Donald MacDonald

Who designed the leaded glass window in the house??

For years, the beautiful amber glass window in the curved door of the first floor main hall has been attributed to Donald MacDonald, a Boston glassmaker.  Recently, however, a newspaper article which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 31, 1903, cast some doubt on this attribution.  The article focused on the work of John La Farge, one of the great designers of stained glass windows in the late 19th century, and the chief competitor of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  In the article, La Farge's Chicago windows are listed, including the Crerar memorial window for Second Presbyterian Church (which had been destroyed in a fire in March 1900), a window for Trinity Episcopal Church (later destroyed in a fire), a dozen windows in the Chicago Board of Trade (later demolished) and "windows in the house of J. J. Glessner and of Franklin MacVeagh (later demolished)."


What was this La Farge designed window?  There is no other leaded glass in the house, and the Glessner journal and other documents make no mention of a La Farge window in the house, although they do mention a small painting he did for them.  Could the amber window be a La Farge, and was perhaps Donald MacDonald merely the fabricator?


A letter just unearthed in the archives appears to solve the mystery.  In a letter dated October 22, 1887, George Shepley (the architect who supervised construction of the house after the death of H. H. Richardson) tells John Glessner, "Shortly after you left I got a design from Mr. Grant LaFarge for the stained glass work in your hall which was not satisfactory, so I returned it with instructions to make another which I send you by mail today.  The design is I think very quiet and will be very successful.  I enclose with the design Mr. LaFarge's letter to me which will explain just what is intended by the drawings and in that he mentions the choice between two different kinds of clear glass, either of which I think would be saitsfactory, but I think it would be rather better to have it all jewels."  (Grant La Farge was the eldest son of John La Farge)


By November 21, 1887, John Glessner had apparently settled the matter, for in a letter of that date from George Shepley, he states "We received Mr. Bosworth's letter giving the measurements of the glass in the circular door in your hall and I will try to have the glass made as you direct.  The firm who made this glass for Mr. Richardson has gone to pieces but I will try to get what you want by sending in one of the windows and having it copied."


Finally, on December 10, 1887, Shepley writes that "We sent in one of the yellow glass windows to Donald MacDonald, a glass maker here in Boston, and he is making the light for your hall exactly like it.  We had a letter from him the other day saying he expected to have it finished in a few days."


So how did the mistake make it into the Tribune article, especially since there are several quotes directly from John La Farge.  The answer to that appears later in the article.  The reporter asks La Farge if he goes to see any of his work to which he replies, "Seldom.  You see I've made about ten thousand, and I've rather lost the run of them.  I hardly have any time to keep track of them.  I'm like Brigham Young, who, whenever he went into the streets, had to be told which were his grandchildren.  He couldn't keep tally on them himself."


So the mystery is solved.  La Farge did design a window for the house, but the design was rejected in favor of the window crafted by Donald MacDonald and installed late in 1887.