Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Winter Park, FL
Tiffany's Rare 1893 Chapel Opens at the Morse Museum
The chapel Louis Comfort Tiffany designed for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 opened to the public at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art on the weekend of April 17 and 18, 1999.
The Morse opening marked the first time in more than a century that the general public was invited to see one of Tiffany's most important interiors. While the majority of the architectural elements, furnishings and windows were installed for the opening, work on final details in the complex reassembly continued into May.
The chapel is part of a Morse Museum expansion project that added galleries and a larger shop to the museum that has the most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany anywhere. The story of the chapel's rescue in 1959 from Tiffany's burned estate, Laurelton Hall on Long Island, by Hugh and Jeannette McKean, director and founder of the Morse, is one of especial interest. The McKeans were dedicated to the chapel's preservation during a period when there was a lack of interest in Tiffany and understood its historical importance as a work of art that had enjoyed international acclaim and then suffered neglect and abandonment.
In 1957 the McKeans visited the fire-ravaged Tiffany estate and acquired architectural elements and leaded-glass windows for the Morse Museum. Two years later they acquired the remains of the Chapel interior and in the years that followed acquired all of its furnishings to keep the chapel in a single collection.
Until 1997, many of the chapel elements had remained in packing crates. That year the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation endorsed the expansion project that made the final resurrection of the Tiffany Chapel possible.
1893 Tiffany Chapel History
In 1893 Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibited a chapel interior at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago that brought him international acclaim few American artists enjoyed at the time. It was installed in the Tiffany & Co. (the jewelry firm founded by his father) pavilion in the Manufacturers Building.
Although created by Tiffany's newly founded firm, Tiffany Glass & Decorating Co., to demonstrate its artistry and craftsmanship in producing ecclesiastical goods ranging from clerical vestments and furnishings to mosaics and leaded-glass windows, the chapel, it was reported at the time, so moved visitors that men doffed their hats in response. Its rich, Byzantine-inspired interior was built up from simple classical forms, columns and arches that were huge in size relative to the chapel's intimate space (approximately 800 square feet). Visitors entered another world of intricate, reflective glass mosaic surfaces and light filtered through the intense colors of stained-glass windows - a world that enveloped them and at the same time dwarfed them through its massive architectural forms.
After the Tiffany Chapel won many medals, including one for imaginative adaption of the electrification of its imposing chandelier, it was dismantled at the closing of the Chicago World's Fair. In 1898, a wealthy woman, Mrs. Celia Whipple Wallace, bought the chapel for The Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine under construction at the time in New York City. Never placed as it was intended, the chapel was relegated to a basement crypt where its arches were cut to fit under a low, broadly vaulted ceiling. For about 10 years it functioned as a chapel at St. John the Divine and then was closed when the choir above was completed for services. Unchecked water damage took its toll on the architecture and decoration of the chapel and in 1916 Louis Comfort Tiffany wrote to the church of his concern that "the mosaic work has suffered" and offered to remove it at his expense.
He had it removed and, with substantial repairs by his workmen, installed it in a free-standing building at Laurelton Hall, his Long Island estate. There it remained as a monument to his art. In 1949, 16 years after Tiffany's death, the Tiffany Foundation dismantled the chapel, selling off portions to institutions in the region.
In 1957, when Tiffany's abandoned estate was ravaged by fire, Hugh and Jeannette McKean of Winter Park, Florida, were notified by a Tiffany daughter that some of his most important leaded-glass windows were still intact. (In 1930, after his graduation from Rollins College, Hugh McKean had been one of the young artists in residence at Laurelton Hall as part of a program established by Tiffany. Years later, Jeannette McKean had established a gallery - now The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art - on the Rollins College campus and named it to honor her grandfather. Her interest in Tiffany glass had prompted her to curate a show of his work at the gallery in 1955, one of the first one-man exhibitions of Tiffany work in the second half of this century.)
The McKeans visited the devastated Laurelton Hall site, and she decided they should buy all of the mansion's then-unwanted windows and architectural fragments. They were transported to storage in Winter Park. Two years later the McKeans purchased the components of the chapel that remained at Laurelton Hall.
Until 1997, many of the chapel elements had remained in packing crates as the McKeans researched the locations of the various chapel furnishings that had been dispersed in 1949. They systematically acquired these furnishings as they became available to keep all of the chapel parts in a single collection.
In 1997, the Board of Trustees of the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation endorsed an expansion project for the Morse Museum that would fulfill the dream of the McKeans (Jeannette McKean died in 1989 and Hugh McKean died in 1995) to reassemble Tiffany's 1893 chapel. A team of architecture, art and conservation experts was named to begin the more-than-two-year project of reassembling the chapel. It opened to the public in mid-April 1999 for the first time since the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The Collection of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
The centerpiece of the Morse Museum collection is undoubtedly the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Museum's collection of Tiffany's work is broad, deep, unique. It includes fine examples in every medium Tiffany explored, in every kind of work he produced, and from every period of his life. Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, curator of decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has called the collection "...the most comprehensive and most interesting collection of Tiffany anywhere." It has been described by Vivienne Couldrey in her book, The Art of Louis Tiffany, as "...the most important collection of Tiffany material in the world today."
The variety of the Morse's Tiffany holdings range from his famed leaded-glass windows to glass buttons he fashioned to make even life's most humble objects expressions of beauty available to a broad public. It includes paintings and extensive examples of his pottery, as well as jewelry, enamels, mosaics, watercolors, lamps, furniture and scores of examples of his Favrile glass.
Among the most fascinating objects in the Museum's Tiffany collection are the brilliantly colorful windows, mosaics, marble, jewels, glass, stone and furnishings that together make up the Chapel Tiffany created for the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. It was Tiffany's work at this exposition and most especially the Chapel that clearly established him as a universally acknowledged member of the small international circle of leading artists/designers of the period - and the only American in that group.
Beyond the work of Tiffany's personal design is the work that he supervised and controlled after he created his studio operation and established its great popular success. Tiffany's deep personal involvement meant that Tiffany Studios produced unusually high quality objects in a great variety of designs and materials over an extended period of time. The artist's painstaking attention to the details of design and production recall the studio arrangement of past masters like Rubens who created and maintained a very large painting studio in the 17th century but also bring to mind the English artist and designer William Morris who created a famous group design and production arrangement as well. The Morse has extensive holdings of the Tiffany Studios work in every medium and type the Studios produced.
In addition to the art and craft objects themselves, the Museum's Tiffany collection is well supported by unique historical artifacts and documentary material which, though not necessarily art objects themselves, are important to scholars and of interest to a wide public because of the light they shed on Louis Comfort Tiffany, the man, his art, his times, and the Museum's collection. These materials constitute an area of potentially important exploration and study encompassing Tiffany's personal memorabilia, letters, designs, plans, early experiments, business documents, fakes, forgeries, sincere imitation and copies, a variety of ephemera and mysterious fragments from Tiffany's Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall.
The Other Collections
Although internationally renowned for its unique, visually magnificent and historically invaluable Tiffany collection, the Morse is more than a Tiffany museum. It is also a treasure house of American decorative art from the mid-19th century to the early-20th century with especially rich holdings in the area known as the Arts and Crafts. Additionally, the Museum has a fine collection of American paintings primarily of the 19th and early- 20th centuries with particular strength in work which relates to Florida and its artists.
Decorative Arts and Sculpture
Besides those of Tiffany, leaded glass windows in the collection include work by William Morris, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, John LaFarge, and Arthur Nash. Emile Galle, Rene Lalique, and Carl Faberge are represented in the jewelry and silver collections of the Museum. Emile Galle and Louis Majorelle are represented along with Tiffany and Gustav Stickley in the Museum's furniture collection.
Of particular interest is the Morse's extensive American Art Pottery collection which now numbers over 800 examples (including approximately 300 Rookwood examples) of the richly creative 19th-century American Art Pottery movement. The movement sought to give America - which had been overrun with badly designed and poorly made, mass-produced products - a new world of handcrafted beauty.
The sculpture collection includes work by Thomas Crawford, Hiram Powers, Daniel Chester French, John Rogers and others.
Painting and Graphic Arts
The museum has a fine collection of American paintings and prints, a major group of which centers around work done in or about Florida. The paintings collection includes work by Samuel F.B. Morse (a relative of Charles Hosmer Morsel, Thomas Doughty, George Inness, John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt Peale, Cecilia Beaux, Martin Johnson Heade, Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Bowen Davies, Hermann Herzog, Thomas Hart Benton, Samuel Colman and others. The Museum's prints include work by some of the same artists as well as by Grant Wood, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cezanne, Childe Hassam, John Steuart Curry and Edward Hopper.
In addition to the collections of the work of Tiffany, decorative arts, sculpture, and American painting, the Museum has many objects which are diverse in origin and of interest because of the light they help shed on the objects in other groups in the collection. Such objects include examples of 15th- and 16th-century stained glass, several German paintings and carnival glass. In addition, the Morse holds a collection of outdoor commercial signs representing modern design.
The Collectors and Founders
The scope and quality of the collection reflect the interests, personalities and ideals of the collectors. Jeannette Genius McKean and Hugh F. McKean built their collection on objects already assembled by their families whose collecting activities have been traced back to the 1820s. But far and away, the collection's greatest growth both in terms of size and quality took place as a result of the McKeans' dedication to building a first-rate collection of American art designed for the aesthetic appreciation of students and the public.
In 1955 the Morse organized the first museum exhibition devoted exclusively to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (curated by Jeannette Genius McKean), marking the very beginning of the return of Tiffany's art and reputation from the forgotten to levels of popularity and respect perhaps exceeding even those Tiffany enjoyed in his own time.
Over the years, objects from the collection have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the M.H. deYoung Memorial Museum in San Francisco, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. and other institutions throughout the country. The "Oyster Bay" window (a long-term loan) and the magnificent loggia (a gift) that provide major focal points in the Charles Englehard Courtyard of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York are both from the McKeans' collection. The window was made for the William Skinner residence in New York City while the loggia was an exterior entrance of Louis Comfort Tiffany's personally designed mansion, Laurelton Hall.
The McKeans made their decision to make public and scholarly access to their collection a major goal in 1942 when they opened the Morse Gallery of Art on the campus of Rollins College. It has been in continuous operation serving the enlightenment and enjoyment of thousands of visitors since then. After moving to Welbourne Avenue in downtown Winter Park in 1977, it became the Morse Museum of American Art. That location was the site of great visitor interest and growing attendance that by 1995 increased to more than 20,000 visitors annually from over the world.
On July 4, 1995 the Museum opened its doors in a new location, 445 Park Avenue North, on the town's main shopping street. Developed from former bank and office buildings, its redesign links the two buildings with a tower in a modified Mediterranean style to blend in with the surrounding cityscape. A separate building in the same block, the Morse Museum Pavilion, is used for museum-sponsored recitals, concerts, lectures and film showings related to the arts.
The new Museum is 16,000 square feet, with 8,000 square feet devoted to exhibitions, twice as much space as in its former location, and the pavilion is 5,000 square feet. The total project cost, including site acquisition and construction was $7 million. Total museum space, including a modern storage and conservation facility built by the museum in 1986, is 42,000 square feet. The storage facility, although sufficient to provide access to a limited number of scholars, cannot accommodate the public safely.
Images, from top to bottom, from the collection of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, FL., © Copyright The Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation, Inc., Photographer: Dan Forer: Chapel 1893 World's Columbian Exposition; Chapel 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Electrolier, leaded-glass windows; Chapel 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Baptismal Font, Field of Lilies Window; Chapel 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
The Morse Museum is owned and operated by the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation and receives additional support from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation It receives no public funds.
Location: 445 Park Avenue North, Winter Park, Florida 32789. The museum is located in downtown Winter Park, on the main business and commercial street in the city, in easy walking distance from the Amtrak station and Central Park. . (information as of 8/99)
For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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