One of the few African-American designers and salesman to work for the famed Louis C. Tiffany, William Hazel made a name for himself in both stained glass and architecture in the late 1800s and early 1900s. While Hazel grew up in Massachusetts and later worked at the Tuskegee Institute and Howard University, some of his most notable work came while he was living in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Parts of his story have been blurred by history, but Hazel has been revived as part of an exhibit by the African American Interpretive Center of Minnesota (AAICM) at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis. “The Builders: Shaping Minnesota’s Architectural Landscape on the Color Line” features Hazel along with Clarence “Cap” Wigington, the first African-American municipal architect in the nation and the lead architect on more than 90 Saint Paul city projects, and Casiville Bullard, a renowned stoneworker who worked on iconic Minnesota buildings including the state capital and the Cathedral of Saint Paul.
Hazel, who already was a noted architect and stained glass artist, moved to Saint Paul in 1887. Among his works in the Twin Cities was Saint Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“This exhibit came about because we’re a black history organization and we try to find projects that reflect black life in Minnesota,” said JoJo Bell, Board President and Director of Exhibitions for the AAICM. “We like look back at earlier figures and events to dispel the notion that no black people lived in Minnesota before the 1980s. We thought it would be great to look at these three who at the turn of the 20th century were in influential in white spaces.”
While author Dreck Sparlock Wilson in his 2004 book, African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945, noted that Hazel had an apprenticeship with the influential French-born stained glass designer, John LaFarge by 1872, his professional origin story published in the newspaper The Appeal on Feb. 8, 1890 had a different take:
“Obtaining employment as assistant to a janitor in Boston, it became part of his duty to take care of the office of an architect, who, liking his appearance, engage him to run errands, sweep the office and ‘grind ink’ for the draughtsmen, and do other similar service. Hazel soon conceived the idea of learning to draw; but, as he himself says, he hardly dared to aspire to such work. However, he mentioned his desire to his employer and requested that he might be taken as a student … but a black student in architecture! That had never been in Boston and was sufficient reason for a denial of his request.”
Hazel then moved to New York City, where, “after many rebuffs and discouragements he was given a trial by the late Mr. Chas. D. Gambrill, a former partner of the greatest architect of the age, the late H.H. Richardson … and since then Hazel has never been without professional employment.”
A few years later, Hazel took the position as designer for the stained glass department of Forman, Ford & Co. of Minneapolis, making a good enough impression to earn a job as the Minneapolis rep for The Tiffany Glass Co.
“Because Hazel was one of the first African-American stained glass designers in the United States, his arrival in Saint Paul, Minnesota in January 1887 must have created a buzz in the exclusively White art salons of the Twin Cities,” Wilson wrote in his biographical sketch of Hazel.
But it seems as if he and his colleagues were able to negotiate the typically white spaces of architecture and stained glass while the racism they felt most overtly was in their personal lives.
“All three did some type of apprenticeship to gain their skill and all there were transplants to Minnesota. They didn’t get their schooling here,” Bell said. “But from what we found, there wasn’t a huge barrier for them to get into those positions. Wigington is a good example. He was skilled enough to get into the city architect’s office and became the first black municipal architect in the country. Casiville came here from Tennessee right after the (post-Civil War) Reconstruction Period and he got work on the State Capital with a Minnesota Company. Hazel worked with Forman, Ford & Company.
“There weren’t huge blocks for entry in professional life. It seems in terms of rights outside of their work, that’s where they encountered some of these obstacles. Wigington formed the 16th Battalion after he was shut out from the Minnesota State Guard during World War I. Casiville was building his first home and some of the white neighbors.”
And then there were two lawsuits filed by Hazel for businesses refusing him accommodations. In 1887, he won his suit against the Clarendon Hotel for “refusing him accommodations on account of his color,” stated the newspaper Western Appeal on Oct. 22, 1887. It was moral victory. Hazel asked for $2,000 in damages, but was awarded $25.
In 1909, Hazel became an instructor in the mechanical industries department at Tuskegee Institute. Ten years later, he taught at Howard University in the School of Applied Arts and Mechanics.
The exhibit at the Mill City Museum partnered with LES Architects to create a video and a three-dimensional model of Wigington’s 1942 Ice Castle.
“The rest of the exhibit has snap shots of each of their lives,” Bell said. “We want to make sure we’re not only telling the architectural history but we also wanted to show what their lives were like here in the 19th and 20th century on the color line in Minnesota.”
The exhibit is open through Oct. 27, 2019.