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Revealed: Gray’s School of Art alumni behind some of the world’s most spectacular stained glass windows

Stained glass window made by Henry Young
Stained glass window made by Henry Young

From humble Aberdeen beginnings to creating world-renowned stained glass windows – Henry Young’s journey from Gray’s School of Art has been uncovered.

After diving into her own ancestry, Tracy Trail Wong has discovered that her great-grandfather created beautiful stained glass windows for some of the world’s most famous churches and cathedrals.

Henry Young as a young man with his family

Discovering a photo, taken around the 1890s, of her great-grandfather Henry Young, she managed to confirm a connection between him and Gray’s School of Art.

Contacting Robert Gordon University to find out more about the photo she’d found in the attic of his Westchester County home, she was put in contact with the university’s art and heritage collection co-ordinator, George Cheyne.

He said: “I was really excited when Henry Young’s great-granddaughter got in touch and to learn that a Gray’s alumni had made such beautiful, stained-glass windows for famous churches and cathedrals across the world.

“It’s fantastic to learn that a Gray’s alumni, who started his training from such humble beginnings in Aberdeen at around the turn of last century, went on to make world-renowned stained-glass windows.”

From poor and obscure beginnings to world class stained windowmaker

Born the son of an army private, Henry Wynd Young was awarded a scholarship from Gray’s School of Art at the age of 15.

He started his studies at the school in 1888, just three years after the art school was created by local Aberdeenshire man and successful engineer, John Gray.

During his time he was awarded a James Smith Bursary to study classes at the institution.

In the 1901 Census, he’d changed occupation from house painter to stained glass designer and upon leaving Aberdeen in 1907, headed to San Francisco to work on the city’s reconstruction following the 1906 earthquake.

Off to America

With training and sketches in hand, and finally leaving Scotland in 1907 he changed the course of his family’s history as well as that of stained glass and church architecture.

Never quite making it to San Francisco, his epic voyage led him to New York City.

Establishing a successful stained glass studio where many notable artists trained and worked under his leadership.

Notable projects he worked on include stained glass windows for the National Washington Cathedral DC, Trinity Cathedral Ohio.

Other notable works include Newark Cathedral in New Jersey and the largest cathedral in the world, St. John the Divine, on Amsterdam Avenue in New York where Henry Wynd Young’s ashes are interred.

Between working on churches, Henry Wynd Young also produced work for many leading designers and patrons including the Rockefellers, the Morgans, The Reids, E.F Albee and the Macys.

From his arrival in the USA to his untimely death at the height of his career on Christmas Day in 1923, Henry Wynd Young earned the reputation as one of the two most important leaders of the New Gothic Movement in the United States of America.

Ms Wong said: “I never imagined that the postcards from Scotland I played with as a child would be artefacts that would reveal the path of this remarkable man.”

School has created artists for 135 years

Mr Cheyne added: “The windows feature panels in both white and coloured glass, grisaille painting and figure panels which would have drawn on techniques which the young Henry Young around the time of his studies in 1896.

“Gray’s School of Art has existed for over 135 years and in the challenging times of 2021, it is encouraging to learn that Gray’s creative spirit, continues onwards, as alumni create their own journeys and make their mark on the world.”

George Cheyne with Henry Young’s stained glass window images

He added: “It is important to remember the achievements of those who came before us and to remember that Gray’s School of Art is not merely a physical building but also represents the journeys and achievements of students, alumni and tutors.

“Young not only represents the success story of a Gray’s School of Art alumnus but also a story of discovery, adventure, hope and achievement.

“Born to a poor and obscure family, he would build on his talents and humble beginnings in Spa Street Aberdeen and go on to achieve a lasting world impact.”

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