A ground­breaker in stained glass


The Day - - DAYBREAK - By KRISTINA DORSEY Day Staff Writer

Louis Com­fort Tif­fany was leg­endary for the in­tri­cately artis­tic and in­no­va­tive stained-glass pieces he de­signed. And his fam­ily’s busi­ness, Tif­fany & Co., is still renowned for lux­u­ri­ously high-end jew­elry. A new per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ly­man Allyn Art Mu­seum ex­plores this fa­mous fig­ure but through a slightly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, by ex­am­in­ing his life, his work — and his con­nec­tion to south­east­ern Con­necti­cut.

“Con­necti­cut, with its deep fam­ily ties for Tif­fany, played a foun­da­tional role in the artist’s life, of­fer­ing a peace­ful re­treat as well as artis­tic inspiration and a source of pa­tron­age,” the ex­hi­bi­tion text states.

“Louis Com­fort Tif­fany in New London” opened in late Oc­to­ber and will be a per­ma­nent pres­ence at the mu­seum.

The ex­hi­bi­tion re­flects a crit­i­cal mo­ment in the dec­o­ra­tive arts, when Art Nou­veau was flow­er­ing, notes Tanya Pohrt, the Ly­man Allyn’s spe­cial projects cu­ra­tor. Tif­fany (who lived from 1848 to 1933) said that one of the goals in his life was the pur­suit of beauty in all its forms, and the ex­hi­bi­tion ex­am­ines how he and his stu­dios fol­lowed that man­date.

“Louis Com­fort Tif­fany in New London” — which Pohrt cu­rated with in­put from Ly­man Allyn di­rec­tor Sam Quigley and di­rec­tor of exhibitions Jane LeGrow — high­lights not just items from the Ly­man Allyn’s col­lec­tion but also those on loan, in­clud­ing pieces from Tif­fany descen­dants. They range from stained-glass win­dows to lamps to dress­ing sets to jew­elry.

The ex­hi­bi­tion de­tails how, when he was 18, Tif­fany saw an­cient iri­des­cent glass at a mu­seum in London, and it made a huge im­pres­sion on him. He even­tu­ally patented a for­mula for opales­cent win­dow glass, which was more ver­sa­tile and nu­anced in color than win­dow glass had been.

“Tif­fany is best known for his work in glass, and we have a lot of glass within the ex­hi­bi­tion, but it’s nice to show dif­fer­ent phases of his ca­reer and the dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als he worked in,” Pohrt says. “I am par­tial to paint­ings, so I was pleased to put in some ex­am­ples of his paint­ings. … One of his in­no­va­tions was to re­ally make these stained-glass com­po­si­tions paint­ings in glass, al­most. Tif­fany worked to make the glass it­self more dy­namic and three-di­men­sional in terms of cre­at­ing this sense of space that’s oc­cu­pied by fig­ures. To be able to see the paint­ings and then the win­dows, you get a sense of some of these larger in­ter­ests or the con­ti­nu­ity in de­sign.”

Lo­cal Tif­fany ties: Tif­fany spent a lot of time in the re­gion, par­tic­u­larly in the 1870s and early 1880s at his sis­ter An­nie’s home in New London on prop­erty that is now the site of Mitchell Col­lege. He would va­ca­tion, sketch and paint there. For the 1880 cen­sus, the ex­hi­bi­tion notes, he even listed New London as his res­i­dence.

Other links to the area were plen­ti­ful, too. Tif­fany’s par­ents were both from Killingly. His fa­ther, Charles Lewis Tif­fany, owned a cot­ton mill there be­fore head­ing to New York and cre­at­ing Tif­fany & Young, which even­tu­ally be­came Tif­fany & Com­pany.

Lewis Com­fort Tif­fany’s first wife, May God­dard, came from Nor­wich, as did his sis­ter An­nie’s hus­band, Al­fred Mitchell. An­nie’s daugh­ter Al­freda Mitchell mar­ried Hi­ram Bing­ham III in 1900 and spent time in the re­gion.

What sparked this ex­hi­bi­tion: In 2014, All Souls Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church in New London was pre­par­ing to move to a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion (from Hunt­ing­ton Street to Jay Street) and de­cided to sell the Tif­fany win­dow, “Come Unto Me,” that had been above its pul­pit. Church mem­bers wanted to keep it in New London, hence the piece’s pur­chase by the Ly­man Allyn, for a price that wasn’t made pub­lic. The All Souls con­gre­ga­tion also wanted to keep the win­dow ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic and, Pohrt notes, “to re­ally keep it and its story lo­cal, which we were re­ally pleased to be able to do.”

Quigley says he was ini­tially think­ing about in­stalling the win­dow, which is 6 feet high and 6.3 feet wide, in a slightly smaller space in the mu­seum along with ob­jects to give the win­dow con­text. (The mu­seum owns some Tif­fany glass and other items that were gifts from mem­bers of the ex­tended Tif­fany-Mitchell fam­ily.)

But when Quigley vis­ited the Clark Art In­sti­tute in Wil­liamstown, Mass., he no­ticed that, al­though the venue was a lit­tle off the beaten path, peo­ple made their way there be­cause they were drawn by the in­sti­tute’s French Im­pres­sion­ist col­lec­tion. In other words, name recog­ni­tion can cre­ate a des­ti­na­tion in a re­mote lo­ca­tion. Quigley thought that Ly­man Allyn could do that with Tif­fany, which is a big name in Amer­i­can art.

In ad­di­tion, Ly­man Allyn got on long-term loan from Cedar Grove Ceme­tery in New London two stained-glass win­dows, one of them a Tif­fany. The win­dows were orig­i­nally in­stalled in the Frank Loomis Palmer Mau­soleum, but, af­ter one of those win­dows was stolen in 1991 and then re­cov­ered, it and the sec­ond win­dow were con­signed to stor­age, be­cause of dam­age and fear of an­other theft.

With all these el­e­ments in play, the idea for a more wide-rang­ing and per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ly­man Allyn took off.

“We started think­ing big­ger and thought maybe could get loans here and there, maybe buy one or two,” Quigley says. “We de­cided one win­dow would have been great, but we could make so much more out of it.”

Pohrt says, “Since we had dif­fer­ent el­e­ments, we wanted to have a kind of per­ma­nent col­lec­tion gallery that would tell Tif­fany’s story and how he’s sit­u­ated within the larger his­tory of Amer­i­can art but to re­ally do that through the

lo­cal lens of ma­te­rial that rep­re­sents south­east­ern Con­necti­cut, the Tif­fany’s fam­ily ties to this re­gion, and other ar­eas where we had ma­te­rial in the col­lec­tion that could sup­port those sto­ries.”

In­deed, Quigley notes that this was a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to do what the Ly­man Allyn tries to do all the time: to give peo­ple a won­der­ful aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence but also to give them a sense of his­tory and specif­i­cally New London his­tory, where they can learn some­thing new about their own home­town and take pride in that.

Fam­ily mem­bers lent items, too: Pohrt says, “We spent some time get­ting to know some folks from all over. We’ve had great suc­cess talk­ing to descen­dants of the fam­ily, many of whom still live in the re­gion, the Bing­hams in par­tic­u­lar. Many of them brought things out of their at­tic and from stor­age that they have lent and, in a few cases, are giv­ing to the mu­seum.”

Mak­ing stained-glass win­dows come alive in­doors: Put­ting Tif­fany win­dows in­side a win­dow­less gallery, of course, comes with its own idio­syn­cratic is­sues. Un­like with paint­ings, as Pohrt notes, “You can’t just nail a few holes in the wall and hang them up.”

The Ly­man Allyn peo­ple worked with a stained glass con­ser­va­tor and ex­pert out of New York, Thomas Ven­turella, and they had cus­tom-built LED light pads man­u­fac­tured to fit these par­tic­u­lar win­dows. Those light pads cre­ate a con­sis­tent light source with­out gen­er­at­ing heat. They are also very sleek and have a fairly nar­row pro­file, so the win­dows them­selves don’t take up a lot of space.

Hav­ing the for­mer All Souls win­dow now at eye level is a marked change for view­ers; when win­dows like this are ac­tu­ally in a church, they are usu­ally set higher up and be­hind the al­tar. Be­ing up close to the pieces, vis­i­tors can see tex­tures and how, for in­stance, mul­ti­ple lay­ers of glass at cer­tain points pro­vide added depth and nu­ance.

A group from All Souls toured the ex­hi­bi­tion, and they said the win­dow looked beau­ti­ful, Pohrt re­calls. They did note, though, that one of the el­e­ments was lost, now that it’s been placed in a very con­sis­tent light­ing en­vi­ron­ment. They re­called how, when the win­dow was in All Souls church, at about 4 p.m., the light would come through in such a way that the lake water in the de­sign would look as though it was ac­tu­ally mov­ing; it would al­most dance. That’s be­cause the glass has folds and rip­ples in it, so the light shift cre­ated that ef­fect.

Pieces that have just gone pub­lic: Many vis­i­tors love see­ing the Tif­fany lamps, Pohrt notes, but there are other ob­jects on view, too, that have sel­dom if ever been seen out­side of the Tif­fany-Mitchell fam­ily. An enamel cop­per inkwell, for in­stance, is on loan and hasn’t been ex­hib­ited be­fore. It’s a fairly rare form, with prob­a­bly a dozen or less still in ex­is­tence of those lit­tle ves­sels cre­ated in enamel cop­per cut-outs. It re­flects Tif­fany’s col­lab­o­ra­tions with other de­sign­ers; Pohrt thinks this one might have been de­signed by Ju­lia Mun­son, who was a Tif­fany Stu­dios de­signer.

Pos­si­ble por­trait by Tif­fany: A small wa­ter­color of Tif­fany’s fa­ther, Charles Lewis Tif­fany, is part of the ex­hi­bi­tion, and it’s never been dis­played pub­licly be­fore. It’s un­signed, so no one knows if it was def­i­nitely painted by Lewis Com­fort Tif­fany, but it did de­scend in the fam­ily, so chances are good, ac­cord­ing to Pohrt.

More to come: Since this is a longterm ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ly­man Allyn, things will shift as works on loan are re­turned and new pieces come in. Pohrt thinks, too, that there is more the mu­seum can re­lay about Tif­fany down the line.

“Tif­fany is known to have done some wa­ter­col­ors and a few paint­ings of scenes from this area, from Nor­wich and New London, that are doc­u­mented in ex­hi­bi­tion reg­is­ters from the 1870s. But in some cases, those paint­ings I think have been lost or are kind of buried in pri­vate col­lec­tions some­where,” Pohrt says. “… I’m still look­ing for a paint­ing or a wa­ter­color to show some of that early work that hap­pened in this area.”


“Come Unto Me,” cre­ated at Tif­fany Stu­dios in New York, was in­stalled in 1924 at All Souls Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church in New London and now is fea­tured at the Ly­man Allyn Art Mu­seum.


This “Drag­on­fly Lamp” cre­ated circa 1906 by Tif­fany Stu­dios (Clara Driscoll, de­signer) is part of the per­ma­nent Tif­fany ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ly­man Allyn.

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