A unique combination of talents is required for an artist to move back and forth between conserving historic stained glass and creating original work that can pass the test of time. Since 1976, Mary Clerkin Higgins has been doing just that. An internationally renowned contemporary stained glass artist, Clerkin Higgins brings inspired creativity and a fascination with color to her original work. However, in the role of conservator, she checks her artistic voice and relies upon the finely honed technical skills and careful attention to detail of past masters.
During the 2017 American Glass Guild conference held in Rochester, New York, Clerkin Higgins was awarded the first Nicholas Parrendo Lifetime Achievement Award. In September, she presented a paper to the Corpus Vitrearum Conservation forum, titled Bringing Back the Ghosts. An original co-founder of the American Glass Guild, Clerkin Higgins received New York’s Landmarks Conservancy Lucy G. Moses award for her work at Packer Collegiate Institute Middle School Project; and a New York Construction Award of Merit for her work at Lady Chapel project, Cathedral of St. Patrick.
In 2014, Clerkin Higgins’ original creation, Oh! won the American Glass Guild’s inaugural American Glass Now Award for Excellence in the Art of Stained Glass, acknowledging the creative use of materials, original expression, aesthetic impact, clarity of narrative, and complexity of execution in the work. The 12-inch-by-40-inch piece rendered in blown glass, vitreous paints, and lead was subsequently selected for Corning Museum’s New Glass Review 36.
Last year Clerkin Higgins spent considerable time conserving two 13th-century pieces, one for Harvard Art Museums from Canterbury Cathedral and one for the Baltimore Museum of Art from the Tours Cathedral in France. Higgins’ conservation work can be found in the foremost museums and public and private collections across North America. She has conserved stained glass from the 12th to the 20th centuries, made by renowned masters and notable moderns, including John LaFarge, Tiffany Studios, Henry E. Sharp, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marc Chagall, and Frederick S. Lamb. She has also worked on windows by Harry Clarke, William Morris, Daniel Cottier, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Clerkin Higgins, the conservator, currently works on three Tiffany windows for a museum in Washington DC. As artist, Clerkin Higgins creates a new window with Sabra Field for a hospice chapel at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire; a new window for a church in Winston Salem, North Carolina, filled with Rowan LeCompte windows made with Clerkin Higgins’ assistance; and a 15th- century martyr for a collector. Her personal work is on view in the juried show Workhouse Glass National 2017 in Lorton, VA, from October 28 through January 14, 2018.
Higgins feels lucky to have kept busy working these past decades without the need to advertise. For 17 years she worked on more than 100 pieces in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters, all while maintaining her own studio.