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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

This Was Rutherford's Gordon Henderson

Submitted and Written by Rod Leith, Borough Historian, with assistance from Diane Hecking

Gordon Paul Henderson was born January 12, 1919, in the house (extant) at the corner of Hollister and Carmita avenues. He was the son of Ernest Arthur and Isabella V. Henderson who had settled at 257 Carmita Avenue (see photos courtesy of the Meadowlands Museum below) in 1916 where they were raising three sons and a daughter.

Current photo of 257 Carmita Ave, Photo credit: Rod Leith
Ernest Henderson stained glass window at 257 Carmita Ave. Photo Credit: Kristen Davis

An exact date is unknown, but Ernest put his mark on Gordon's birthplace when he installed a beautifully crafted stained glass window, a golden relic of the lead glass trade the father learned from his father. Gordon, known to friends and colleagues as "Don," would later become so motivated by his father's craftsmanship that he himself worked to become one of this region's finest and most respected stained glass artisans.

The family moved in 1920 to another house a short distance away at 280 Carmita, where Ernest converted a carriage house into his workshop (see early and current photos of 280 Carmita Ave above. Photo credits: Meadowlands Museum). Gordon, in those days, was more attracted to sand-lot baseball. He fell in with the so-called West End crowd and joined a YMCA basketball league. In the early 1930's he played for the Melrose Juniors. Ironically, the games were played at Union School as well as the gym at the Congregational Church where Gordon would later install some of the church's prize stained-glass ornamentation.

Blakiston stained-glass window, Grace Episcopal Church, Rutherford

There are few stained-glass masterpieces in Rutherford that do not bear the signature of Gordon Henderson. He became associated with the great names of the stained glass arts, such as J&R Lamb, Charles Connick, and Tommy DiGiacomo. He most cherished his 40-year professional collaboration with an Oak Ridge, NJ, designer, F. William Baker, aka Bill Baker, with whom his signature is shared on the Blakiston window, stained glass panel at Grace Episcopal Church in Rutherford and on windows of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.

Besides his stubborn insistence on quality in his glass productions, Henderson was extremely loyal to his fellow artists. "I feel a responsibility to carry on the memory of the men --- the craftsmen and artists --- I grew up around when I was a boy," Henderson stated in an interview shortly before his death on October 30, 2010. "Most of them and their work is anonymous. I may be the only one to put the name of the artist on the window when I worked with one, maybe someone in their family will be proud of grandpa's window one day."

He was most proud of his father, who learned from his adopted father William and his brother, Robert Henderson, aka Henderson Brothers, who established themselves, first in Boston and then Chicago in 1872. Later the Henderson Brothers came to Lexington Avenue in New York City. The first generation of Henderson craftsmanship had been displayed at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. They were known to have introduced a stained glass fixture they brought from Scotland called the "metallic glazing bar." Much of the Henderson history was revealed some years ago for a doctoral degree paper authored by Steve Racine at Drew University.

50 Erie Ave, location of E. Henderson Glass Works. Photo Credit: Jack Falat

Gordon's father, who eventually established his business in Rutherford at 50 Erie Avenue as E. Henderson Glass Works, had become associated with some of the world's most respected names in the industry; names such as Tiffany Studios, Henry Eckins Studios, J.A. Whaley Lamb Co. His work was on display at Henry Clay Frick House on New York's Fifth Avenue as well as St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Soon after World War II, Gordon Henderson began his working relationship with his father. Sometime in the next decade, he assumed greater responsibility. It was about this time in 1944 that he married Barbara Evelyn Todd, who was also raised in Rutherford. He considered Barbara, often known by her mother's name, Evelyn, his soul-mate.

Current photo of 410 Edgewood Place. Photo credit: Rod Leith

Once in the mid-1970s, he and Barbara hosted at their home at 410 Edgewood Place, Rutherford, a visitor from New York City who was known as an enterprising restaurateur. Barbara thought he was a "bum." It was Warner LeRoy, accompanied by his partner, Kay. At the time, LeRoy was opening Maxwell's Plum. He told Henderson he was interested in installing Tiffany glass ceilings.

Henderson agreed to help and worked with LeRoy's German craftsman. He considered LeRoy a "great entrepreneur." When the job was completed, LeRoy sent the Hendersons a fine cut-glass fruit bowl as a "thank you." Barbara was delighted. It became her "Warner LeRoy Bowl."

Besides his long collaboration with Bill Baker, Henderson found himself surrounded by people of class and knowledge. He became personal friends with Berhardt "Bernie" Crystal, owner of Washington Irving Galleries Crystal, uncle of comedian Billy Crystal, included Henderson art glass in his New York studio

Henderson installing Rose Window (Drew Univ)

Gordon had to have been profoundly impressed by the work of English designer Henry Holiday, creator of the magnificent Rose Window at Drew University's Cornell Library. The window inadvertently became lost in storage during a renovation in 1937 and was "rediscovered" in 1978, its panels separated like a puzzle. Gordon was engaged to restore it. With the help of his son, Todd, and after six months of painstaking work, the window was restored to its original beauty.

Barbara Evelyn Henderson believes the Rose Window restoration became her husband's prize badge of accomplishment. And in his 2002 book, "University in the Forest," historian John T. Cunningham took pleasure in recounting this great effort after Gordon and his son restored and installed the "lost" window in 1982.

United Methodist Church, Madison

Gordon Henderson next to window in UMC Church, Madison. Photo credit: Steve Racine

While Gordon Henderson prized his association and friendship with fellow artisans, he was also pleased to work with the ministry. He was especially fond of the clergy associated with the United Methodist Church in Madison, especially Reverend Dale Forsman who spearheaded the church's stain glass design plan with Handerson and Bill Baker. Pastor Forsman also pioneered the clergy's Risingville Intercommunity Service Effort, a community-building initiative.

Rutherford's Methodist Church

Henderson was married in 1944 at Rutherford's Methodist Church, but he became particularly supportive of the clergy of African Methodist Episcopal churches. In the mid-1950s, when Reverend James H. Ellis was planning to build new churches at AME branches in Boonton and Vauxhall, New Jersey, Henderson says he "made a deal" to assist Reverend Ellis. "I gave him the sizes to make the openings and the windows (for these new churches)," Henderson said. "These (windows) were American made with symbolism in each one." They were installed with iron vents at the bottoms to open and close, he explained. "These were very good windows."

He became especially respectful of the culture created in those AME churches. "I have worked in many houses of worship over the years," Henderson recounted. "But none gave me the satisfaction of working to help create a house of worship for these people and my association with these ministers a (sic) height of my career."

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