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Windows on the Past to Glow Again: Tiffany Stained Glass Pieces Return to Campus

By Elizabeth Golden

Handlers restore the Tiffany windows in Hamilton Hall.

A pair of rare 100-year-old Tiffany stained glass windows recently returned to luminous splendor at Columbia University. The 13-foot high windows represent allegorical figures of Vergil and Sophocles.

The stained glass windows slowly emerged from beneath a half-century of soot, grime and storage dust at the Jersey City workshop of Rambusch, the noted architectural design and restoration company. Martin Rambusch, a graduate of the architectural preservation program at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture and Preservation, oversaw the restoration, completing it in time for Columbia's 250th anniversary.

"Columbia deserves a lot of credit for recognizing the intrinsic value of these magnificent stained glass windows and for preserving them," noted Rambusch.

The windows were created before the end of the 19th-century, probably six years apart. Together they illustrate an important change in the American arts and crafts movement, the transition from painting images on glass to achieving a sculptural depth entirely through the use of colored glass.

The figure of Sophocles was originally installed in a narrow gothic window opening in the library of Columbia's mid-19th-century campus on 49th Street and Madison Avenue. When the University moved to Morningside Heights in the late 1890's, it was dismantled and returned to the Tiffany Studios for modification.

"Tiffany remounted the figure in a winder window frame, adding an ornate border inlaid with faceted chunks of glass," said Sarah Weiner, the curator of art properties at Columbia. "The top was rounded off in order to fit the larger style neoclassical window of the original McKim, Mead and White building design. These are the only Tiffany pieces in the University's holdings."

Both windows were mounted in the main-floor lounge of Hartley Hall, the first men's dormitory on campus, which opened in 1905. They remained for more than 40 years, accumulating layers of cigar and pipe smoke, as well as coal dust from the fireplace and dirt from Amsterdam Avenue traffic.

In 1948, the two windows darkened with years of grime, were put in storage when the lounge was remodeled.

In 2002, Columbia began a complete renovation of 100-year-old Hamilton Hall, one of the original McKim, Mead and White buildings and home of Columbia College, the University's undergraduate liberal arts college. Two niches on either side of the lobby have been created to hold the stained glass panels, which will be illuminated from behind.

"These figures of Sophocles and Vergil renew the links between the College's midtown and Morningside eras," said Austin Quigley, dean of Columbia College.

"Their presence in the contemporary Hamilton Hall lobby also exemplifies the interplay between tradition and innovation that is such a defining feature of the College's Core Curriculum," noted Quigley.

"In that curriculum, tradition is treated as both an instrument of continuity and an engine of change. Historical cultural contexts of many kinds are involved to guide but not govern students preparing to help create the future. Surrounding the classical figures in the Hamilton lobby are a number of display cases which will contain books, pictures, and other artifacts that will exemplify the cultural contexts around the globe that are also incorporated into the Core Curriculum," said Quigley.

The windows were originally presented to the university by the classes of 1885 and 1891. Their restoration and installation is made possible by a gift from Arthur G. Rosen, CC'65.

Published: Oct 20, 2003
Last modified: Oct 20, 2003

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