For its 100th birthday, a stunning island treasure receives the white-glove treatment
By Candice Dyer
Photos by Brian Austin Lee
Stained glass windows, by design, bathe their congregants in a warming glow specifically meant to evoke heavenly light. No one understood that, no one quite grasped the exquisite power of these “paintings in glass” quite like Louis Comfort Tiffany, the famed American artist.
Years after Tiffany visited Jekyll Island, sometime in the 1890s, the Jekyll Island Club commissioned a grand window in memory of the Club’s former president, Frederick Bourne, the president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company and a frequent visitor to the island. The piece was installed in Faith Chapel, on Easter weekend in 1921, and since has awed thousands of visitors to the island and lent a rarefied backdrop to interdenominational services.
As part of the window’s centennial celebration in 2021, the glass is undergoing a thorough, painstaking restoration. An endeavor like that calls for a certain expertise, so Jekyll has turned to Neal Vogel, principal of Restoric LLC, based in Chicago.
“I am a preservationist by training, and restoration consultant and contractor by trade,” he says, “but ‘architectural conservator’ most closely defines what I do as we strive to conserve historic buildings in their authentic and original state.”
Vogel, as a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has served more than 400 congregations with technical assistance on their buildings and stained glass.
“Neal Vogel has taught graduate students in Historic Preservation at The School of the Art Institute [in Chicago],” says Andrea Marroquin, curator of Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum. “He wrote the guidelines on the Preservation of Historic Stained Glass for the National Park Service. Given the significance of Faith Chapel’s Tiffany window, it was important to select a specialist with experience conserving windows of this caliber.”
Well-known Tiffany artist Frederick Wilson designed the Faith Chapel window, “David Set Singers Before the Lord,” a 139-inch tall tableau rich in deep, jewel tones. In it, an angel overhead holds a scroll that proclaims, “I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously.” Known more informally as the Bourne Memorial Window, it is widely regarded as one of the most vibrant and important of the 25,000 windows created by Tiffany Studios in New York City.
At four panes thick with solid soldering, the window has proven sturdy enough to withstand a century of humidity and hurricanes. But over the years, some moisture and debris have become trapped between the layers. Remedying that is the challenge that Vogel, who studied at Truman University, Iowa State, and the University of Oregon, has accepted.
“It’s a dicey process, a bit like open-heart surgery,” Vogel says. “We are trying to leave it in situ [Latin for, roughly, ‘in place’] as much as possible as long as it will not jeopardize the structural integrity of the window.”
Vogel is collaborating with John Wardell Clark, the owner of Wardell Art Glass in Aurora, Illinois. Wardell “is one of the first calls for more challenging and/or interesting stained glass projects,” according to Vogel.
The window should be restored, in full, sometime this winter.
“The window is already beautiful but will be even more so after it is cleaned,” Marroquin says. “We plan to hold lectures and presentations on Tiffany and on the religious symbolism of the window.”
For Vogel, who first became interested in stained glass sitting in the pews of the Catholic church that he attended as a boy, the Bourne Memorial Window is a high point in a distinguished career.
“This window is a 10,” he says. “There is not a finer one. It is truly one of the finest in the South and in a league of its own. In terms of American glass, this is as good as it gets.”