Pegasus Medallion Connick Windows
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The Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation, Ltd., Orin E. Skinner, Founder February, 2001
Directors and Officers: Theresa D.Cederholm    Judith G. Edington    Jonathan L.Fairbanks    Elizabeth B. Johnson    Robert G.Windsor    Marilyn B. Justice, President

Four Windows, Two Saints, and One Angry Nun
by The Reverend Mark D. W. Edington
Epps Fellow and Chaplain to Harvard College

Tiny St. Joachim's Chapel in the convent of the Order of St. Anne on Cambridge's Craigie Street was the site for perhapsone of the smallest, but certainly one of the most intimate, of the commissions executed by the Connick Studio. It weaves together stories of church legend and family ties of the artist, a somewhat absent benefactrix and a very present father protector, and in the end a curious and, one must say, early flash of feminism adroitly turned aside, in something of a modern-day parallel of Joachim and Anne, by the husband of the artist concerned.

The commission traces its origins to the late 1920s, soon after the Sisters of St. Anne acquired the Craigie Street property in 1926. A New Hampshire friend of the order, a Mrs. Mary Schofield often corresponded with by Connick in care of the Chilton Club of Boston offered to furnish the chapel fashioned out of what was an amply sized (but by no means ostentatious) Brattle Street-neighborhood house with windows depicting signal events in the life of its patron, St. Joachim, by tradition the husband of St. Anne (patronness of the order) and thus the father of the Blessed Virgin.

The story, found not in Scripture but rather in the non-canonical accounts Protoevangelium of James (probably written in the second century), tells of a man some eighteen years older than his wife, "small, lean, and broad-shouldered," who did not imagine himself worthy of marriage to the daughter of a wealthy Galilean family. The angel Gabriel appears to each of them, and serves in the function of matchmaker; the couple weds and for seven years prays fervently, and vainly, for a child. Seeking favor from God, Joachim brings a sacrifice to the temple but is turned away by the priests [See window image I on the overleaf.] because he is a man without issue and hence unworthy to offer sacrifice; in his duress, he flees the city and goes to the mountains to pray. There, again, he is visited in a dream by Gabriel [Image II], who assures him that Anne will bear a child. Anne, learning of the reason for Joachim's flight, prays to be able to bear a child; and again, Gabriel, in a dream, assures her that "the Lord has looked upon thy tears; thou shalt conceive and give birth and the fruit of thy womb shall be blessed by all the world." Joachim returns to the city as Anne is away from the house, and the two are reunited at the Golden Gate [Image III]; and in fulfillment of Gabriel's promise, Anne conceives and bears Mary, the mother of Jesus [Image IV].

Connick confronted a somewhat restricted setting offering but four panels, two smaller (12" by 20") and two somewhat larger (24" by 30"). It was early decided that the two smaller panels would depict the scenes of the angel appearing to Joachim in the wilderness, and the meeting of Anne and Joachim at the Golden Gate; the larger panels were to be devoted to the dramatic depth and height of the story, Joachim's rejection at the temple and the birth of the Blessed Virgin. The correspondence between Connick and Father F.C. Powell, S.S.J.E., who acted as agent for the convent, reflects the sisters' concern that the estimate of $700.00 for all four windows might be regarded as too great an outlay by even the generous Mrs. Schofield; Connick, perhaps concerned that the commission might be truncated, writes that "the entire group is essential to the best appearance of all the windows and, other things being equal, we would prefer to do them all at one time." Soon enough the diplomatic Fr. Powell assures Connick privately, "I rather think that she will wish to give the four at once." "Mabel and I cannot understand how anyone resists you," comes Connick's complimentary reply.

In the event, however, matters out of the control of either benefactrix or artist intervened. The frames into which the windows were to be set were found to be of poor quality, and even the walls supporting these frames were less than admirably constructed, so much so that there is worry the weight of the leaded windows will not be supported. Extensive remedial work is called for, increasing the cost of the commission now to a stunning $825. Everyone takes a deep breath; but the donor is not frightened, and work proceeds. Although Mrs. Schofield had hoped to see the windows installed in June of 1929, the work of reconstruction and reframing delayed installation of the four panels until August 25.

There can be few more appropriate links of artist to commission than Frances Skinner to the artistry of the St. Joachim windows. Orin and Frances Skinner had left their only child, Charles, in the care of the Order when they briefly left the United States for Europe, to help repair French stained glass shattered in the bombing of World War I. During this time the young Charles contracted pneumonia, and it was long the conviction of his parents that only the ceaseless care of the sisters had made possible his survival. It was fitting that Frances chose to depict in the two larger panels the dramatic foci of the story; Joachim, kneeling with his offering before a towering, indifferent priest, is literally turned aside in the shame of rejection, in a gesture of such power that one hardly notices that the panel is set within a surround of filigreed diamond-cut panels. The same arrangement of surround and panel characterizes the birth of the Blessed Virgin, a blue curtain drawn aside in the upper-left-hand corner heralding the mantle in which Mary will become universally depicted.

The more intimate moments of the story are reserved by Frances, one almost thinks tenderly, for the smaller panels, not greatly larger than this sheet of paper. As Gabriel appears to Joachim in his distress, the angel's wings glow in a protective, almost shielding arc over the old man, his now-unnecessary sacrifice, still with him, at his feet. In a similar gesture, the arc of the Golden Gate of the city bows over the reunited Joachim and Anne, quietly stating the triumph of reconciliation and restored wholeness over fear and broken hopes.

A subsequent commission of three additional windows was begun in 1930, this time comprising a single large panel depicting the theme of the Jesse Tree-the lineage of Christ-and two others. This time the estimate of $750 and perhaps the onset of the Depression in the intervening months did indeed dampen the ardor of Mrs. Schofield, and in a letter of May 18, 1930, Mother Louise informs Connick that the commission will be reduced to the single Jesse Tree window [Image V]. This three-sectioned panel, depicting in vertical arrangement David, Mary, and (at the pinnacle) Jesus, was installed on or near July 26, the Feast of the Parents of the Blessed Virgin.

A final note from the correspondence files is of interest. Nearly thirty years after the installation of the windows in St. Joachim's chapel, a Sr. Felicia, asked by the Order to write a history of the community, wrote to Orin Skinner to inquire as to the dates on which the windows had been installed. Having noticed the mark distinctive to all Connick glass the signature "Charles J. Connick, Boston" on each of the windows, and convinced that Connick himself could not have designed all the windows, Sr. Felicia inquired of Skinner who it was that had designed the chapel's windows. In a reply dated July 15, 1958, Skinner solved the mystery: "All of them were designed, drawn and painted by Frances Skinner, and made in the studio of Charles J. Connick under his direction."

Orin Skinner perhaps little imagined that he had not done well enough to defend the achievement of his own wife. Almost immediately, a somewhat indignant Sr. Felicia rejoined the correspondence: "This troubles me. Frances Skinner designed, drew, and painted the windows. No credit is given her! I wonder whether that is the law in an atelier? The head of the atelier has the right to appropriate designs made by his assistants, and state that they are his? I wonder if Giotto signed a mural painted by one of his associates? 'Honor to whom honor is due,' is what I think."

Perhaps somewhat abashed that Sr. Felicia had more quickly risen to Frances' side than he himself had done, but not without pride in the working culture of the studio, a patient Skinner replied: "We work as a group here. We are a cooperative in the best meaning of the term, and I think it is right that all our efforts go out under our collective name. Mr. Connick could have changed the course of anyone's work at any time. . . He approved it and, in a sense, honored the assistant by signing it." The calm words soothed the unhappy nun: "You have made it quite clear why the name 'Charles J. Connick' is placed on every piece of work. . .. It all seems quite reasonable to me now." Reasonable it may have been but Frances, so far as the files can say, remained silent, perhaps above the fray, content to let her gems for St. Joachim's speak for themselves.

The Order of St. Anne abandoned its Craigie Street convent in 1999; the chapel's windows are now in the possession of The Connick Foundation. 
Joachim turned 
away by priests

Jesse Tree

Reuniting of 
Joachim and Anne 
at the Golden Gate
Gabriel appears
again to Joachim
Birth of the
Blessed Virgin

Photographs from the Connick Collection, Fine Arts Department, courtesy of the Trustees, Boston Public Library

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