Bois Blanc Island visitors and appreciators of art history might be very surprised to learn that an artist who made an impressive name for himself in Alaska has familial roots and an intimate connection with this special island.
Eustace Ziegler, known for his ability to capture the true spirit of Alaskan frontiersman in the early twentieth century, was very much a part of the birth of a most delightful church and stained glass window found in Pointe Aux Pines on Bois Blanc Island. With its unusual location and cobblestone bell tower, it has to be one of the most charming, picturesque churches I think I have ever seen.
It only remains open for 2 months out of the year, in July and August when the island is at its peak of island visitors. Bois Blanc Island resident Mike White shared that the rose style window was brought over on the steamer Duluth in 1906. It was the design of Eustace Ziegler and constructed in Detroit by the firm Fredrick & Wolfrum.
Florida resident, Sally Babler Sperry, whose grandfather was a cousin of Eustace Zeigler helped explain Eustace Ziegler’s connection to this window. “He was an Episcopal minister and artist of Alaska. His father, Paul Zeigler, founded the church on the Island with Rev. Howard Buckley (not sure of spelling). Carl Zeigler (his brother) was the minister of the Church of the Transfiguration for many years.”
In researching the history of this charming window, I contacted Michigan stained glass artist, historian and consultant, Barbara Kreuger who volunteers with the Michigan Stained Glass Census which is a part of the Michigan State University Museum. She most generously shared information about the stained glass firm Friedrich & Wolfrum. According to Kreuger, this firm played a very major role in stained glass in Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes states. She also notes that the firm has been in the same family from 1860 to early 1970, and is still one of the stained glass firms longest owned by people in the same family.
Those interested in additional history of this firm are invited to visit www.michiganstainedglass.org . If you scroll over “Registered Stained Glass”, click on the Studio/Artist link. Then scroll down to Detroit Stained Glass Works, where there is a short history of the firm.
It is clear that Eustace Ziegler, his brothers and father were instrumental in the construction of this quaint island church. With such an intimate connection with this project, Eustace Ziegler, with his divine gift for painting, just may have indeed painted the image of Jesus on this window. The window was recently registered by Christine McAffe with the Michigan Stained Glass Census where she indicates it was “painted” by Eustace Ziegler and made by Friederichs & Wolfram in 1905.
The Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington holds a large collection of Eustace Ziegler’s work including eight “oil on glass” painted windows from the interior of the Alaskan house that Ziegler lived in just after he left his Michigan home in 1909. He lived with friend, Ralph C. Stewart, in Cordova, Alaska. According to Cory Gooch, Frye’s Collections Manager/Registrar, the condition of the windows is very delicate, as there are problems due to the poor paint adhesion since these were not fired. Typically when painting on glass, the paint would need to be fired on for permanency. Therefore they have restrictions on handling these unusual works.
The timeline does seem to add up, and there is growing evidence to suggest that indeed Eustace Ziegler painted Jesus on the rose window of the church of transfiguration on Bois Blanc Island. This would be especially fitting as he, along with his family, demonstrated a deep faith and roots established in Christ. Further research needs to be done to explore whether the painting on this particular window was “oil on glass” or if more traditional stained glass techniques were employed. Otherwise, its longevity may be a concern. Conservation should be explored as Gooch suggests, by finding the right conservator here or by contacting the Corning Museum of Glass in New York and see if they have any recommendations or referrals.
Bois Blanc Island, with its rustic charm and humble island appeal, is a little slice of heaven on earth as it brings travelers face to face with nature, and thus God’s amazing creation. This intimate connection to a most remarkable little island in Michigan’s upper peninsula, undoubtedly helped to shape and influence a young artist’s love for God, while also igniting in him a sense of adventure, which led him to the far and distant frontiers of Alaska to leave his mark on art history.