Sunday, September 21, 2008

Louis C. Tiffany and St. Hubert's Interior

As mentioned in St. Hubert's Chapel Visit, Francis Kinney commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany for the interior of St. Hubert's Chapel in Kinnelon, NJ, some time after 1886 and before 1889 when the Chapel was dedicated.

Louis Comfort Tiffany [1848 -1933] was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany who founded the venerable Tiffany & Co. A talented artist, he was known for stained glass windows and lamps, ceramics, jewelry, blown glass and glass mosaic. He was originally trained as a painter, learning from George Inness and Samuel Colman, both landscape painters. Tiffany captured an Art Nouveau sensibility [also see Art Nouveau].

Despite the painting background, from 1875 on Tiffany became increasingly interested in glassmaking. In 1879 with several other artists he formed Louis Comfort Tiffany & Associated American Artists. This was dissolved in 1885 so he could focus solely on glass arts, when he launched Tiffany Glass Co. [which in 1902 became Tiffany Studios].

Given the dates, I assume that Tiffany Glass Co. is the organization that Francis Kinney worked with for St. Hubert's Chapel.

From The Saint Hubert's Chapel booklet: "In order to carry out Kinney's plan for a medieval church, Tiffany assembled a team of artists and antiquarians. Under the direction of J.A. Holzer, a prominent artist, they set out to research the life and times of St. Hubert. The group spent three years locating art treasures and exploring museums in Belgium and throughout Europe to collect data. Sketches, models and drawings were made and sent to New York where a highly skilled group of professional craftsmen under Tiffany's supervision, carefully recreated the various artworks that were to be installed at St. Hubert's Chapel."

I have found references to J.A. Holzer and Louis Comfort Tiffany working on the following projects - all after St. Hubert's Chapel: Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University built from 1892 to 1894; Church of the Covenant in Boston, MA [redecorated in the 1890s]; Marquette Building in Chicago built in 1895; St. Paul's Church in Troy, NY in the 1890s; Willard Memorial Chapel completed in 1894 in Auburn, NY.

My conclusion: St. Hubert's Chapel represents a very early Tiffany Glass Co. project. I expect that many aspects of the Chapel's interior captuer early concepts and techniques that Tiffany and Holzer would have developed further in subsequent projects.

According to Cornie Hubner in a Didja Know? article titled "St. Hubert Chapel": "Two complete families of sculptors and masons were brought from Italy and resided on the estate for more than two years. Their work and that of the wood carvers and carpenters was directed by the Tiffany supervisor, Mr. A. Holyer [i.e., Holzer]. He also designed and supervised much of the interior with its tile floor and many inlays."

"The Tiffany organization supplied the altar and fixtures, furnishings and vestments decorated with many long gone semi-precious stones. Scenes of the Forest and the hunt were pictured in original windows. A wood sculptured confessional, a fireplace, and pews provided seating for 24."

The Chapel Brochure describes the baptistery, site of the magnificent Tiffany window, as follows:

"In the baptistery of the Chapel is a Tiffany double-paned window in the shape of a Celtic cross. This thick glassed window is filled with a most elaborately wrought cross of lead grill-work. The lumps of glass are broken roughly to make as many facets as possible, so as to reflect the light and add to its brilliance. The lower portion of the cross originally contained the symbols of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the foundation of the faith which is represented by the cross itself. [Two of the symbols were removed by thieves during the past forty years.] Above, in the arms and top of the cross, the symbols of the four Evangelists, the channels of the faith, are represented respectively. The exterior glass of the double-paned window was selected to appear as a mosaic in the stonework and enhance the beauty of its interior view when sunlight is transmitted. "

According to Wikipedia's entry on Tiffany, "In the beginning of his career, Tiffany used cheap jelly jars and bottles because they had the mineral impurities that finer glass lacked. When he was unable to convince fine glassmakers to leave the impurities in, he began making his own glass. Tiffany used opalescent glass in a variety of colors and textures to create a unique style of stained glass. This can be contrasted with the method of painting in glass paint or enamels on colorless glass that had been the dominant method of creating stained glass for several hundred years in Europe."

From the descriptions, it sure sounds like St. Hubert's Chapel's Celtic cross of stained glass captures Louis C. Tiffany's unique glass works technique and sensibility. I hope to get better photos when I next visit.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website comes information on Tiffany's stained glass work:

"Beginning in the late 1870s, Tiffany and his early rival John La Farge revolutionized the art of stained glass. Until then, the craft had remained essentially unchanged since medieval times. La Farge and Tiffany, dissatisfied with the limited colors and poor quality of available window glass, experimented with novel types of materials, achieving a more varied palette. Opalescent glass, internally colored with variegated shades of the same or different hues, enabled artists to substitute random tonal gradations, lines, textures, and densities—inherent in the glass itself—for the pictorial details that previously had been painted on the glass. Other innovations involved plating, the addition of one or more layers of glass to attain greater depth of color and three-dimensional effects and to blend different hues. Tiffany drew from a stock of thousands of different types and colors of glass, some of which were given dramatic textures and shapes through the use of molds and through manipulation of the material in its molten state."

Fascinating, isn't it? What a gem and historical masterpiece available in Smoke Rise and Kinnelon, NJ. If you haven't already, do make a point to visit St. Hubert's Chapel.

The St. Hubert's Chapel Conservation Committee replaced the entry, baptistery and bell tower roofs in 1992. Electrification and alarm system came in 1993. The Tiffany Celtic Cross was removed for restoration in 1993, and reinstalled in 1994.

The Chapel's entrance door [pictured above] was also designed and created by Tiffany Studios. It was restored in the mid 1990s.

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