Monday, April 3, 2017

Latter-day Stained Glass: Part 9 – Modern Uses of Historic Stained Glass

Note: This is a part of a series on the history of the use of stained glass in LDS meetinghouses. To see a full list of the posts in this series, click here.

In many cases, historic buildings that contain stained glass have been carefully preserved, allowing members to enjoy the windows in the setting for which they were designed. The Church keeps track of its historic properties that are considered protected; many of its most significant stained glass windows are therefore safe from demolition or renovation.

This is not the case for all stained glass, however. As we have noted, many wonderful buildings with stained glass were demolished or sold. Sometimes the stained glass was destroyed or sold along with the building; sometimes, as with the Cedar City Second Ward, it was put into storage. The future use of such glass is unknown.

Cedar City Second Ward Window

In other examples, the Church has taken the stained glass and displayed it in various exhibits, either in the Church History Museum or other locations. This is the case for stained glass that stood in the Adams (California), Salt Lake 12th, and Salt Lake 14th Wards.

Adams Ward Window, now in Church History Museum

The confusing lack of a clear policy on what to do with stained glass becomes clear when we look at how the Church treated the windows it decided (for one reason or another) to keep. The windows are treated in a confusing manner, and many examples are still evident.

An early example can be found in the Salt Lake 17th Ward. When it came time to destroy the original Gothic building that housed a First Vision window, the Church built a custom designed chapel with Gothic influences to house the ward and its window.

Original Salt Lake Seventeenth Ward Building (Image Source: Church History Library)

Current Salt Lake Seventeenth Ward Building

Even though it was designed specially for the window, the building falls far short of its predecessor. It's style is too modern to properly complement the arched window; furthermore, the window, while placed against an exterior wall, was backed with a black shade to prevent sunlight from filtering through. Electricity is instead used to light the glass from behind, but these lights do not fully illuminate the window.

Salt Lake Seventeenth Ward Window

Interestingly enough, this is a recurring issue for stained glass that was moved into new buildings. The Coalville Stake Center was also specially designed with the three large stained glass panels from the original tabernacle in mind. Two of the windows were placed on either side of the chapel, and the third was placed behind the pulpit--as a picture, not as a window. No light passes through; the panes are not illuminated, either naturally or electronically. This is disappointing and perplexing.

Coalville Stake Center Chapel

Coalville Stake Center Window

The pattern is repeated in many other places. Windows from the Lehi Fourth and LeGrande Wards were placed in otherwise modern chapels; they are lit electronically. To be fair, these buildings were not exactly designed for the windows. The Lehi Fourth Ward window could have been made into an actual window (with sunlight used to light it), but the LeGrande Ward is against an interior wall (as is the case with many modern chapels) and this wasn't possible.

Lehi Fourth Ward Window

LeGrande Ward Window

It appears that the Church is wary about allowing windows in the chapel to be lit naturally, at least when they are behind the pulpit. Perhaps there is a fear that the incoming light will be distracting from the speaker, or make it difficult to view them.

This may be a legitimate fear, but the light from stained glass shouldn't be overwhelming if the building matches the architecture. For example, windows from the Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward were moved into their modern chapel. The original building was smaller and had thick, red brick walls that absorbed much of the light; now, the chapel is much larger with the standard white brick, which produced what Joyce Janetski called "a harsh glare."

Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward Building

Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward Chapel

All of this points to a recurring problem--the stained glass windows often beautifully fit their original buildings; when they are shoehorned into modern buildings, they can still be appreciated, but not nearly as much as they originally were. The Provo Third Ward's windows were moved into a modern chapel, but the building simply cannot do these windows justice; it is too modern.

Original Provo Third Ward Building (Image Source: Church History Library)

Current Provo Third Ward Building

Provo Third Ward Building

The Provo Third and Salt Lake Twenty-first Wards also highlight another problem--confusion about where to put the stained glass in the new building. The Provo Third Ward, for example, put some of the stained glass in the chapel, and put the remainder in classrooms on the west and north sides of the building. The rest of the building was given standard frosted glass. This reduces the effect of the stained glass; it looks like it was just placed wherever it would fit.

Provo Third Ward Windows

Similarly, the Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward had its clear glass panels placed in the chapel, but there were three colored glass panels that also needed to be moved. One was placed in the primary room; the other two were placed in two of the classrooms on the building's south side. The other rooms have plain glass. By separating the stained glass into almost random areas of the building, viewers cannot appreciate the effect of the stained glass together, as it was originally intended, either from the exterior or the interior.

Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward Window

Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward Primary Room

This problem is highlighted even more with other cases. The tabernacle in La Grande, Oregon had some beautiful stained glass. The windows were saved when the tabernacle was demolished; they were then placed in new and exiting chapels in La Grande, Pilot Rock, Elgin, Pendleton, Enterprise, Halfway, and Baker (all nearby towns). This can be seen as a chance to allow more members to enjoy the windows, but by splitting up the windows, nobody can enjoy the full effect that was intended by having all of the windows together. It doesn't fit any architectural style to put two stained glass windows in an otherwise modern building. Before, a stake could savor the complete architectural effect; now, many wards get a small glimpse of what was to be enjoyed.

La Grande Oregon Tabernacle (Image Source: Church History Library) 
Elgin Oregon Ward with window from La Grande Tabernacle (Image Source: Church History Library)

Other examples show similarly confusing results. The Stratford Ward was given stained glass from the old Cottonwood Ward building; it was installed over the west entrance and in the baptistry. The windows are beautiful, but they were simply placed wherever it was most convenient for them to fit.

Stratford Ward

The windows in the Millcreek Ward originally consisted of some beautiful old glass on the sides of the chapel, along with two windows of Christ as the Good Shepherd--both at the front of the chapel; one faced outward, and one inward. Now, the original glass on the sides of the chapel are gone, and both panes were moved into the lobbies of a modern building (a rather confusing place to have stained glass). The original, exterior window lost some of its side panels that extended the pastoral scene.

Millcreek Ward Exterior Window (Image Source: Church History Library)

Millcreek Ward Window

The Murray First Ward is a particularly confusing case. Much of the glass was used as door panels in the building.

Murray First Ward Chapel Doors

The main window, depicting Christ above the words "Come Unto Me," was placed at the front of the chapel. However, it cannot be enjoyed by ward members, because a large organ is also at the front, completely covering the front wall. The organ also prevents light from the chapel to pass through the window, so it is electronically lit. Of course, this is only appreciated at night, so the window is only fully viewed when members happen to have activities after the sun has gone down--not during the regular meetings on the Sabbath.

Murray First Ward Chapel

Murray First Ward Window

Joyce Janetski summed up the disappointing effects of moving stained glass as follows:

"In this circumstance architecture has failed to promote its heritage of stained glass by either ignoring or perverting qualities once honored by its creators. Where arhitecture has failed altogether, requiring storage of the glass for an indefinite period period of time, panels of art glass await a resurrection to a life, not possibily butter, but at least as good as the one they had enjoyed. Perhaps better off in a state of limbo, the 'outdated' stained glass pieces may at last come to be realized as Architecture and as Art..." (Joyce Janetski, "A History, Analysis, and Registry of Mormon Architectural Art Glass in Utah," Masters Thesis, June 1981).

Murray First Ward Window

Next Week: The Future of Stained Glass


  1. You put a lot of work in every story, really nice and unique. I hadn`t found any similar ones, cudos for you

  2. Wonderful post! I'm the executive secretary of the Salt Lake 17th ward and have attended that building for many years. I've enjoyed the First Vision stained glass window in the chapel during that time. The building, constructed about 1965, is now woefully inadequate for the two wards and one branch that use it, not to mention many, many outside groups that request it for reunions, receptions and other functions. Many of us in leadership hope against hope that the Church will build a new building for us and relocate the stained glass for a second time. Perhaps the biggest travesty in my opinion is the generic white steeple that was added to the building about three years ago. It in no way matches the midcentury architecture of the building.

    1. I really hope they replace that building too, Dave. I did notice the addition of the steeple and it was very confusing. I think some employee in the Church Office Building is demanding that older chapels have steeples, just so that it's obvious that the building is a church (if not a mismatched one).