Blandford Celebrates 100 Years of Tiffany
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Sep 10, 2012, 12:57
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Visitors at the open house learned about the history of Blandford’s windows.
When the last Louis Comfort TIffany stained glass window was installed at Blandford Church 100 years ago, the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg could rest easier knowing that the Confederate men who died in the Civil War had a resting place and a memorial.
On Sunday, the Ladies Memorial Association hosted an open house at Blandford Church, allowing members of the community to admire and learn about the windows. Later in the afternoon, invited guests enjoyed musical selections and a talk by Dr. Donald Traser, a self-taught expert on Tiffany’s works.
Formed in 1866 with the goal of re-interring Confederate war dead in proper burial places, the Ladies Memorial Association , the oldest, non-religious, on-going women’s organization in the country. It its earliest days, it consisted mainly of middle and upper class women who had lived quiet lives at home before the war began.
“They could not be shielded from the realities of this terrible war,” Pasty Mansell Rowland, current president of the Ladies Memorial Association, said during the special Tiffany Centennial Celebration on Sunday night.
During the war, the women of the South went to work, sewing uniforms, tending to the sick, ripping apart their furniture to make bandages for the wounded and performing other tasks to support the war effort.
After the war, they turned to the task of burying the dead. On Sunday, Rowland read the LMA’s original charge adopted at their formation that referred to the “melancholy yet grateful task” of burying their sons, husbands, brothers, fathers and friends in a proper way, while also honoring their sacrifice.
“I would suggest to you that they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams,” Rowland said, two of the stained glass windows commissioned by the ladies glowing in the sun behind her.
In 1901, the City of Petersburg granted the ladies the right to fulfill their long held dream of restoring Blandford Church, originally constructing in 1735, and converting it into a memorial chapel for the dead.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Rev. Richard Greenwood III gazes at Blandford’s stained glass windows.
Part of that process was commissioning fifteen windows to be created by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained glass studio in New York. Each window would remember the dead from a different Confederate state, with stained glass depictions of the apostles and inscriptions in honor of the fallen. The Ladies Memorial Association worked with each state to raise the funds needed for the individual windows.
The first window, depicting St. John and remembering Virginia’s dead, was installed in 1904. In 1912, the final window, depicting St. Thomas and remembering the Georgians who died in the Civil War, was dedicated.
“It’s hard to think of these war dead without remembering all of our war dead,” Rowland said, calling the audience’s attention to the inscription that appears at the bottom of the window remembering the men of Tennessee.
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,” it reads.
Richmond resident, Dr. Donald Traser, has made a serious study of Tiffany’s works over the last 10 years and was on hand to talk about the history of stained glass and Tiffany’s studios.
“They came up with many brilliant innovations in the field of glass,” he said of Tiffany’s studios.
He pointed out examples of some of those innovations that can be seen in the Blandford windows, such as the use of mottled glass to create background textures and the use of drapery glass to create realistic folds in the garments of the apostles.
He also explained some of the symbolism visible in the different windows.
“I know a fair amount about architecture and theology and other such things just from being in the church for 40 years,” said Traser, who retired from CSX as a locomotive engineer and is now the choir director and organist at the Second Presbyterian Church in Petersburg.
He said he took a special interest in church windows.
“You pick the area that interests you most and delve into it,” he explained.
He has traveled throughout the country in search of windows and said that Blandford Church is part of a very exclusive club.
“It’s stunning. There are very few places where everything in the building is Tiffany,” he said.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson
Speaking after the program, as a string quartet played and visitors enjoyed refreshments and champaign from memorial champaign flutes created as keepsakes for visitors, Rowland said that the ladies knew they wanted stained glass windows in the church and decided to go to Tiffany because his studio was considered to be the best.
“For this project, they wanted the best,” she said.
Tiffany donated the cross of jewels above the chapel’s door to the ladies, free of charge, and provided the other windows for a very discounted price.
Rowland said that windows like those seen at Blandford typically went for $1,800 to $2,000, while the ladies only paid $385 for creation and installation. She said that price probably only covered the cost of materials.
Although Blandford has not been a consecrated church since 1806, Rowland said she has a special feeling surrounded by the windows.
“I feel this is a sacred place,” she said.
Blandford Cemetery contains the remains of 30,000 Confederate soldiers from the Civil War as well as casualties from every other war the United States has been involved in, from the American Revolution to the present day conflicts. Rowland said honoring them is important.
“These boys, and the boys who are fighting now, give their last measure,” she said, referring to the Confederate dead and current service members. “We need to honor our war dead.”