Donald MacDonald (stained glass)

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Donald MacDonald (1841-1916) was a leading stained glass artisan and designer in 19th century Boston. Born Donald McDonald, he altered the spelling of his surname to "MacDonald" around 1877. [1]

Early life[edit]

Born in 1841, the son of a Scottish farmer, in the Gorbals district of Glasgow, MacDonald was trained as a glass painter in London. By 1863, he was a partner in the London firm of McMillan & McDonald of Camden Town, furnishing stained glass for the New Stepney Meetinghouse (destroyed) in the Tower Hamlets district of East London.[2] In 1868, he settled in Boston, probably at the urging of William Robert Ware (1832-1915), founder of the school of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ware was instrumental in MacDonald's early career in Boston, providing professional introductions and commissions, using samples of MacDonald's glass work to illustrate his lectures and commending MacDonald publicly for his efforts to improve the art of stained glass in the U.S.

Boston career[edit]

In Boston, MacDonald was first employed with J.M. Cook's Boston Stained & Cut Glass Works. In 1872, he entered into partnership with William J. McPherson (1821-1900), a leading decorative painter and interior designer, for whom he organized a stained glass department within the firm of W.J. McPherson Co. In collaboration with McPherson, MacDonald produced delicately hand painted decorative glazing ensembles, often on a monumental scale. Among these were the Harvard College Appleton Chapel renovations in 1873 (destroyed) for Peabody & Stearns and Harvard Memorial Hall in 1874 for Ware & Van Brunt. As early as 1872, he introduced "doubling" or layering glass for decorative and pictorial effect in a memorial window depicting "Charity and Devotion" at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. At the direction of Ware and McPherson, he collaborated with John La Farge (1835-1910) on a number of experimental works and in 1874 produced the first opalescent picture window for Harvard's Memorial Hall (now lost). In 1876, the partnership with McPherson ended in financial dispute. In the following year, he organized "MacDonald & Co, Decorators and Specialists in Stained Glass." It was around this time that he altered the spelling of his name.

Initially favoring English glass imported from Hartley of Sunderland and Powell of London, MacDonald was dedicated to the vitreous properties of his medium rather than painterly or illusionistic effect. This aligned him with Boston's leading glass makers during the 1870s and 80s, including Page Harding & Co. and the Berkshire Glass Company. MacDonald expressed his particular vitreous sensibility in 1875. In an interview by local glass manufacturer Thomas Gaffield (1825-1900), when questioned about the awkward interior lighting effects sometimes created by a decorative window, he stated that he tried "to induce people to let the glass remain in its full beauty, undimmed by any enamel and if the sun troubled them to place curtains in the window and to pull them down until the light ceased to trouble them." MacDonald's abilities as a collaborator along with his skill and sensitivity as an artisan appealed to rational thinking and liberal minded architects and designers. In addition to Ware & Van Brunt and McPherson, these included Frederic Crowninshield (1845-1918), professor of decorative art at the school of the Boston Museum of Fine arts; the architectural firm of Rotch & Tilden of Boston; and H. Langford Warren (1857-1917), founder of the Harvard school of architecture and a leader in the Boston Society of Arts & Crafts. MacDonald also developed a close relationship with the Italian artist, Tomasso Juglaris (1844-1925), who designed figures for MacDonald's later work and introduced him to the cosmopolitan and avante garde style of the Italian Macchiaioli movement.

After the turn of the century, MacDonald's eldest daughter Flora (1869-1925), a student of Juglaris and the art school at South Kensington in London, became a leading force in MacDonald & Co. Also joining the firm was his son Donald Newton MacDonald (1877-1924), who was also head of the stained glass lamp department at Bigelow Kennard & Co. of Boston. In 1897, MacDonald participated in the first exhibition of the Boston Society of Arts & Crafts, although he did not become a member until 1907. In the following year he was elevated to the membership status of "Master." After Flora became established as an interior decorator, MacDonald retired and closed his studio in 1915. On December 24, 1916 he died at his home in Newtonville, Massachusetts. He is interred at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Selected Works[edit]

MacDonald's work for J.M. Cook's Boston Stained & Cut Glass works are in St. John's Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1869) and the First Parish Unitarian Church in Taunton, Massachusetts (1869). His earliest works at W.J. McPherson Co. may be seen at St. Anne's Episcopal Church (1872-73) in Lowell, Massachusetts. The Virtues Window (1874) and the West Window, "Veritas" (1874), produced in association with Ware & Van Brunt and W.J. McPherson Co. are found at Harvard's Memorial Hall. Also at Memorial Hall are "Pericles and Leonardo" (1882) and "Sophocles and Shakespeare" (1883) produced in collaboration with Crowninshield. In New York City, he created the stained glass dome for the library of Governor Samuel J. Tilden (1882, now the National Arts Club). In Newport, Rhode Island he created "The Sower" (1882), a panoramic window at the Channing Memorial Church, as well as windows for a number of high style "cottages." In Newton, Massachusetts, his work is represented at Channing Memorial Church (1883, now Newton Presbyterian.) In Middleton, Massachusetts his work is at the Flint Public Library (1891-92), and in Cambridge, Massachusetts his work for H. Langford Warren is found in the Church of the New Jerusalem (1902). Other works are concentrated in Boston and the northeast, but his work is found across the country, including windows at the First Congregational Church of Detroit; the First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee; Trinity United Methodist Church in Salisbury, Maryland; the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, California; and the National Swedenborgian Church in Washington, D.C.

In addition, he has several windows at Dartmouth College. He made the memorial window for President Bennet Tyler, which depicts the Apostle Paul. He also is responsible for the President Nathan Lord memorial window, depicting Moses, as well as the President Asa Dodge Smith memorial window. He also created and executed the main stained glass window above the chancel in the Arnot Memorial Chapel at Trinity Church in Elmira, New York.[3]


  1. ^ Lance Kasparian, "The Stained Glass Work of Donald MacDonald of Boston: A Preliminary Study," The Journal of Stained Glass XXVII, (London: The British Society of Master Glass Painters) 2004.
  2. ^ The Illustrated London News (12 December 1863).
  3. ^ Arnot Memorial Chapel - Affection's Tribute to the Departed, The New York Times, November 24, 1882, page 5