The collection of signed Tiffany windows, depicting episodes in the life of Jesus, are our greatest artistic treasure. The design of the sanctuary symbolizes the way God is both mysterious (darker lower windows) and radiantly transcendent (translucent upper windows).
All but one have the "Tiffany Studios" designation in very small print in a corner near the bottom. The windows are variously dated for their dedication and, with the exception of the Easter window, were installed at the same time. Many of them are memorials, some are honors.
In 2005, the clerestory (upper) windows were restored to their original condition, removing paint that had been applied to the outside of the glass.
All the lighting of the windows is natural, not enhanced. The windows have a protective covering on the outside. The light is ever changing – a late afternoon sun makes the Wisdom window especially dazzling. A low winter sun highlights Mary’s face in the Manger scene.
As you look at the windows, please note the play of light, the drapery of the glass, and that all of the facial features, hands, and feet are painted. As you look at each window, with the wooden tracery, you have the effect of looking through them to a scene “out there.” And here, you can be on eye level with the windows to study them closely, even the largest over the balcony. The story begins in the southeast corner of the sanctuary and moves clockwise around the sanctuary.
Photo by: Mark Heffron
The Shepherds and the Star
This window depicts the shepherds looking off into the distance toward Bethlehem. They heard the promise of Jesus’ birth but are not yet with him in Bethlehem. The window speaks to our hope for the future. This takes on particular meaning when one considers the donor. Emily Greenleaf (1835-1917) gave the window in honor of her friend Dr. Sarah Munro (1839-1914). These two women lived together for many years; today we’d likely know them as a lesbian couple. They could see the promise of the gospel even then. Plymouth began celebrating same-sex marriages in 1991. (Learn more about Dr. Sarah Munro here).
This window shows Mary with Jesus and the visiting kings. It was given by George C. Swallow in memory of his wife, Frances Lucretia Swallow (1840-1913). A low winter light accents Mary’s face. The manger scene shows some painted straw. We don’t know the reason for this, perhaps the size of the area.
Jesus in the Temple
The teachers review the scroll as a young Jesus teaches in the Temple in Jerusalem. The window is dedicated in honor of Plymouth’s first pastor, Rev. John Miter. Plymouth formed in 1841 after several church members broke away from Immanuel Presbyterian Church. The founders of Plymouth, led by Deacon Samuel, called Miter as their first pastor. Orphaned at age 13, and sickly by nature, Miter started as a pastor in Illinois. Throughout his life he supported the work of Beloit College; the college honored him with a Doctor of Divinity degree towards the end of his life. Look closely at the black lines on the columns - they are actually an almost clear surface!
Christ Blessing the Children
Nelson Powell Hurst (1842-1923) and his daughter Florence (1889-1911) were honored with a window showing Jesus blessing the children.
As the last of the "story" windows to be installed, the color tones in the glass differ in comparison to the other windows, because the pallet at Tiffany Studios had changed by this time.
Friends of Judson Titsworth honored him with a window depicting the parable of the sower. In the parable a sower scatters seed on a variety of soil - hard, fertile, weedy. Birds eat some of the seed, other spouts but is choked by weeds, other comes to harvest. It was an aptly chosen window. During Titsworth pastorate in the late 1800’s Plymouth started many social service agencies which grew to become major institutions in our own day: Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee, Eastcastle (originally the Protestant Home), and Lad Lake, a place for troubled youth.
The Good Shepherd
An iconic Christian image for a millenium, this window depicts Jesus as the Good Shepherd who watches over his flock, protecting it from predators and finding any who are lost. The window honors Royall Perkins Houghton (1831-1892) and his wife Lucy Millicent (1834-1907). The Houghton family made its fortune in banking and lumber. (There may have been a connection between the Houghton and Greenleaf families).
The Garden of Gethsemane
Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest in a window given in honor of Alfred C. Wright (1845-1906) and Helen Cairne Wright (1847-1921). Alfred Wright served as “chief usher” at Plymouth in an era when ushers dressed in formal attire. His strong singing voice could often be heard in worship. A contemporary said of Mrs. Wright, “Many people did not understand her characteristic plain speaking, but one was never at a loss to understand just where she stood nor what she meant.”
The Angel of the Resurrection
An angel points to heaven when asked where Jesus lay. This window honoring Eliphalet Cramer (1813-1872) and his wife Electa Fay (1818-1910). The Cramers, one of six families who founded Plymouth, rose to prominence in the early life of the City of Milwaukee. Eliphalet came to Milwaukee in 1836 from Waterford, NY. He served as president of the gas company and of a bank. The Cramers were also involved in the abolitionist movement.
This window, dedicated to some of our earliest founders, reminds us that the church is the creation of the lay people in it, not the clergy or a denominational hierarchy.
The Angel of Peace (Wisdom)
The family of Marcia Bryant Wells gifted Plymouth with several of its most prominent elements - the dramatic balcony window of the Angel of Peace as well as the gymnasium. The window is inscribed, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace” from Proverbs 8 - intentionally selected because America was about to enter WWI and the congregation wanted to remind itself of its call to be peacemakers. We are not pacifists but we come close.
While studying this window, look at the way in which the feathers are treated, how the glass must have been so carefully chosen for the tall leaves of the iris, the cabochons for the flowers. This window was designed by a woman named Clara Miller Burd. It is most unusual that it is known to be her work, because Tiffany did not typically disclose his artists’ names!
Photo by: Mark Heffron