Jekyll celebrates 100 years of Faith Chapel's Tiffany window

Lauren Mcdonald, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·5 min read

Apr. 2—Many eyes have looked in awe upon the brightly colored Tiffany stained glass window in Faith Chapel on Jekyll Island.

The window demands the attention of anyone who walks into the otherwise dimly lit space of the historic chapel.

But even the most practiced experts in Jekyll Island history or stain glass craftsmanship can study this window in all its brilliance and walk away without uncovering all its mysteries.

Installation of the Tiffany window was completed on this day 100 years ago, on Good Friday, just in time for a dedication on Easter Sunday.

This year, Jekyll Island is celebrating the window's 100th anniversary while planning ways to best preserve the stained glass structure for another century.

"We just want to share with people the history of the island and some of the significant figures who were here, some of the people who contributed, obviously in this case a masterwork piece," said Andrea Marroquin, Jekyll Island Authority's museum curator, who oversaw the assessment process.

JIA is working with conservator and stained glass expert Neal Vogel to assess the window, make any needed repairs and protect it in the best way possible.

During a recent trip to Jekyll, Vogel said he's seen many fine stained glass windows, including many high-quality Tiffany windows, throughout his career. And the window in Faith Chapel is something special.

"This one is really an exception," he said. "It's an exceptionally fine Tiffany window, especially for the period."

He shared some of the window's history — and the unanswered questions that remain about its commission and design — with JIA employees and representatives of the Friends of Historic Jekyll Island during a visit earlier this year to the island.

The complete story of the window's commission remains untold.

What's known is that the window was commissioned in honor of Frederick Bourne following his death. Bourne was a captain of industry and president for many years of the Singer Manufacturing Company. He had a residence on Jekyll as a member of the Jekyll Island Club, when the island served as a private getaway for American millionaires. Bourne was president of the Jekyll Island Club when he died in 1919.

The club's members at the time of Bourne's death were involved in the Tiffany window's commission, Vogel said.

"But we haven't found anything that shows a check written to Tiffany or a letter to somebody," he said. "Later articles say it was given by his family, and we know (his) three daughters were involved down here."

Bourne's daughters likely played an instrumental role in the window's creation and installation, Vogel said. They probably decided to go to Tiffany and ask for a window to be created in honor of their father. They also likely paid most of the cost, he said.

"It's erected by his friends, but articles refer to the family actually purchasing it," Vogel said. "The family had just as much wealth as the members that were here. They all inherited an amount equal to about $100 million today.'"

No known records document why the imagery depicted in the window, which references Exodus 15:1 in the Bible, was chosen. Again, Vogel and others can only make educated guesses.

And Vogel guesses that the family chose the imagery.

"They were highly educated," he said. "Their grandfather was an Episcopal minister. I think they would have an idea of what kind of imagery they wanted when they went to the studio."

King David is shown with a harp, a possible reference to Bourne's known love of music.

Bourne once donated $500,000 — "an incredible amount of money at that time, a huge gift" — to a New York cathedral's choir, Vogel said. And in his Long Island home he had a pipe organ that today would be worth $1 million.

The Tiffany window in Faith Chapel is in remarkable condition, Vogel told the group during his visit. And he recently sent his final conditional assessment and appraisal report to JIA, which covered the history of the window, its current condition and recommendations for future care.

"He said that it's really in very remarkable condition for its age, that it's really very sound," Marroquin said. "It's really not the glass that is an issue. There might need to be some minor cleaning, but for the most part it was well-designed, well-built. It's been well- cared for."

But Vogel's report again indicated what he told the group before — that some structural work needs to be done to the window's frame.

The T-bars may need to be replaced, and a better protective storm glazing system is needed.

"We're looking at hopefully next year doing some next steps," Marroquin said. "In the more immediate stages, we're talking about adding some protective shutters to help protect the window during hurricanes. We want to get ahead of the next hurricane season."

Jekyll plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the window's installation throughout the year. Marroquin said one of her goals is to make more people aware of the special care that goes into preserving these structures and the other historical collections that tell the story of the island's history.

"It's an ongoing process to preserve it for future generations," she said.