Quaker Artists 3

The Men’s Side

One of the pleasurable things for me about writing the Quaker Artists series has been discovering paintings of Friends Meetings for Worship. The eleven depictions of Meetings for Worship I’ve written about date from about 1688 to 2018. Here is another:

“The Men’s Side” (1860) is a pen and ink drawing from London Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions at Devonshire House. Among the Quakers shown are the Bratt brothers, in the right foreground, who continued to dress plainly even as most Friends began to adopt non-Quaker attire. It was included in a bound booklet of seven sketches by John Joseph Willson. The other drawings also showed Friends.

John Joseph Willson (1837-1903) was a Leeds (BrYM) Quaker. He came from a wealthy family, who owned the Willson, Walker & Co. tannery, the largest tannery in Britain. A painter, largely self-taught, he created landscapes, portraits and caricatures. Many of his works were in watercolor. Willson helped found the Leeds Art Gallery and was vice president of the Yorkshire Union of Artists and president of the Leeds Fine Art Society. Exhibitions of his works appeared at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Walker Art Gallery. It was said that, as a child, he “wasted his school time by drawing engines on his slate”, and that, as an adult, he “painted up to the last”. Though theater had been forbidden to Friends in the past, he was also known for his participation in amateur dramatics. The Willson Group of artists (active 1860-1906), notable British painters of the 19th century, included Willson, his wife, their four children and his sister.

I especially enjoyed “The Men’s Side”. It’s a delightful, very human depiction of a mid-19th Friends Meeting for Worship.

Gary Sandman

February 2021

Edward Njenga

Edward Njenga (b. 1922?) is a prominent Kenyan sculptor. He is known for his social realism, inspired by everyday life in Nairobi, especially that of the poor, and by Kenya’s past. He works in stone, wood and, mostly, clay. Njenga started as a potter, taught by his mother, and later studied sculpture at the Bournville School of Art in Britain and the University of Hannover in West Germany. In 2014, in a major retrospective, over 200 of his sculptures were displayed at the Nairobi Museum.

Njenga has had many connections with Quakers. During the Mau Mau rebellion Friends secured his release from the British detention camp in which he was imprisoned. (Though not a member of Mau Mau, he was imprisoned for two years in a camp). Quakers then hired him to work at the Friends Centre in Nairobi. With the encouragement of the Friends at the Centre, he began sculpting. The Friends Service Council gave him a scholarship to Woodbrooke, a Quaker retreat and study center in Britain, where he earned a degree in social work. He returned to the Friends Centre and was a social worker there for some years. A Presbyterian, he is an elder of St. Andrews (PCEA) Church.

Edward Njenga offers very moving, very clear pictures of the Kenyan people. “I have a vision,” he says, “and then I just chip away from the clay or wood the parts I don’t need.” Above is Njenga with his “Langata Mau Mau Detention Camp”.

Gary Sandman

January 2021

Antoinette Sterling

Antoinette Sterling (1841-1904) was a British/American singer famed for her rich contralto.   Her repertoire consisted mainly of oratorios, ballads and lieders, with Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord” her best-known song.  She toured extensively in Europe, America and Australia, including an appearance before Queen Victoria. 

Sterling was raised a Quaker in upstate New York.  She noted that, as a child, she was “taught to believe anything but that God is in the poet and singer”, but nevertheless she felt compelled to sing.  Early in her career, instead of Quaker gray, she wore nothing but red.  (She said that it was symbolic of her “fighting mood”).  Claiming a Quaker modesty, she declined to sing before Queen Victoria in a low-cut dress as was the custom of the day.  (The Queen graciously allowed her to wear whatever she wanted).  Sterling sang as she was inspired to by God, trying to move her audience spiritually.  With that in mind, for free, she often sang to the poor and to prisoners.  She also supported the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Salvation Army.   Sterling was a close friend of Quaker Hannah Pearsall Smith and was involved in Pearsall Smith’s Holiness Movement.  A spiritual pilgrim, she explored various churches before ending up as a Christian Scientist.

At St. Martin Lane’s Meeting in London, about 1890, Sterling was moved to sing during Meeting for Worship. (She had long felt that music belonged in Quaker worship, though singing was traditionally not allowed). Sterling sang, acapella, “O Rest in the Lord”, the aria from Felix Mendelsohn’s “Elijah”. Afterward, most Friends wept at the beauty and power of her voice. The Clerk approached her and said, “Thee knowest, sister, it’s against the rules but if the Lord telleth thee to sing, thee must!” It was one of the first times that music was heard in a modern Friends Meeting for Worship.

I was unable to find any recordings of Antoinette Sterling.  But here is a link to Marian Anderson, another contralto, singing “O Rest in the Lord”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5nrxI_v0Oc.  The lyrics about waiting for and listening to God were very apropos of Friends.  I was terribly moved, imagining Sterling rising out of the silence of a Friends Meeting to offer this music as ministry.

Gary Sandman

December 2020

Beverly Glenn-Copeland

Beverly Glenn-Copeland (b. 1944) is an American/Canadian musician and actor. He sports a three-octave range and occasionally uses vibrato. He has played folk and New Age music, with jazz, gospel, blues and classical influences. Among his albums are Beverly Copeland, Primal Prayer, Live at le Guess Who? 2018 and Transmissions: The Music of Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Keyboard Fantasies, a New Age album released in 1986, has recently been rediscovered, leading to his new-found popularity. He has also written music for Shining Time Station and Sesame Street, and he appeared for several years on the show Mr. Dressup. A transgendered man, Copeland is a mentor to the trans community. (He declined testosterone during his gender change, retaining his broad vocal range, and now goes by the name “Glenn”). Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story, Posy Dixon’s recent film, recounts his life.

Copeland has Quaker roots. In the 1940’s his mother was the first black woman to be admitted to Penn State University to pursue a master’s degree. Due to racism, however, she was unable to stay on campus or get lodgings nearby. She did find a room finally after a Quaker woman opened her home to her. Through friendship with the Quaker woman, his family began attending State College Meeting, and his mother later joined a Philadelphia Friends Meeting. His family moved to the Quaker-based Greenbelt Knoll integrated community in Philadelphia when he was a child. Copeland became a member of Soka Gakkai, a Japanese Nichiren Buddhist group, as an adult. Soka Gakkai bases its beliefs on the Lotus Sutra and the “Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō” chant. They work for peace and environmental concerns.

I went on something of a journey, listening to Copeland’s music. At first I did not like it. I was put off by the synthesizer, an instrument done to death in the 1980’s. But as I became more familiar with -and surrendered to -his music, in the end I found Copeland’s music very moving. He really is unique.

I especially enjoyed “Sunset Village”, a song on Keyboard Fantasies, with its lyrics very close to what Friends experience in Meeting for Worship: “Let it go/Let it go down/It’s okay/Let it come/Let it take all thoughts away”.

A link to Copeland performing “Sunset Village”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I6wffi4P-U

Please note: just as Copeland was becoming better-known, the Covid-19 plague started, and like many musicians, touring for him is impossible. He and his wife almost ended up homeless, His daughter set up a Patreon account for him at https://www.patreon.com/beverlyglenncopeland. Keyboard Fantasies, which I recommend, is available as an MP3 at https://www.amazon.com/Keyboa…/dp/B086BRW2KX/ref=sr_1_1…

Gary Sandman

November 2020

A.J. Muste

A.J. Muste (1885-1967) was an American political activist, labor organizer, pastor and writer. Known as the “American Gandhi”, he was the foremost pacifist in the United States in the 20th century. He believed in an active and creative nonviolence that focused on justice. While his tactics varied, he came to base this on mass non-violent movements. Muste was active in the labor movement in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He created or participated in several other organizations, as well: the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the War Resisters League, the Committee for Non-Violent Action, SANE, and Clergy and Laity Concerned. An early opponent of the Vietnam War, he was the founding chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. He was also a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin, both of whom were introduced to nonviolent philosophy and strategy by him.

Muste wrote prolifically on nonviolence.  Among his books were Nonviolence in an Aggressive World, Not by Might and The Essays of A. J. Muste.  He also co-founded Liberation, a magazine for pacifists, and he co-wrote Speak Truth to Power and Peace in Vietnam, American Friends Service Committee pamphlets.  As well, he wrote the Pendle Hill pamphlets The World Task of Pacifism, War Is the Enemy, Of Holy Disobedience and Saints for This Age

Muste became a Quaker in 1918.  He had been horrified by the First World War, prompting him to seek a new spiritual home.  He was also influenced by reading the works of George Fox, John Woolman and Rufus Jones.  Previously a pastor in in the Dutch Reformed Church and then in the Congregationalist Church, he was enrolled as a Friends minister at the Providence (NEYM) Meeting.  In 1927 he transferred his membership to Croton Valley (NYYM) Meeting.  He spoke frequently at Pendle Hill and at Yearly Meetings, sometimes criticizing Friends for their isolation from the world and their withdrawal from the Peace Testimony.  Muste was usually active as a Quaker in a leadership role in peace and justice organizations, rather than in Friends Meetings.  For example, he served as the first chairman of the American Friends Service Committee and was the Director of the Presbyterian Labor Temple.  His membership in Croton Valley Meeting was discontinued in 1960, though it is unclear whether he was notified.  Muste, however, always identified himself a Friend.  His sense of the Inner Light was so important to him that he always acted upon it, especially in his political work.

I have always admired A.J. and participated in many Mobe marches during the Vietnam War. His blend of the mystical and the practical was very moving to me (and very Quaker).

Some quotes:

“There is no way to peace; peace is the way”.

“If I can’t love Hitler, I can’t love at all”. (Spoken at a Quaker Meeting).

“In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist”.

Gary Sandman

(Above is a photo of Muste with fellow activists at a CNVA protest at the Atomic Energy Commission in August 1963).

October 2020

The Buddha’s Smile

“The Buddha’s Smile”, chapter 59 of In the First Circle, a novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, contains a brief mention of Friends. 

In the First Circle tells the story of the inmates at Butyrki, a prison for scientists and engineers, in Moscow in 1949.  Butyrki is an elite jail with adequate food and decent working conditions, though the threat of transfer to a harsh workcamp is always present.  The prisoners invent and perfect technology.   

In “The Buddha’s Smile”, Andrei Potapov, a prisoner, gathers with the other inmates and remembers a past incident at Butyrki: One day most of the prisoners from Cell 72 were removed.  The remaining 25 inmates were showered and reclothed, then returned to their cell.  In the meantime, the cell had been cleaned and beds and bookcases had been installed.  Then, to their astonishment, Eleanor Roosevelt, with a secretary, an interpreter and “two respectable matrons of the Quaker persuasion”, on behalf of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, entered the cell to check on prison conditions.  Satisfied with what she observed, Roosevelt and her entourage left.  The prisoners were immediately stripped of their new clothes, the beds and bookcases were taken out and the other inmates brought back to the cell. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was, of course, the Russian novelist and historian.  He was also a political prisoner and was jailed at Butyrki, among other prisons.  He became a leading opponent of the Soviet government.  The Soviet government came about, he said, because “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

Solzhenitsyn depicted Friends as naïve because of their participation in Roosevelt’s visit.  (The visit never happened, by the way).  I found this refreshing.  If Quakers are known at all, the opinions about us are usually kind.  But our faults are rarely explored.

I recommend you read “The Buddha’s Smile”.  It is wonderful -and very funny -writing.  To find the excerpt, type in “in the first circle pdf” in a search engine.  Chapter 59 begins on page 485.

Gary Sandman

George Fox’s Seal

A seal was among the possessions owned by George Fox.  It consisted of a wooden handle and a silver die.  The die featured a “GF” with several squiggles and other decorations.

George Fox gave the seal to Richard Pearce in Limerick, Ireland, in 1669.  Fox had been visiting Ireland to advise Irish Friends about structures and procedures.  As he was preparing to leave Limerick, he mounted his horse and handed the seal to Pearce, who was holding his horse’s bridle.  Apparently, this was done out of affection.  Pearce had hosted the first Friends Meeting for Worship in Limerick, and he had been imprisoned and fined for his Quaker beliefs.  Subsequently, the seal passed down through Pearce’s family.  About 1815, on his deathbed, Edward Phillips, a Pearce descendant, bequeathed the seal to Deborah Fisher.  They had planned to be married.  The seal then passed down through Fisher’s descendants.  In 1923 George Vaux, Jr., a prominent Philadelphia Quaker, purchased the seal from Fisher’s family.  Presumably it rests now with the Vaux family, though its whereabouts are not known with certainty.  Wax impressions of the seal are held in the George Vaux, Jr. papers in the Quaker collections at Haverford College and Swarthmore College.  (Another seal was left by George Fox to Thomas Lower, his stepson-in-law, in a 1688 will).

I find this an interesting story, though I am hesitant about Quaker relics!

Gary Sandman

August 2020

Broad Campden Meetinghouse Photographs

Two photographs depict Broad Campden Meetinghouse in Gloucestershire, England.  The photographers are anonymous.

Broad Campden Meetinghouse is the oldest Friends Meetinghouse in the world.  In 1655 Quakers in Gloucestershire began gathering through the work of missionaries Margaret Newby and Elizabeth Cowart.  In 1663 Friends in Broad Campden bought a cottage and began to use it as a Meetinghouse.  (The cottage itself was built c. 1500).  Facing benches for the ministers, overseers and elders and a second-floor gallery for the Women’s Meeting for Business were added in 1677.  (The Meetinghouse is so early it predated those features of Meetinghouses).  Broad Campden Meeting died out in 1874, and the Meetinghouse was sold.  The building was repurchased and renovated in 1961, and the Meeting began gathering again in 1962.  Today Broad Campden is a small but thriving Friends Meeting.  (The building doubled as “Kembleford Parish Hall” in the Father Brown mysteries).

The Meetinghouse is constructed of coursed and squared Cotswold stone and massive oak timbers.  Its interior is a single room and has been remodeled several times over the centuries, the wall plaster removed and floor stone and mullion windows replaced in the 1960’s.  Some of the original paneling survives.  The second-floor gallery now contains a kitchen.  A garden is laid out on the original burial ground, the gravestones having disappeared by the time the building was reacquired, while a small garden building serves as the children’s room.

Early Friends gathered in marketplaces and meadows or, if weather precluded, private homes and inns.  The first Quaker Meetinghouse was in Thirsk, Yorkshire and had been bought by the Thirsk Seekers in 1647, before they became Friends.  In 1653 Meetinghouses were purchased in Wigton and Carlisle in Cumberland; in 1654 in Hullavington in Wiltshire; and in 1657 in Banbury in Oxfordshire and Nassawadox in Virginia.  All those Meetinghouses were destroyed by the Crown, collapsed from age or were replaced by other Meetinghouses.  Hertford Meetinghouse in Hertfordshire was constructed in 1670 as the first purpose-built Friends Meetinghouse.  It is the also oldest continuously occupied Meetinghouse.

The Broad Campden Meetinghouse photographs are lovely.  They show a place where strong and gentle spirits have gathered for centuries.

July 2020

Assembly of Quakers at Amsterdam

The “Assembly of Quakers at Amsterdam” are two engravings showing Dutch Meetings for Worship in the 18th century. The worships took place in the Amsterdam Meetinghouse at 152 Keizersgracht. In the first one a Friend stands preaching while other Quakers sit around him. They are dressed as plain Friends. Onlookers, not Friends, listen. In the second one plain Quakers sit in worship, with a few non-Friends observing.

The first engraving was made by Pieter Tanjé (1706-1761), based on a painting by Louis Fabricius Dubourg (1693-1775). It appeared in D’Hurd’s Religious Rites & Ceremonies of All Nations in 1723.

The second engraving was made by Caspar Jacobsz Philips (1732-1789), based on a painting by P. Wagenaar (active 1781). It appeared c. 1780.

Dutch Friends began gathering through the efforts of the missionaries William Ames and William Caton in 1655. Converts were made, especially from the Mennonites, and Meetings were established in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. (They were known as “Kwakers”). In 1661 Dutch Friends began helping to establish German Friends Meetings, and they supported missionaries in Turkey and Algeria. By 1710 about 500 Quaker families lived in Amsterdam. They set up “infant schools” (or kindergartens) for Amsterdam children. During the 1700’s, however, many Dutch Friends emigrated to Pennsylvania and New Jersey and, in 1851, the last of them in Holland had died. Dutch Quakers began meeting again in the 1920’s, and Netherlands Yearly Meeting was established in 1931. Nowadays Meetings gather in Amsterdam, Bennekom, Den Haag, Deventer and Groningen. Famous Dutch Friends have included Jan Smet, Willem Sewel, Jan Claus, Jan de Hartog and Kees Boeke.

The “Assembly of Quakers at Amsterdam” engravings are charming. The skylight overhead indicates that James Turrell was not the first to think of installing one in a Friends Meetinghouse. It is also interesting that fewer Quakers gather in the second engraving. This, perhaps, reflects the emigration to America. Or maybe it was an off-Sunday!

June 2020

The Quaker Meeting

“The Quaker Meeting” (c. 1720) is a painting of an Italian Meeting for Worship by Alessandro Magnasco. A woman stands preaching, on a plinth in front of an obelisk, in a dark, cavernous room. Light descends on her from above. People are gathered around her, most of them ignoring her, some even chatting with one another. Two visual jokes: only a dog is listening closely to her, and one man holds his finger to his lips in a “shh!” A pair of nude men sit left and right in the foreground. It is thought that the painting is based on Van Heemskerk’s “A Quaker Meeting” or, perhaps, Goles’s engraving of that painting. Several copies exist, one of which hangs now in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749) was an Italian Baroque painter. He used browns and greys, enlivened with splashes of red and blue, in quick, almost expressionistic brushstrokes. Magnasco painted scenes of everyday life in oil and with a sense of the grotesque. Among others, his subjects included military barracks, Gothic churches, town squares, jails and monasteries. He painted synagogues sometimes, and this may explain the background, which differs completely from the Van Heemskerk painting.

Quakers held Meetings for Worship in Venice, Livorno, Milan, Florence and Rome in the late 17th century. Italian Jews welcomed them to gather in their synagogues. Friends began meeting again in the 1980’s through the efforts of Davide Melodia. In the 21st century small groups, known as Quaccheri or Amici del Silenzio, gather in Rome, Florence, Bologna and Milan.

“The Quaker Meeting” is gloomy and weird. The nudes are disconcerting. It is an odd picture.

A link to a website with “The Quaker Meeting”, the smaller painting of which is clickable for magnification:


Gary Sandman

May 2020