Reflections from the Guild: The Curse of the Parrot


Mrs. MacDonald

It all began on a Thursday. Form II student and Master of the Guild, Nick DeHaven, was sitting in the Stained Glass workshop discussing the art of painting on glass with a few younger students. As I walked by, I heard him say, “Sure, Mrs. MacDonald is good at glass painting- but she’s no Thomas [Daniel].” After he issued this casual proclamation, he turned to me and said, “No offense.” No, of course not, Mr. DeHaven. “None taken,” I said. He didn’t know it then, but with those words Nick had set in motion a series of events that would lead me straight to the curse of the parrot.

Immediately, my mind began flipping through all the ways to prove myself- and it seized upon the perfect means. Recently, the aforementioned senior and President of the Guild, Thomas Daniel, had become completely entranced by a parrot painted on glass by the 17th century Dutch craftsman, Abraham Van Linge. Upon seeing this bewitching little creature, Thomas immediately began trying to understand how the artist had achieved such subtle shading and vibrant colors on glass in order to replicate it himself. The image was so in his head that he was unable to think about much else for the entirety of a week and joked that the image was cursed. 

Heedless of this warning, I decided the best way to prove myself would be to recreate the image of the parrot more successfully than Thomas. Thus, I too began studying the image. To say it became an obsession would be an understatement. Within days, I had fallen prey to the curse- whereby the image completely captivates you leaving little time for anything else in your life and which curse can only be broken by painting an exact replica of the parrot. By the time I outlined my parrot on glass, TD had already done the same. I studied my painting and his side by side, discussing them with Masters of the Guild and Medieval Arts students; it was clear that if I wanted to hang with Thomas, I’d have to start over. And thus began the back and forth of painting, critiquing, and starting over that is stained glass. Each time Thomas and I add another layer of paint, a discussion ensues- what works, what doesn’t work, which one is more successful and why- the curse creates a restlessness that reaches toward excellence but is clear eyed and articulate when it doesn’t get there.

Through weeks of compulsive painting, I’ve grown to suspect that the curse of the parrot is no curse at all. Rather, this attitude regarding work in community is baked into the Guild’s Charter as its first two foundations Craftsmanship and Fraternity. Past Masters of the Guild and authors of its Charter outlined Craftsmanship thusly: “In keeping with the traditions of those who came before us, we must always remember to accept nothing less than excellence in the work we do. We must never settle for mediocrity, but always strive to produce our best work.” And lest this pursuit of excellence be tainted by the cheapness of competition, the second foundation, Fraternity: “We must always remember our loyalty to the Masters of our Brotherhood. Divided we are nothing; united we can do anything.” With this in mind, the curse of the parrot is demystified and transformed- just another name for what lies at the heart of the Guild: the pursuit of excellence among friends for the glory of God and love of neighbor.

I saw this first hand over Xanadu weekend when members of the Guild came together to recreate another bird, a dove, as a gift of encouragement for Brother Symeon during his Covid quarantine. The inspiration for the window was a panel from Chartres Cathedral (one of Bro’s favorite churches). Sam Palka, David Swallow, Simon Lin (Form II), William Harrison (Form III), Nick DeHaven and Connor Guthrie (Form IV), Max Herr and Thomas Daniel (Form VI) worked together to put the window together in the space of a weekend. Anyone who knows stained glass knows what an achievement this is. Our parrot-provoked fluency in glass painting came in handy as we were able to paint the bird in one fire. Thankfully, the curse that is not a curse is alive and well in Priory’s Guild of St. Columbkille.


Guild parrots in progress: