She’s Ready for Her Close-Up, Mr. DeMille

By Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
October 4, 2021

An amazing journey that began for MCHS in the Summer of 2020 is nearing the home stretch! St. Cecilia, the 1886 stained glass window commissioned by the Cranes of Acorn Hall in memory of their eldest daughter Mary Hone, has completed conservation. Every inch of the centuries-old window has received a thorough, careful cleaning by Serpentino Stained Glass Studio in Needham, MA and she is now ready for life on display in the family art gallery at the Hall.

Before and after: the 4’x6.5′ window was a lot of real estate to cover with q-tips, but well worth the effort!

Like many La Farge windows, St. Cecilia was created with plates (layers of glass up to seven sheets thick) to achieve the exact hue and luminosity desired. Effectively cleaning and inspecting each layer for cracks required first removing the plates from the front and back of the window to bring it down to the base layer. In between the plates was found astronomical amounts of soot, dirt, and even bugs (ew), but thankfully, little damage requiring repair. Accomplished largely with Q-tips, it was a very slow process.

Note the deep notch at the bottom of this textured piece of glass. All the plates removed from the window were photographed labeled, and stored in sorted trays.

This process had the added bonus of providing a unique opportunity to examine how the window was created and the craftsmanship involved. While in the window, the plates’ edges were concealed by the lead, but once removed, revealed insight into how they were cut and shaped. The tight concave curves found on several plates of textured glass – not easily accomplished with hand tools – are testaments to the masterful skill of the creator(s).

One of the two angels flying over St. Cecilias head.

Close inspection of the window by Serpentino’s Roberto Rosa, vice-president and principal conservator, also led to another revelation: the window’s “flesh” seems to have been painted by two different artists. While the painting of the two angels’ faces and hands appear to be typical of a La Farge window, St. Cecilia’s face and hands, are less reminiscent of his work or that of his preferred glass painter, Juliette Hanson. This may be a reflection of the upheaval in La Farge’s life during the mid-1880s—the period of the window’s creation— which is mirrored in the uncertain historical record regarding the window’s commission and execution.

MCHS eagerly anticipates sharing her with visitors at the Hall for years to come. Beginning on Sunday, October 10, she will be on view for all to enjoy this nationally significant work of art and fascinating piece of Morris County history.