Rare glass mosaic artwork by Tiffany

being restored in Ontario County chapel…

Written by Bennett J. Loudon , Staff writer Democrat and Chronicle

       An artistic treasure saved from the wrecking ball in the Ontario County village of Clifton Springs more than 40 years ago is once again in the spotlight, getting a long-overdue restoration.

       Repairs to a rare 6-by-16-foot colored-glass mosaic depicting the Last Supper, created by the renowned studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany, are expected to be completed by Easter Sunday.

       John Lord, a glass restorer from Waterloo, Seneca County, who has been on the job since February 2011, called the project “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

       Tiffany’s mosaic artwork uses small glass pieces, similar to the glass used in stained glass windows, set in concrete panels and attached to the wall. The work, created in about 1898, is based on a painting done by Frederick Wilson, who worked for Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co.

        Louis Comfort Tiffany designed jewelry, windows and decorative glass. His commissions for the rich and famous earned him an international reputation. Today, his work can be found in museums and in major private collections.

      While Tiffany is famous for stained glass, the windows in the Spa Chapel, which Lord has already repaired, were created by Spence, Moakler and Bell, a Boston firm.

      The mosaic was donated in 1901 by Myron and Velma Buck in memory of Dr. Henry Foster, the founder of the Clifton Springs Sanitarium, the precursor to Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic.

      Foster died Jan. 15, 1901. The chapel was built about 20 years earlier.

      Foster started the Clifton Springs Sanitarium in 1850, based on the therapeutic benefits of the water found there.

Languished in obscurity

       The Tiffany mosaic is behind the altar on the south wall of the chapel, which is attached to the Spa Apartments, a building that once housed the sanitarium. The hospital owns the property. While the mosaic is well known to local residents and Tiffany aficionados, it has languished in relative obscurity inside the Victorian-style building that seats about 140 people and is used only occasionally for weddings, funerals and some musical events.

       A new heating and air-conditioning system has been installed and negotiations are under way to purchase an antique pipe organ for the chapel. The old organ was removed in 1971, when the chapel was slated for demolition. Local residents prevented the razing.

       It’s all being paid for by an anonymous donor — “a long-time friend of the hospital,” said Ethan Fogg, a spokesman for Clifton Springs Hospital.  Fogg said the hospital did not take on the project earlier because “it’s not a business necessity.” Plus, he said, there is another chapel in the hospital building.

Rare Last Suppers

        An almost identical mosaic, in pristine condition, decorates Christ Church, 141 East Ave., Rochester. This Episcopal church also includes an elaborate mosaic floor, plus stained-glass windows, all designed by Tiffany. Christ Church gets many visitors, especially in the summer, just to see the Tiffany art work. Many are from outside the area visiting relatives. And the church often is a stop on landmark tours.

       A third, almost identical Last Supper mosaic created by Tiffany is in the First Unitarian Church in Baltimore. Experts say those are the only three known to exist. Another mosaic depicting a different version of the Last Supper is installed in a church in Richmond, Va.

      “There have been several people come through here that want to see all the Tiffanys they can see in New York state,” said Lord, 63, who learned his trade from his father, Fred, who died in 1978.

       The designs for the mosaics were drawn on paper, then the glass pieces were laid out on the paper and about two inches of concrete was poured on top, forming three large panels, each weighing about 2,000 pounds. The panels are attached to the wall with large screws.

       Lord and other experts suspect the panels now in Clifton Springs were displayed at an exposition in Paris in 1900 and at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901. They believe the panels were shipped by train to Clifton Springs.

One step at a time

       In 1971, the chapel was going to be torn down. The demolition was part of the site design for the new hospital, even though it was not located on the actual site.  Local residents protested the move and it was saved. Still, the treasure received little attention for decades, until the anonymous benefactor approached hospital officials about two years ago with the desire to pay for the restoration.

       A request for proposals was sent out, but no responses were received, Fogg said. Then, about 15 months ago, hospital CEO John Galati met Lord at a social gathering, found out what he does for a living, “and the light bulb went off,” Fogg said. Galati arranged a meeting with the benefactor who agreed to start with repairs to the stained glass windows “and take it one step at a time.”

      The donor was happy with Lord’s initial work and the benefactor has continued to fund more.

     “I suppose it’s almost like opening the attic after you haven’t been up there in a while. They really just rediscovered the potential,” Fogg said.

      Lord has added glass pieces in empty areas of the mosaic, cleaned off pieces that had been painted over and inserted glass where plaster had been used to fill in some spots. “There have been some terrible things done to this, but, strangely enough, it’s rock solid,” Lord said.

 

 

Annette Lein staff photographer, Democrat and Chronicle

This is a detail of Christ and St Andrew in the Tiffany Mosaic of the Last Supper in the chapel at the Spa Apartments in Clifton Springs.
 

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