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June 19, 2002
OSWEGO -- Dr. Helen Zakin compares decades of research on centuries of stained-glass masterpieces to solving "an enormous jigsaw puzzle."
All the pieces came into place, as the SUNY Oswego professor and art department chair teamed with Dr. Virginia Raguin at the College of Holy Cross to produce the two-volume "Stained Glass Before 1700 in the Midwest States." The 600-page work is the result of nearly 20 years of research on stained-glass panels in museums and private collections in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
Corpus Vitrearum USA, part of an international organization dedicated to cataloguing works of Renaissance and medieval stained glass, organized and published the project, Zakin said. Corpus Vitrearum's cataloguing process began in the 1950s and 1960s, "but it really started in earnest around 20 years ago," she added.
That's when Zakin and Raguin took up the project. "We both wrote dissertations on medieval stained glass," Zakin explained. "In order to do this work, we had to learn a lot about Renaissance stained glass."
They also learned that detailing the nearly 200 windows in the book would require considerable research. "The medieval and Renaissance stained glass in American museums came from European buildings," Zakin explained. In many cases, the origin of the panels awas unknown. "It's an enormous jigsaw puzzle to put the right glass with the right building," she said.
"We examined every single panel" in person, Zakin said. She noted that sharing information with colleagues and "old-fashioned historic methods such as stylistic analysis" began to yield breakthroughs.
They learned that some windows came from a German monastery named Mariawald along the Rhine. In the late 18th and early 19th century, many monasteries became secularized and sold stained glass. Around the same time, an English wine merchant "realized there was a market for stained glass in England" and imported many fine works, Zakin said.
"In the late 19th and early 20th century, collectors began to sell stained glass, and a great deal of it ended up in the U.S. thanks to a dealer named Grosvenor Thomas," Zakin said. "The art market works in complex and fascinating ways."
Wealthy families like the Fords in Detroit and the Libbys in Toledo purchased pieces to recreate the look of an English country estate, Zakin said, although some pieces also went to art collectors with special interests. In the years since, many pieces have made their ways into museums for public appreciation.
"A book like this is interesting because it's intended to be a catalogue, but one also gets a sense of social history of who bought what and why," Zakin said. "There are many fascinating stories that have nothing to do with stained glass."
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