Urban Spelunking: Tiffany windows shine a light on St. Paul's beauty
As an inveterate traveler and art fiend, I find myself wandering around a lot of churches. That is, everywhere except in Milwaukee.
The first stop on what may or may not become a tour of Milwaukee's historic and artistically significant houses of worship was St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 914 E. Knapp St., which is notable for a number of reasons.
The parish, founded in 1838, is the city's oldest, and the current church was built of dark red Lake Superior Sandstone in 1884 on the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival designs of Brew City architect Edward Townsend Mix.
If that's not enough, the ironwork at the church was created by Milwaukee iron artist Cyril Colnik.
But neither of these is the reason that most people treasure St. Paul's. That distinction belongs to the church's stained glass windows. Many are works by Tiffany Studios, making the church the largest collection of Tiffany glass in Wisconsin.
Of 17 windows in the nave and transept and including the magnificent rose window – 11 (or maybe 10, more on that later) are by Tiffany. And they are stunning.
The church has a small printed guide which notes that the church's collection of Tiffany glass is the result of the relationship between Milwaukee's T. A. Chapman Department Store and Tiffany Studios and between parishioners the Miller family and Chapmans.
The booklet offers a guided tour of the windows in the sanctuary, beginning with the enormous "Christ Leaving the Praetorium." Based on a painting by Gustave Dore, this is the largest window ever made by Tiffany. Installed in 1884, it was damaged by fire in 1950, but you'd be hard pressed to notice damage amid the lavish explosion of color.
The center section of the window was reproduced by Tiffany for windows in six other churches.
Just to the right is a late 1880s or early 1890s window created as a memorial to Cyrus Hawley (yes, he of Hawley Road fame). This is a fun window to see up close as portions of the glass protrude out from the surface, giving it a nice textured three-dimensional feel.
A little further along the east aisle is a pair of windows – an ornamental cross that is a memorial to Henrietta Colt and a wistful, purple-winged angel – that were part of the 1894 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The angel was perhaps designed by Tiffany's Lydia Emmet, who designed works that appeared in the exposition's Women's Pavilion.
Another pair of Tiffany windows – these depicting Christ on the road to Emmaus – from 1915 follow. Of note on these are the effect of the layers of glass, the generous use of copper foil and, on the right panel, the Louis Comfort Tiffany signature that was used from 1915 on.
Head across to the west aisle in the nave where most of the windows are fruit of the Tiffany studio.
"Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane" and "The New Jerusalem," both dated 1915, are similar in feel to the Emmaus panels and are instantly recognizable as Tiffany works thanks to their use of color and style. The "Annunciation" window that appears next is attributed to Tiffany in church documents but experts believe the style suggests it is not Tiffany.
However, two of the following three – "Star of Bethlehem" from 1894 and "Blessed Are the Pure in Heart," which is around the corner in the west transept – are Tiffany.
Before leaving, be sure to stand in the center aisle and turn toward the main entrance to see the incredible rose window, installed prior to 1890. The center section features the faces of angels and the outer "petals" are made of pressed glass that creates stunning light refraction when the sun is out.
Thanks to its architect, the work of Colnik and, especially, the amazing collection of Tiffany glass, St. Paul's was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
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