American museum acquired first stained glass window with Black Jesus

18 march, 2024

A work depicting Black biblical figures Mary and Martha, along with Jesus, was found in a former church closed 14 years ago.

Stained glass window depicting Black Jesus. Source: provided by Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (Tennessee, USA) has acquired a unique stained glass window depicting a dark-skinned Jesus. The corresponding window was found in 2022 in the former Saint Mark’s Church in the Rhode Island city of Warren, Artnet reports.

Saint Mark’s Church, built in 1830, was closed in 2010. Within two years, the diocese sold it to member Hedley Arnold and her husband, Peter Arnold. Hedley, who is involved in art history and architectural design, did not notice the unconventional skin tone of the biblical characters until 2022. To investigate the work, the couple hired Virginia Raguin, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester (Massachusetts) and an expert in stained glass.

The work was created in 1877 in the studio of the renowned 19th-century stained glass artist Henry Sharp. It also features biblical sisters Martha and Mary, who also have dark skin. There is little evidence about this depiction, but it has been established that it was donated to the church by a woman named Mary P. Carr, in honor of Ruth Bourne DeWolf and Hannah Bourne Gibbs. DeWolf married into a family enriched by the slave trade, and later she and Gibbs donated to an organization helping freed slaves return to Liberia.
Fragments of the stained glass depicting Black Jesus, Martha, and Mary. Source: provided by Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
The Brooks Museum did not provide details of the deal with the Arnolds, but it is known that in 2026, the stained glass will be moved to a new building with an area of 120 000 square feet (about 11 148 square meters). “The 1877 Black Gospel Window will have pride of place. Standing 12 feet tall and five feet wide, it will be on permanent display in a glass-walled gallery adjacent to a central courtyard, flooded with natural light by day, illuminated and visible from a public courtyard by night,” reported the museum team.

Museum director Zoe Kahr expects the stained glass to «have the pull of a pilgrimage site,» as Memphis is the largest city with a majority Black population in the USA and has ties to the civil rights movement. «The window is not only an important part of history, but a powerful piece of art. It’s very rare to find stained glass from this time period that so vividly speaks to issues still relevant today,» says museum chief curator Rosamund Garrett. After restoring the work, the team plans to continue its research.

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