Harry Clarke’s Stained Glass Windows in New Jersey Earn Landmark Status for Parish

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Pieces of the Emerald Isle encased in glass forever.

The windows inside St. Vincent de Paul Church in Bayonne, New Jersey illuminate the sanctuary, even on the cloudiest of days. The church, which was built in the 1920s by the city’s Irish immigrants and named a national landmark in 2011, is the only one in the United States where you can see the work of Harry Clarke.

“Harry was a book illustrator first so the attention to detail was incredible,” said art historian Peter O’Brien.

“A lot of beautiful details in the faces the hands, the head, the clothing so I like to look at all the details of the figures in the windows,” said church historian Priscilla Ege.

Clarke is considered to be among the greatest glass artists in history, but few people outside the art world know these windows exist; that’s why historians Priscilla Ege and Peter O’Brien are on a mission to get Clarke’s work the recognition they say it deserves.

Peter and Priscilla are also parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul. They say the beauty of Clarke’s work is in the details.

But there’s a darker side to this stained glass. Influenced by the Irish potato famine, Clarke’s figures are long and gaunt with somber faces; a sharp contrast to full-figured Italian renaissance art. He was also known for his illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allen Poe.

“This is a very unique style that you won’t see anywhere else, post-famine artwork, so there’s is a big difference in what you see, and every inch of a window has detail in it,” O’Brien said.

Clarke’s specialty was deep jewel tones.

“He specialized in doing that and taking a blue and then making it lighter and darker and more royal so he was very unique in doing that with the colors he didn’t just stay with red and had degrees of colors for all his works,” said Ege.

Clarke’s work and legacy is a part of Irish history seen as a unique gift to the Catholics of Bayonne.

“We try to make everyone realize how important and special they really are that’s why we write books and papers and give tours and try to get the people more involved in the windows not just us,” said Ege.

“Just take it inch by inch and you’ll see incredible things,” O’Brien said.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, if you find yourself getting lost in the images within the Celtic knot frames of Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows, you might be considered lucky.