May 6, 2012

At Erasmus Hall, A Story in Stained Glass Windows

(revised July 2012) The story of how the Erasmus Hall Campus in Flatbush, Brooklyn came to possess such an extraordinary collection of stained glass windows will be told here in pictures and captions.

The Erasmus Hall Campus in Brooklyn can boast a long list of achievements for itself. Walking up Flatbush Avenue, the rising Gothic towers of the campus at 911 Flatbush Avenue foreshadow its importance in inspiring students over the years. 

One of the oldest secondary schools in the state, the campus still encloses its original wood-framed Federal style building dating from 1786. 


A subsequent expansive campus designed in the Collegiate Gothic Style enclosed the older school in a quadrangle. Charles B. J. Snyder (1860–1945), the architect and Superintendent of School Buildings for the New York City Board of Education at the time of construction, drew up extraordinarily ambitious plans for the campus, completed in phases, beginning in 1905. 

Snyder designed the Erasmus campus with an eye toward the harmonious and romantic, incorporating art into the construction in the form of stained glass windows. The auditorium in Erasmus Hall, fondly called "the chapel" by its students, surely stands as one of the most harmonious gathering places in all of the city's schools. 
 
The decorative side windows in the auditorium were designed at the time of its construction in 1905. In addition to letting light into the auditorium, the stained glass windows repeat the colors, shapes, and decorations (floral, shields) of the structure.  

The architect believed that school buildings possessed the power to inspire learning. Who knows how the beauty of the Erasmus Hall campus may have affected its alumni? Consider just a few names on a very long list - Barbra Streisand,  Elaine de Kooning, Clive Davis, Joseph Barbera, Betty Comden, Neil Diamond, Eleanor Holm, Susan Hayward, Eli Wallach, Mae West, Norma Talmadge, Arthur M. Sackler, Roger Kahn, Mickey Spillane, Bernard Malamud.
Exterior image of the auditorium's decorative windows. Note the open panel.

The extraordinary focal point of the auditorium is the stained glass work, Life of Erasmus. The 41 panels illustrate episodes in the life of Desiderius Erasmus (1466?-1536), the Dutch theologian, priest, and writer for whom the school is named. The alumni association commissioned this work, crafted in 1910-12 by the Church Glass and Decorating Company. Erasmus is the seated figure in the middle, holding an open book on his lap. The panels together represent a life in learning.

On the 2nd floor, in what was once the school library, a five panel work of stained glass dating from 1919 pays tribute to the school's first principal, Walter B. Gunnison. The central classical figure is a woman wearing a crown, an image meant to inspire students as a symbol of knowledge.
The window now sits on an alcove just off a room used for art lessons.

Yes, this work is by who you think it is - Louis Comfort Tiffany. 
The side panels reveal characteristic Tiffany landscapes and motifs in greens and blues.
A student from the Erasmus Hall campus would then be able to say,
"My art classroom has a Tiffany window in it. Does yours?"  

One more to show - Knowledge, c. 1937, a set of panels depicting human progress in ways characteristic of Depression-era murals. Here, the stained glass works portray various enterprises and achievements of the nation. The last panel shows the rise of the skyscraper city.

The stained glass windows of Erasmus Hall serve as inspirations for students.
Notice the statue of Erasmus out in the courtyard.  

The back of the Tiffany stained glass pieces may be discerned in the windows
directly above the Gothic lettering spelling out the school name. 

Resources:
Public Art for Public Schools on Facebook



View Erasmus Campus School in a larger map

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 4, 2012. Thanks to Tania Duvergne, Director, Public Art for Public Schools, NYC School Construction Authority, for sharing her knowledge and showing me around.

Erasmus Hall Campus was one of 40 sites selected in 2012 for the Partners in Preservation initiative in New York City, a program that raises awareness of historic preservation by involving the public in distributing grants. 

1 comment:

Robin T. Lowe said...

Exquisite and brilliant glass artisan. There is a certain mystique about the place due to the pagination effect of the stained glass. Very enthralling.

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