The enchanting beauty and stirring majesty of the University’s most intricate aesthetic treasures — the stained glass windows of Bapst Library and Gasson and St. Mary’s halls — are vividly depicted in a keepsake book, Transforming Light: The Stained-Glass Windows of Boston College.
Yet, as stately and serene as the complex colored panes are, it took the sharp eye and imaginative skills of Director of University Photography Gary Wayne Gilbert to capture images of these lucent works of art in their utmost splendor. Gilbert, an award-winning fine art and commercial photographer, has earned Awards of Excellence from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and his work has been featured in Communication Arts magazine.
Gilbert’s photographs in Transforming Light are accompanied by a series of descriptive essays written by Virginia Chieffo Raguin, a professor of art history at the College of the Holy Cross, and a nationally recognized expert on stained glass. The volume begins with a survey of Boston College architecture by Fine Arts Professor Jeffery Howe, who also describes the Maginnis and Walsh master plan for the campus.
“For a long time, I used the beautiful windows as dramatic backdrops, which ultimately led me to take a close look at the actual depictions,” Gilbert says. “I was amazed at the subject matter. Where else would you find portraits of Mark Twain, Daniel Webster, George Washington, Longfellow, Lincoln, Emerson, Hawthorne – the list goes on and on – in stained glass? And there is an impressive range of intellectual pursuits represented: religion, poetry, fine arts, natural science, political science, philosophy, law, medicine, oratory and more.”
Photographing such a complex subject was not an easy task. “This project presented its own set of challenges,” Gilbert says, “particularly the height of the windows and the variability of external light.
“I wanted to be true to what I believed the artists who created them were trying to display,” Gilbert continues, “which to me meant the design, colors and composition supporting the subjects, rather than the technical aspects of the windows themselves, such as the lead work. The best condition to achieve this was to shoot when it was cloudy outside, which provided even more light, with no interior illumination, so the lead would fade into black.”
The height of the window panes – some as high as 30 feet – was another challenge, Gilbert says. “This required a tall, stable ladder that worked fairly well for someone with a fear of heights,” he quips.
“I think the biggest problem was what not to shoot,” says Gilbert, who holds a fine arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. “There are so many beautiful windows that we couldn’t include because of space constraints – the book would have been twice the size and weight. I
think we could easily do a second volume.”
To see a slideshow of Gilbert’s photographs in Transforming Light: http://bit.ly/eqWBZC
Transforming Light is a publication of Linden Lane Press, based in the Office of Marketing and Communications. Copies are available at the Boston College Bookstore or online at www.bc.edu/bookstore.
This article is written by Reid Oslin and originally appeared in the Boston College Chronicle.