August 09, 2017

Stained-glass windows transform Fiondella Great Room

By Vicki-Ann Downing

Twenty-four stained-glass windows, depicting 18 significant individuals in the history of Western civilization and six academic disciplines, were installed during the summer in the Fiondella Great Room of the Ruane Center for the Humanities.

The windows were designed by Sylvia Nicolas ’01Hon., a fourth-generation, master stained-glass artist from Mont Vernon, N.H., whose art and sculptural works grace St. Dominic Chapel.

Arranged in chronological order, the windows depict Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Mozart, Jane Austen, Darwin, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Nicolas included, as a distinction for each of the 18 figures, an image related to their philosophy or occupation.

Academic disciplines represented in six smaller windows are theology, music, literature, science, philosophy, and history. Nicolas’s son, Diego Semprun Nicolas, a fifth-generation Nicolas family stained-glass artist, traveled from Holland to assist her with them.

The windows were made possible by a gift from Michael J. Joyce ’84, a member of the PC Board of Trustees, and his wife, Jane (Aries) Joyce ’89.

In making the gift, the Joyces sought to honor their daughter, Caroline, who has Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder, and to give her a place in the College’s history.

“Caroline can’t talk, but she is very aware of everything going on around her, and she enjoys nature and being out in the world,” Jane Joyce said.

Nicolas chose to incorporate Caroline’s initials, C.M.J., in the Jane Austen window, which seemed to be the perfect setting, she said. While Austen was bound and limited by the society in which she lived, she was always watching and observing the world around her.

The initials “C.M.J.” in the Jane Austen window honor the daughter of Michael J. Joyce ’84 and Jane (Aries) Joyce ’89, whose gift made the windows possible.

The Joyces will see the windows during a visit to campus in the fall.

“We have seen photos, and they look amazing,” Jane Joyce said. “The Ruanes have done so much to make that beautiful building possible. This was a small way we could help finish it off.”

The Ruane Center for the Humanities was built with a lead gift from Michael A. Ruane ’71 & ’13Hon., an emeritus trustee, and his wife, Elizabeth. It opened in 2013 as home to the College’s Development of Western Civilization Program, Liberal Arts Honors Program, and English and history departments. In 2016, the Fiondella Great Room was dedicated with a gift from Robert J. Fiondella ’64 & ’16Hon. and his wife, Carolyn, in memory of Fiondella’s father, Sisto William “Bill” Fiondella.

Incorporating stained-glass windows in the Fiondella Great Room had been discussed since the room was designed, according to Gerald J. Sullivan ’86, one of the project architects. Because it is a humanities building, it also seemed fitting to depict significant figures from history, along with academic disciplines, in the stained glass.

A committee suggested names and College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 made the final selections.

“The panels celebrate some of the most creative people in human history, from literature to theology, philosophy, science, and the arts,” Father Shanley said. “One decision I made was to place Jane Austen in the array, because I think she is one of our greatest novelists.”

Once the names were chosen, they were given to Nicolas to begin the design. She presented the sketches to Father Shanley for approval in August 2015.

“Sylvia read deeply on each of the 18 figures,” said Rev. Kevin D. Robb, O.P. ’71, College associate treasurer, who shepherded the project from its initial stages to its completion. “She researched every individual extensively before beginning any sketches.”

Nancy Katz/Wilmark Studios in Shelburne Falls, Mass., was hired by Nicolas to fabricate and install the windows. The studio is owned by the husband and wife team of Mark Liebowitz and Nancy Katz. Nicolas said that several years ago, Liebowitz expressed interest in working for her, so when she was commissioned to create the stained-glass windows, she turned to Liebowitz to work on the project.

The colors of the clear glass — gray, white, gold, pale blue,  and pale green — were muted by Nicolas using a first layer of bistre brown matte.

“While it allows a lot of light into the room, it removes the distractions of the other buildings outdoors,” she said. She described it as her major intention for impact in the Fiondella Great Room.

“I heard this quote when we were all done: ‘It looks like the room was designed to hold those windows,’” said Liebowitz. “And I think that really sums it all up. Sylvia was just fabulous in what she created.”

Katz said she watched as professors, including Dominicans, “were looking at the work, studying it, figuring out how they were going to utilize the windows as educational tools.

“That was really thrilling,” Katz said. “It makes the windows have a life of their own. All of the effort in putting them together — it elevates that experience. They’re not just decorations. They’re teaching tools, and they will have a long life.”

“The windows are beautiful,” Father Shanley said. “They change the feeling of the room. As I stood there watching this dream come true, I was overcome with gratitude to God for the beautiful gift that these windows will be for the next 100 years.”