurel foliage in the arches is said to be symbolic of the victory of life over death.
Mason Family Memorial Window
Dr. Mason became a physician in 1825. He and his family came to Brooklyn in 1834 where he remained for the rest of his life. He was one of the organizers of the Long Island College Hospital and an organizer of the Long Island Historical Society and the Inebriate's Home for Kings County. Dr. Mason was an incorporator of the Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights. In 1863 he transferred his membership to the First Dutch Reformed Church, becoming an elder in 1866 and continuing in that office for most of 16 years until his death. He also held several offices on the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church; staying in touch with the work of the Church in foreign lands.
If you are interested in learning more about the Mason family of Old First, browse the History of the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Breuckelen, now known as The First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, 1654 to 1896, put out by the Consistory of Old First in 1896, which is searchable online through Google Books. An 1892 ad by Heuser and Hausleiter claims this window. Our pastor Daniel Meeter in 2009 wrote, "The Mason Window was positively identified by Albert Tannler of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation as being by William Willet."
The Rest Window: based on 'Pilgrim's Progress'
This window’s story is from John Bunyan’s famous religious allegory “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, a story of Christian, an “everyman”, weighed down by a great burden of sin. The medallion shows a sickle, a scythe and a sheaf of wheat. In the main scene Pilgrim has emerged from the darkness. In his hand he holds a staff that directs our attention to the heavy burden, on the lower left, which he has just put down. In the distance, beyond the stream of baptism, repentance, and death, is the cross of salvation. In two smaller panels below the window, one sees a festoon of colored glass in a floral motif, surrounding two inscriptions: “And lo, in my dream I saw his burden loosed and fall from his back,” from “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, and “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11:28.
The panels in the memorial window are on a louvre which can be opened to bring in fresh air, but they are thus more fragile and some small pieces of glass had fallen out. The two panes were restored this year, the missing pieces replaced, the window releaded and cleaned; it is an amazing transformation. The round blue [azure] stones are pebbled glass, reminiscent of a Tiffany-style lampshade. Scroll down and see the memorial window, below.
Charles L. Rickerson Window
Mr. Rickerson was the first to step up and donate a window at his own expense for the sanctuary. Other members soon followed suit until all the windows, save one, were filled. He was an Elder and at one time superintendent of the Mission Sunday School. He was a businessman, a "hay commission merchant", president of the Tannersville and Otis Elevated Railroad, the Catskill and New York Steamboat Company, and a president of the Montauk Club.
He chose the theme of the window because it reminded him of the rest one could find in the new church just recently completed. It is beneath this window that the church plans to place a baptismal font.
If you are interested in learning more about Charles L. Rickerson of Old First, browse the History of the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Breuckelen, now known as The First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, 1654 to 1896, put out by the Consistory of Old First in 1896, which is searchable online through Google Books.
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© All photographs and images are copyrighted and require permission from artist to download or use. Photographs are by Jane Barber unless otherwise noted.
Written content edited from many sources previously produced by the Church and by Rev. Daniel Meeter.