From the pews in the sanctuary, the five stained-glass windows over the altar appear curiously bland in contrast to the two vast arrays to the left or the rear. Only if you cross into the chancel and catch a glint of sunlight might you sense something quite different is at hand before you.
That’s how I first noticed that unlike traditional stained glass, none of this set had been enhanced by paint. All of the color was in the glass itself, yet there were no muddy patches where colors overlapped, as might be expected while mixing pigments. Some of these resembled Impressionist painting or bookmaker marbling. Moreover, when direct sunlight hit some of the pieces, the color blazed with gold or copper or fine jewels.
Could it be? I’d heard that one reason Louis Comfort Tiffany obtained such incredible effects in his work was that he used such materials in his glass. For starters, the only way to get a gold color is to use gold.
As I started to seek documentation, some fascinating connections appear.
As it turns out, the Tiffany Glass Company and its successor, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, created thousands of ecclesiastical church windows. Many of these were designed and executed by his studio, rather than Tiffany himself, but they would nonetheless bear his stamp and influence.
Tiffany’s 1890 Hay Memorial at Emmanuel Episcopal in Pittsburgh presents some striking similarity to the set at the 1895 St. John’s Methodist in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Both are narrow arched windows with greenish bottom panels ringed in copper tones. The central cross resembles the crosses at Watertown. And the mention of Tiffany’s love of exotic Oriental painting and his travels in northern Africa might explain the two Watertown windows dominated by palm trees.
The Watertown congregation originated in 1836 in the Whitney family home, and they remained active supporters at the time the 1895 stone building was erected. Their David Whitney Jr. relocated to Detroit as a young man, quickly became that city’s wealthiest resident, and built an 1894 mansion that still features its elaborate Tiffany windows.
Finally, I run into the pastor as he’s leaving his office. I pose the question, “Tiffany?”
“His studio, then?”
Regardless of the creator’s name, these five windows are marvelous, especially when struck by sunlight. Unfortunately, their placement on the west side of the building means the Sunday morning worshipers would not get to view them at their best.