Former May Memorial James St. Window on the Move

(The story is described below these pictures.)


               The Museum Display View                                 A Clearer View                                     Inside the James Street Church View



May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society’s former church on James Street was dedicated in 1885. This beautiful church, the fourth of five churches, continued the tradition of our first Unitarian church erected in 1839. You can see a tribute to all our church buildings here. The James Street church was the home of ten beautiful stained glass windows. Unfortunately, when that church was razed some 80 years later, the cost of saving nine of those windows was too great and they crashed to the ground with the rest of the building except for a large marble tablet honoring Rev. Samuel May, our namesake, and one of those stained glass windows. Herein lies our story and the current journey of that window to three locations.


Long term parishioners remember how beautiful it was on a Sunday morning when the outside light brought all ten windows to life. On the west interior side of the James Street church stood five of the windows. On the left or south end of the sanctuary closest to the dais stood one of these windows, a remarkable sight. It was Tiffany Palms, a beauty designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Known in our church as “New Jerusalem,” it was one of the lovelier windows and the only one to be saved for posterity. It measured 11 feet by 55 inches and was in honor of Edward Judson as a gift of his son. Edward, who became a member of the church in 1884, was our first president of record in 1890.


Originally installed in 1903, at the height of Tiffany’s fame, it was valuable for its historical as well as its artistic value. The window has a woodland stream as the motif with what appears to be a small bridge or walkway in the center of the lower third with sunlight reflecting off the water as it flows underneath. Intriguing are two domed shapes in the center of the upper third under an array of beautiful clouds – they can best be seen in the middle picture above. Overall, the window reveals a mauve, violet, and green design; it came from Tiffany’s famed “art nouveau” studio at Madison Avenue on 45th Street in New York City.


Perhaps most intriguing and almost mysterious is the photographic view of the window from inside our James Street church (the picture above on the right). The nature of the available lighting and some shadowing coming from the dais area presents a muted color scheme with an appearance that almost looks like two different windows.


New Jerusalem usually is on display at the Everson Art Museum in Syracuse. Originally known as the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, it was founded in 1897. It had several homes as it grew in size, one of which was on James Street very near our church. As we grew, we eventually rented space in that facility for some of our religious education programs. Out of that relationship developed a connection that resulted in the Tiffany window moving to the Everson Art Museum at the time of its opening in 1968.


Recently the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts organized in collaboration with the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond a touring exhibit of Tiffany Glass. This exhibition is one of the most significant ever mounted of Tiffany’s works and celebrates this renowned designer who achieved original and spectacular effects in hand-blown glass vessels, leaded glass windows and lamps, and other decorative objects. The exhibition’s curators are from the Montreal museum, the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rutgers University. In addition to choosing pieces from the collaborating museums, the curators visited several venues where Tiffany pieces are housed, including the Everson. From all the Everson Tiffany pieces they chose our window (best seen in the picture on the left above).


The exhibition’s approximately 170 objects includes blown-glass vessels, lamps, leaded-glass windows, and other decorative objects. Its first 12-week exhibition was at the Paris museum until the end of December. There it was known as “Tiffany Glass: A Passion for Colour” (Couleurs et Lumière). Starting mid February, 2010, for another 12 weeks it will be at the Montreal museum where it will be known as the “Fusion of Colour: The Glass of Louis C. Tiffany.” Its final 12 week exhibit will begin at the end of May in the Richmond museum where it will be known as “Tiffany: Color and Light.” We look forward to its return to the Everson early this coming fall where it will seem like a famed part of our city has returned home.


Created January 15, 2010

Roger Hiemstra, Chair, History Committee

May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society

Syracuse, NY