Hidden in Plain Sight
Winstead glows with priceless jewels
Treasure-hunters in search of world-class art may not think of Winsted, Connecticut, as a destination. But the parishioners of three churches in this town at the end of Route 8 know better. “It happens on sunny days, when the light reflects off the windows,” says Carol Tomassetti, an administrator at Second Congregational Church of Winsted. “People driving by will stop in to see them.”
It turns out those rubber-neckers are onto something. Inside the towering granite structure are three works by the Art Nouveau giant Louis Comfort Tiffany. The first, a six-by-eight-foot landscape titled “The Falls,” is widely considered a masterpiece. Donated by Ella Boyd in memory of her parents, it has two arched panels, two three-pointed windows, and a circular window with a jeweled crown. It depicts a waterfall, purple-blue mountains, palm trees, and a setting sun. Twenty years ago “The Falls” nearly collapsed when the lead holding it together became corroded. Fortunately, the church was able to raise funds to restore it, even enlisting the Vienna Boys Choir for a benefit concert in 1994. Says Bob Ensminger, church moderator, “Our church family has been extremely generous.”
A second window, the six-by-eight-foot “Christ with Child,” is likely based on the Gospel verse: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.” It was given in memory of Henry Gay (1834-1908) by his family The third piece, a Tiffany mosaic, commemorates deacon Charles Beecher Holmes.
In the 1800s, Tiffany became famous for his ability to transform mixtures of sand, gold, copper, and other materials into opalescent glass. Using a technique called plating to combine layers of glass, he created three-dimensional effects, variegated textures, and a rich palette never before seen in glass works.
According to Nina Gray, independent curator, “Tiffany was the aesthetic genius behind everything his workshop produced.” Henry Adams, professor of art history at Case Western Reserve University, likens Tiffany’s role to that of Walt Disney who “oversaw production, but did not himself draw most of the animations.” Tiffany employed hundreds of workers and commissioned designs from the leading artists of his day. “Many of these designers also produced works on their own or for other studios,” notes Adams.
Across town, at the United Methodist Church, leaded-glass aficionados can see three creations by one of those moonlighting designers, Benjamin Sellers. Says Reverend Al Miller, “Years ago, when I had my first interview, we met in the evening. So I didn’t notice the peacock hues in ‘The Moneychangers’ until the next morning.”
Another window, “The Resurrection,” depicts an angel, Mary Magdalene, and other women at Christ’s tomb. An inscription notes that it commemorates Ensign Jonathan Coe (1742-1824), “founder of Methodism in Winsted.” Fittingly, “Jesus with the Children” is in an alcove where the church formerly held Sunday school.
The origin of the windows at the nearby First Church of Winsted is unclear. “Unfortunately, all our records were destroyed in the 1955 flood,” says Debbi Storrs, financial secretary for the church. However, two pieces—“Gethsemane,” which shows Christ kneeling in prayer as several apostles look on, and a landscape, “The Sower”—have the opalescent hues and folded glass popularized by Tiffany. “Workers would shape semi-molten glass into various textures,” says Gray. “Folded drapery glass is not that common in the work of other studios,” notes Adams. “The presence of glass with a Tiffany look makes it likely that a window is by Tiffany.”
Whatever their provenance, the windows are unquestionably breathtaking. Says Storrs, “When the sun’s out, the medallions around Christ’s head glow.”