May 27, 1933
I saw at the Boston Art Club, a bust of you carved in wood. I think I have never seen a more perfect likeness of anyone in any medium.
I think it is a marvelous thing. Allen certainly deserves enormous credit for the artistic qualities of it and you are to be congratulated on having so splendid a portrait of yourself for future generations to admire.
Vesper L. George
Director, Vesper George School of Art
The review published in the newspaper was also glowing. “Mr. Frederick Allen has surpassed himself in a portrait, carved in oak, of Mr. Charles Connick. The golden tint of the wood, the graining and flaky testure, all contribute to the animation of the portrayal. It dominates the exhibition”
Charles J. Connick (1875-1945) opened a studio in Boston in 1913 on Harcourt Street at the Copley end of St.Botolph Street, just a short walk down Huntington Avenue from the Museum of Fine Arts. There he built his reputation as a stained glass artist in the Gothic Revival style where he produced richly colored windows for institutions and places of worship throughout America and abroad. He won a gold medal for his work at the Panama Pacific Exposition and produced the rose windows for the Cathedrals of St. John the Divine and St. Patrick in New York City. The Heinz Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh boasts 23 windows by the Connick Studio including the transept windows, which are among the tallest in the world at 73 feet. At the height of his career in 1930 his studio employed 40-50 artists and craftspeople committed to working collectively “with one mind and one pair of hands” in the spirit and practice of the artisans of the 12th and 13th centuries.
At his death in 1945, the New York Times published the statement that Dr. Connick was “considered the world’s greatest contemporary craftsman in stained glass.” (The New York Times, Saturday, December 29, 1945, p. 13.)
The studio was turned over to the craftsmen who continued to design and produce windows for 41 more years in the Connick style that had made them famous. The Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation was formed after the studio closed in 1986 with the mission of promoting “the true understanding of the glorious medium of color and light and to preserve and perpetuate the Connick tradition of stained glass.” http://www.cjconnick.org
The year before his death, the bust was chosen to represent Boston in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The sculptor hand-carried the bust to and from the city where it was on display in the show entitled Painting and Sculpture from 16 American Cities which ran from Dec. 11, 1933 to Jan.7, 1934. The loan card at the museum reveals that it was “Obtained thru Mr. Pepper and Mr. Spaulding.” Mr. Charles H. Pepper was a Director at the Concord Art Association with Frederick Allen. John T. Spaulding was one of two brothers with a huge and important art collection, some of which was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts. Who the owner was at the time is unknown, but with the name of Spaulding behind the loan as facilitator, it points out the importance of this work of art.
Charles Connick was active in the Boston Art Club where Frederick Allen exhibited his bust in 1944. That show that prompted Vesper George to write the glowing letter above. The association between Connick and Allen had most likely begun when Allen came to him about creating a stained glass window for his Italianate Studio on Tavern Road, They were both artists and craftsmen so surely there was mutual appreciation. It was decided that to pay for the window, Fred would sculpt Charles’ portrait.
He chose wood. Like stone, wood carving is a reductive art and challenging to do well. Whatever is removed from the whole cannot be put back. The natural form and grain must be considered in the design and whether the lines of the piece of wood chosen can contribute to the design, or whether another solution must be found. Allen taught wood carving in his course work at the Museum School and some naturally took to it. One student in particular is Merrilyn Delano Marsh who has done uniquely creative and interesting work, some of it polychromed. She related a time when her class went to the beach and chose pieces of wood to carve. That was the beginning of a love affair between her and that beautiful responsive medium. Merrilyn Delano Marsh: A Retrospective (ISBN: 978-0-692-24893-5) One section is devoted to her wood sculptures. Merrilyn pointed out how a branch or burl or bump in the wood can become part of the design.
In his teaching, Mr. Allen felt that it was advantageous to leave all surfaces rough and loose at first. By so doing, new possibilities in the composition may be suggested. “Happy accidents can frequently be developed to great advantage,” he said. (Betty Smith) Wood can be rasped, polished and carved out with shaped tools to create smooth and rough surfaces “or a combination to give richness.” (Smith) “The accenting of planes upon the surface not only gives strength to the modeling, but added vitality to the piece in changing lights.” (Smith)
Looking at the portrait, you can see in the carving examples of his teaching. The central grain of the wood is all vertical, creating the erect position of the head on the neck and the bright smooth planes on the skin surfaces of the face. The planes have been polished to give highlights. The hair is carved with a gouge across the grain which creates texture for contrast and a darker color in the hollows and the roughness of the carving. It’s also darker when the end grain shows, for example in the cut-away under the hair at the nape of the neck, under the cheekbone and jaw line where a shadow appears to form hollows. Notice at the angle of the shoulder where the grain changes as it would where a branch grows from the trunk. The growth pattern is used there to accentuate the change from the round “trunk” of the long neck transitioning into the more horizontal lines where it cuts away to become the shoulder and then downward toward the chest, undulating along and around the collar of the long neck as around the collar of a branch. Notice how the grain forms the contour of the Adam’s apple, the shape of the jaw line and the cheek above it. Other light lines in the surface of the graining almost look like wrinkles in the skin. There are places where the wood has been rasped to make it darker for a shadow or contour. Tooling marks show the hand of the sculptor. Here the hand is masterful.
It would be so interesting to see how he used the wood on the opposite side of the portrait but, unfortunately, the bust is still missing in spite of attempts to find it among art collections, historical records and museum archives.
OTHER WOOD CARVINGS
Madonna and Child, undated oak carving
Crucifix for St. Francis Chapel
Mary or Nun with a prayer book, undated early work, golden oak carving
Finally, we come to the carvings, the work closest to his heart. The youthful Mary, done in golden oak is a beautiful thing, both in mood and design. This is an early work.” (Smith)
Connick Foundation www.cjconnick.org/ 37 Walden St. Newtonville, MA 02460 617-244-2659
MFA has the window in its collection donated by Adio DiBiccari. They list it as dated after 1924.