Saturday, October 13, 2012

Road Trip: Tiffany Glass and Decorating Co.’s Willard Memorial Chapel 1892-1894

Chandelier and window from the Willard Chapel
I’ve worked a lot on Tiffany Studios in the past decade, and for the most part I have been prevented from discussing any of the pieces I come across by a code of extreme discretion.  I still can’t blab about my private clients and the pieces I handle for them, but I thought it might be fun to show some of the Tiffany I see that is out there in the world for all to enjoy.  I’m on the road a lot and I’m trying to make a more concerted effort to stop and see good stuff along the way.

Despite having lived in New York for almost 20 years, I seldom ventured much further north than Dutchess County (which is not that far).  So I had never been to Auburn, in central New York State, a bit west of Syracuse.  The town is notable for two institutions, Auburn Theological Seminary and Auburn Prison, both founded within a couple years of each other in the early 19th century.  William Seward--the US Secretary of State who negotiated the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia--lived in Auburn, as did Harriet Tubman, who helped free slaves via the Underground Railway.
Willard Memorial Chapel on the left
Auburn Theological Seminary was considered a progressive training ground for future members of the clergy.  During the 19th century, many men were educated here and went on to missionary work in the American West and across the world (including a number of whom went to convert the ‘savages’ in Hawaii). 

In the 1890s, the Seminary benefited from the gift of a chapel on the school grounds given by Georgina and Caroline Willard in memory of their father, Dr. Sylvester Willard.  The good doctor was both entrepreneurial and philanthropic and left his daughters with both the means and goodwill to remember him with a substantial structure.
View towards the pipe organ and lectern
Built between 1892 and 1894, the Willard Memorial Chapel was designed in a Romanesque style by architect Andrew Jackson Warner of Rochester, NY.   The interior was designed and executed by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Co. (one of the many names of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s firm before it solidified into Tiffany Studios).  Today, it remains one of the few intact Tiffany interiors, having had relatively few alterations since it was built.
View to the back of the chapel, with the Christ Sustaining Peter window and Holzer relief panel below
The 1890s was a creative and fruitful period for Tiffany Studios.  One of the men responsible for this was Jacob Holzer, a designer at Tiffany Studios from 1890 to 1896.  Holzer worked mainly in mosaic, but had a hand in all forms of decorative embellishment.  His commission list is impressive and includes the mosaics in the Chicago Public Library and Marquette Building in Chicago, the Ayer House in Boston and Princeton’s Homeric Story frieze. 
On the left, the chapel for the Columbian Exposition, now at the Morse Museum; on the right the chandelier from the Church of the Covenant in Boston.
Stylistic similarities can be seen between Holzer’s work at the Willard Chapel and two of his major commissions at the time, the chapel for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (parts of which are now at the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida) and the Central Congregational Church (now Church of the Covenant) in Boston.  These works all have a vaguely exotic, Byzantine feel to them and rely on lush, small-scale ornament to convey richness and visual complexity.
One of the three center chandeliers
The enormous chandeliers at the Columbian Chapel and Church of the Covenant are obviously far grander than those at the Willard Chapel, but they all share a visual vocabulary.  This same circular chandelier form was used in several Tiffany religious commissions, including First Presbyterian Church in Binghamton, NY.
Side windows
The windows at Willard are both figural and geometric.  At the back of the chapel is a window of 'Christ Sustaining Peter on the Water' apparently after a painting by English artist Frederic Shields (though I have not seen the original).  Just beneath the window is a large allegorical relief panel signed by Jacob Holzer, with mosaic work in the background and frame.
Detail of the frame around the Holzer allegorical relief
Overall, the chapel felt a bit more austere than I expected, maybe because of the large amount of blank wall surface (is that white original?).  The dark ceiling is at least in part decorated with a stenciled pattern.  I wonder what this would look like if it were cleaned (or if it has already been cleaned)?
Detail of the ceiling
The 1930s saw the decline of the Seminary and it eventually ceased operations in Auburn.  The Willard Chapel is now the only remaining building on what was the Seminary campus and it is surrounded by residences and a nearby shopping center.

You can find info on visiting the Willard Memorial Chapel here.

Next time:  more Tiffany in Auburn.

© All text and images are copyright of Jeni Sandberg

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