Part of being a rector means making connections with people, with resources, even antiques! When a private collector last spring asked the diocese’s Bishop and Council board to sell him several old, stained glass windows, Sandy Webb couldn’t stop thinking of the possibilities.
“I was a member of the Council at the time, and I was proud of our decision to retain the windows for sacred use rather than selling them. I then started looking for a sacred use at Church of the Holy Communion,” he says with a chuckle.
After a little research and some creative thinking, Sandy typed up his own proposal to the diocese’s Church Home board. This spring, two of the windows, made by European craftsmen in the late 1880s, will hang on the outside west wall of the new Children’s Chapel at Church of the Holy Communion.
They will be the only two panes of stained glass in Holy Communion’s Georgian-style architecture, casting their rich, warm colors across space created especially for teaching the faith to children.
"The children will be so thrilled," said Alice Hollis, minister to children. "I think we sometimes underestimate our children's ability to have feelings of awe around beauty. It opens their minds and hearts to deeper things. They understand that God gave us beauty. That helps set the tone for learning how to worship."
The new Children’s Chapel is adjacent to the reception area and expanded lobby on the ground floor of Blaisdell Hall. The architects are designing the space where the windows will be installed. The actual installation will happen in April.
Suzy Hendrix, who owns Sassafras Art in Memphis, and is affiliated with Rainbow Stained Glass Studio on Front Street, will spend the next few months cleaning and restoring the panes, which she says are easily among the most precious pieces of stained glass in the region.
“Any window that is pre-1940s would be of interest. Yours are much older,” she said.
“After the war, they didn’t make windows like this anymore because the labor and cost of making them was so high. When the war was over, the old style never came back. The styles changed to mid-century modern,” she said.
The two windows are a matching pair, one likely of Raphael and the other perhaps Gabriel, although Hendrix has her doubts.
“I’m working with a local stained-glass historian, Charles Moore, to figure that out,” she said.
They each measure 32 inches by 82 inches and are in their original wooden frames, which will be kept in their new installation.
“Every single piece is painted, that tells you it is European,” she says. “The paint is made up of crushed glass that was mixed with water or some other medium. It would have been brushed on and fired at 1,250 degrees, probably without electricity.
“The portraits were probably fired 20 times. Each layer and color of paint had to be fired separately. You can see the subtle colors in the rosy cheeks and the fine shadowing. These are really fine pieces of art. The portraiture is excellent.”
The windows, although dirty, are in very good shape, she said.
“There are less than a dozen broken pieces. Rather than replace them, we are going to use archival glue to keep them intact,” Hendrix said.
At Sandy’s suggestion, the church will provide money to pay an apprentice a living wage to help Hendrix with the project.
She has chosen David Hinton, 19, an aspiring artist who also volunteers with her at Carpenter Art Gardens in Binghampton.
“I’ll teach him to solder and patina the lead. We’ll work as a team,” Hendrix said.
“There aren’t any stained-glass craftsmen under 58 around here anymore. I really need helpers, and I was planning on hiring someone anyway because I’m also restoring the windows at Mt. Nebo Baptist (on Vance). I need to pass my skills onto someone young.”
The windows historically belonged to Episcopal churches in Tennessee, although which ones is unclear. They eventually were installed in Nun’s Chapel at the original Church Home Building on Lamar, part of the rich history of the windows’ past because denomination leaders formed Church Home after the Civil War to care for widows and their children. Its mission later turned to serving victims of the yellow fever epidemics and then providing training for children with special needs, long before society realized they could lead productive lives. Today, Church Home’s resources and leadership support children and youth in the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee.
In 1962, Church Home moved to Raines Road, and a church was built on the grounds. It was named Otey Chapel in honor of the first Episcopal bishop in Tennessee, the Right Reverend James H. Otey, who served from 1833 until his death in 1863. When the buildings on Raines were sold in the 1990s, the diocese kept the windows.
Under the proposal granted by Church Home, money will be used to restore the windows and create a sacred space in the Children’s Chapel, including the purchase of furnishings and upgraded room finishes.
“Stained-glass windows do not belong in a closet. One does not light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket,” Sandy said. “I am delighted to see these windows restored. I am honored that we were selected to be their custodians, and I am excited about telling Holy Communion’s children the story of the Church Home’s important work.”