Sunday, July 12, 2009

The David Healey Window

David Healey was the mayor of Heywood,Lancashire, England. Over a hundred years ago, he made a big donation to the local Unitarian Church--a church that his father had helped to found. His donation enabled the lucky congregation to commission a beautiful 15-foot tall stained glass window for the church chancel. The window now bears his name: the David Healey Memorial Window.

Now it sits in the Huntington Gallery. Why? Well, this isn't just any window--Morris & Co. designed it. Morris, as in William Morris, textile and furniture designer connected with the Pre-Raphaelites. Artist Edward Burne-Jones designed the ten panels of the window. It has a big name too: "Humility, Mercy, Generosity, Charity, Justice, Liberty, Truth, Love, Faith, Courage."

Try to think up a mnemonic for that. The David Healey Memorial Window works just fine for me. These pictures focus on Generosity and Charity.

The Huntington Gallery--the 1911 home of Arabella and Henry Huntington--was closed for two years and gussied up at a cost of $20 million, reopening only a year ago. Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times wrote a detailed review of the renovated building. I learned from that article that some upstairs bedrooms were removed and refashioned into galleries. The sweeping, dual staircase was enlarged especially so that this stained glass window could be ensconced and backlit. Here's how Knight describes it:

". . . designed by Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, [it] is a strange array of Protestant personifications of virtue, cast as secular versions of traditional Catholic saints. Truth holds a candle against the darkness. Faith reaches up to grasp the hand of God. Courage is steeled in armor while Liberty clutches a pair of crimson wings, like an earthly seraph, the highest rank of angel."

Too bad he doesn't enlighten us on the symbolism in Generosity. (Charity, I'm assuming, shows the actions of the Good Samaritan.)

I didn't remember seeing the window before, and now I know why: It was acquired in 1999, from collectors up north in Carmel. The couple who last owned the piece bought it in 1967 from the now-demolished Britain Hill Unitarian Church in Lancashire, England--where Morris & Co. had installed it in 1898.

From what I could glean, the Heywood church congregation merged with other area Unitarian churches, closed the Heywood branch, and sold off what they could, though I'm sure they weren't happy about it. But since the abandoned church suffered through a fire the year after the stained glass window was sold, I guess the tale has a happy ending. The work would have been lost had it not been sold.

Here's an enlarged part of Generosity, so you can see some of Morris' designs in the glass.

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