Druanne Clack of Clinton has always treasured the stained glass window that belonged to her father, but it’s more than just a beautiful work of art. The history of the ancient glass also pieces together a family story that is just as priceless as the window itself.
Kermit Canterbury was a chaplain stationed in Germany with the Ninth Army during World War II. While there, he came across pieces of glass from the bomb-damaged cathedrals and castles of Europe, and he would mail those pieces back to his wife, Juanita. By the time he returned home, Kermit had sent at least 30 packages of recovered glass.
It wasn’t until 1953 that he took his collection to Binswanger Glass in Memphis, and for $100, the pieces of glass were fitted into strips of lead to make an elaborate stained glass window.
The window was first placed in the parsonage of First Baptist Church of Indianola, where Kermit was pastor. In 1957, the Canterbury family moved to Jackson, and the window, without a proper place to be displayed, was stored away.
Kermit passed in 1968, and two years later, when Druanne and her mother built their homes in Clinton, the window was resurrected. “I begged her not to get rid of it,” Druanne said, so Juanita ended up building her living room around the piece. Juanita passed in 2007, but Druanne owns the house and the one next door, so the window lives on in the family.
Druanne always knew that the window was a unique creation, but it wasn’t until recently that she discovered some of its fascinating historical details. Around Valentine’s Day of this year, she received a package from a cousin’s friend who had found a stash of family mementos. Along with old photos and notes was a clipping of an article about her father’s window published on Christmas Eve 1953 in The Commercial Appeal newspaper. Along with the article is a picture featuring a seven-year-old Druanne and her father looking up at the window where it was located in the Indianola parsonage.
Druanne, who had never seen this article, was thrilled. “What surprised me the most was how old the glass was,” she said. It’s also amazing to her how the fragile glass was even able to survive being mailed across the Atlantic.
The article describes the origins of the glass pieces that Kermit found:
“The central design in the window is a coat of arms which came from a castle in Aachen, built by Frederick the Great. Another was found at the ruins of the famous old cathedral of Aachen which contains the tomb of Charlemagne. According to history, this is one of the oldest in Europe, begun about 805 and ranking in importance with Notre Dame in Paris. Other bits were picked up at the Cologne Cathedral, where windows were jarred from bombings of the Kaiser Wilhelm Bridge nearby.”
Other pieces came from buildings in Hanover. According to Kermit, some of the smallest glass medallions are the most valuable, having been some of the earliest type of stained glass made.
“It’s amazing how he took scraps and turned them into something beautiful,” Druanne said.
The window is doubtlessly one of a kind. The 1953 article calls it “one of the most impressive features of Christmas decorations” in the area at the time. And it remains impressive today. From the moment you enter the front room, your eye is drawn to it. But Druanne loves the window because she remembers how important it was to her father.
“Daddy always wanted to build a chapel around the lake where we used to live and put the window in the chapel,” she added. The goal was to also have cabins for missionaries on furlough to live and to place Druanne’s organ in the chapel, but Kermit passed before that could become a reality.
“I think of him every time I look at it,” she said. “He loved beautiful things.” She wishes Kermit would have been able to see the window in all its glory today. But Druanne and her grandkids are getting to admire it now, especially her grandson who loves to look at the lions.
“There are few people who remember my father,” Druanne added, “So it’s a wonderful way to tell about him.”
In fact, the life of Kermit Canterbury seems to be tethered to the window. It has taught children about their grandfather and their lineage, and they have grown up appreciating the window itself. Most likely, the glass that dates back to Charlemagne will continue to collect stories as it’s passed down from generation to generation.