TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — When you think of the Tiffany name today, you probably picture the iconic blue gift box, hiding a jeweled treasure inside. But 150 years ago, Tiffany’s treasures were made for all to see: stained glass windows with artistry surpassing anything crafted before, and Troy is home to the mother lode that survives to this day.
Stained glass windows have beautified houses of worship for centuries but towards the end of the 19th century, Louis Comfort Tiffany led a reformation in craftsmanship and design. Michael P. Barrett, Executive Director Emeritus of Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway notes, “There’s a very bright line pre-Tiffany and post-Tiffany and it’s because of his techniques.”
While the HBO series “The Gilded Age” took advantage of Troy’s rich architectural history when shooting exterior scenes in the Collar City, the real treasures of Troy are inside. “Troy is said to have more Tiffany glass per square mile than any other city in the world,” says Barrett, who points out that in the mid-1800s Troy was the 16th largest city in the U.S. but the 4th wealthiest on a per capita basis. “It’s just insane the amount of money that was flowing into this city and it was being used to show off and our windows show off.”
The one that is perhaps most magnificent is “St. John’s Vision of the Holy City” in St. John’s Episcopal Church. Rector Rev. Canon Judith Malionek loves the beauty as the light shines through, “There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t come in here just to gaze at that window, it just feeds my soul.”
“He pulled out every trick in the book to make sure that this was magnificent,” explains Barrett. “There’s 8,400 pieces of glass in these 5 lancets. There’s drapery glass, opalescent glass, there’s plating, there’s jeweled glass, everything he knew is in that set of windows. And when the sun hits those at 4:25 p.m. it comes over the peak of the roof and illuminates the west face of that building, I don’t care if you’re a stone-cold atheist, you see God. I mean it is that magnificent! We have international experts come into town all the time just to see that set of windows.”
The landmark in design is a memorial window, a family’s grief over their lost son still shining many rainbows worth of color more than a century later. “This window, in particular, gives me a vision of where we’re going,” says Mother Judith of the gift from a past faith community to a continuing living faith community. “This is the heavenly city adorned like a bride for her groom, it’s a vision of where we are going as a people and as a church.”
Most of the Tiffany windows in Troy are memorials, but not all are from wealthy families. St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in South Troy, known as the Ironworkers Church, is home to the second largest collection of Tiffany windows in the U.S. “The vast majority of them are memorial windows just as I mentioned before about the aristocracy memorializing the entrepreneurs,” points out Barrett. “These were the workers, second and third-generation immigrants but they’re still memorializing the people who came before them. Grandpa fled the famine and came here and gave us a new life, ok and now I’m middle class and I’m going to put a window in and memorialize grandma and grandpa.”
Inside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the beauty of Tiffany’s artistry is seen in everything touched by the light gleaming through his delicately hued windows, as well as the light coming from the four different kinds of Tiffany lamps hanging high overhead. Deacon Alicia Todaro chuckles as she says, “People come in and say can I see your Tiffany windows and I say you don’t want to see the Tiffany everything else? It’s the pews that are Tiffany, yes it’s the columns, it’s the stenciling, it’s the wallpaper, it’s the carvings, it’s just absolutely almost everything.”
“There are four churches that are known that have mostly complete Tiffany interiors,” Barrett explains, “and that one is beyond question the greatest one and it’s right here in downtown Troy.”
Two other buildings in downtown Troy house much smaller Tiffany collections but are still breathtaking in their beauty and depth of work. The glow from a lantern inside Sage College’s Bush Auditorium is apparent even when there’s no sunlight. “It’s a nighttime scene,” Barrett says describing the George Nelson Webber Memorial window showing Christ and Nicodemus. “It’s very dark but because of the plating of the glass, the layering that Tiffany learned how to do, it’s extremely dark except for the light of the lantern illuminating.”
And the window behind the circulation desk of the Troy Public Library is not only spectacular but so thematically fitting for the location: showcasing Italian scholar Aldus Manutius who pioneered a way to mass-produce books. “He’s presenting the first book which is Dante’s “Divine Comedy” to the Doge of Venice,” points out Barrett. “I mean it’s just a magnificent window.”
We end our Tiffany tour in Oakwood Cemetery, where we met harpist Thistle playing her original compositions surrounded by Tiffany’s “Four Season” windows inside the Gardner Earl Chapel. It is another family’s memorial to their son who died young. If grief is said to be the price we pay for love, the beauty that came from their grief, and so many other lost loved ones, shines in these thousands of pieces of glass to this day: love and grief illuminating the rich history of Troy.