Shine Again at Grace-St. Luke's
by Candice Carr
When seven Tiffany
stained glass windows were unveiled at Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church
after a half-million dollar restoration, one church member exclaimed
in awe, ìThese windows are magnificent pieces of art-- as fine as
any seen in a museum!î The project was begun under the direction of
church vestry members in 1998 and was carried out by Belinda Grantham
and her firm, Beelines. Two and a half years later, the project
has been completed, and the beauty of the windows is unsurpassed.
The Tiffany window restoration project began with discussions by church members interested in protecting the valuable windows. The windows, dating to 1905, had never undergone conservation or restoration. At one point they were covered with Lexan, a transparent plastic, originally installed to prevent their deterioration. This transparent plastic, still seen today covering stained glass windows all over the South, actually caused further damage to the windows as moisture and heat built up around the windows and frames from poor ventilation. The church vestry had to embark on an extensive conservation and restoration project.
A chance meeting with parish administrator Linda Stine got Belinda Grantham of Beelines studio involved. Grantham had taken a business associate by the church to look at the windows and met Ms. Stine and learned of the vestryís discussions regarding the future of the windows. Grantham attended kindergarten through 8th grade at Grace-St. Lukeís Episcopal School and spent hours as a child admiring the windows. The last 23 years she has been working with stained glass, and four years ago she opened her own studio in Byhalia, Mississippi, focusing on stained glass conservation and restoration. Itís not surprising that she expressed immediate interest in the project! Ultimately, her firm was awarded the contract to perform the conservation work.
Grantham's firm has done several projects of note in the Memphis area, including restoring four windows in the Meditation Garden at Graceland. ìThe studio focuses on one job at a time,î says Grantham. ìWe are looking to educate the public about stained glass as well as set quality standards.î On her recommendation, Femenella and Associates of Annandale, New Jersey, was brought in to plan the course of work. She says, ìI knew that we could do the work, but I felt that Art Femenella, one of the countryís foremost stained glass and Tiffany experts, could best guide the project.î Femenella developed a conservation plan using the standards set for museum-quality restoration in accordance with the Stained Glass Association of America's Standards and Guidelines for the Preservation of Historic Stained Glass Windows.
Behind the Tiffany Windows
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Tiffany Glass, created by its founder Louis Comfort Tiffany, was much in vogue among the well-heeled segments of American society. During this time, Grace Church was constructing a new white stone church at the corner of Vance Avenue and Lauderdale Street. The affluent parish put a great deal of money into furnishing and decorating the interior of the new church. One prominent member of the parish, Mrs. W. A. Gage, was visiting the 1898 Paris Exposition where she viewed the religious art exhibit. Here she met a representative of the Tiffany Glass Company with whom she contracted to have a large memorial window designed to hang above the altar of the new church.
of this commission were three Tiffany windows representing the Annunciation
angel and the Resurrection angel flanking a center window known as The
Gage Ascension Window. Four other Tiffany windows were subsequently
commissioned by the church and are said to have been installed under the
direction of Louis Comfort Tiffany himself: The Light of the World,
The Nativity,Jesus in Josephís Carpenter Shop,and The
Boy Jesus in the Temple.
In 1939 Grace Church sold its buildings to Mt. Nebo Baptist Church. The congregation packed up its beautiful interior furnishings, memorials and Tiffany windows and sought a new site to the east. In November 1940 Grace Church merged with St. Luke's Episcopal Church located at the corner of Peabody Avenue and South Belvedere Boulevard, becoming Grace-St. Lukeís.
windows were unpacked and placed at the new church site. New tracery
was made for The Gage Ascension window, and it was installed on the exterior
south wall of the church above the balcony. For years this window
was lighted until one oíclock each morning to remind passersby of
the purpose of the church. The two angel windows that had flanked
the Ascension window at old Grace Church were placed in the chancel, the
three smaller windows were installed in the chapel, and The Light of
the World window was given a prominent place in the newly built parish
Not much thought was given to the Tiffany windows over the next 60 years. The Light of the World window was removed during a 1960s parish hall renovation. It did not resurface until 1988 when it was discovered in a packing crate in a garage behind a nearby house used by the Episcopal Church Womenís Bazaar. It was a stroke of good luck-- the garage was soon to be demolished. Subsequently,The Light of the World was repaired and suspended over the entrance to a new church-owned school constructed in the late 1980s.
of the Windows
Grace-St. Lukeís seven Tiffany windows are thought to be the largest collection of Tiffany windows in a parish church in the South. And even an untrained eye can see that the windows have an extraordinary glass palette. In the Biblical robes, landscapes, and foliage, fractured glass, opalescent glass, rippled glass, drapery glass, and etched glass can be seen in rich and vibrant colors. The traditional stained glass painting method is seen only in the faces and hands. According to Grantham, ìTiffanyís full arsenal of artistic weapons can be seen resulting in an outstanding barrage of color, light, and line. Tiffany glass is made up of multiple plating techniques, six to seven layers of glass, each with a different color or texture which influences the overall multidimensional effect."
"Since their relocation in 1940, very little of benefit had been done to the windows," says Grantham. ìThe windows had been adversely affected by time, gravity, and structural problems like insufficient support systems and improper installation of protective glazing. Plates were coming off and the two angel windows had tar on parts of them from a re-roofing, and dirt and grime from a steady flow of hot air from an HVAC unit. In restoring the windows, we spent a lot of time addressing dirt, broken glass, metal fatigue, deflection, missing pieces and poor previous repairs.î
The splendid outcome of the Tiffany window restoration project is due to a vestry who had the foresight to preserve the irreplaceable for the future rather than seek a quick fix. The churchís efforts to raise funds for the project and the generous contributions received for the restoration will be repaid for many years in the enjoyment and beauty that they give to countless viewers. Credit is also due to Belinda Grantham and Beelines studio who performed the painstaking, labor-intensive work according to the highest preservation standards.
Grace-St. Lukeís Episcopal Church is located at 1720 Peabody Ave. The Tiffany windows may be viewed on Sundays during regular service hours. To see the windows during the week, call the church office at (901) 272-7425.