Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yes, I Do Windows

There are art nerds and then there are hopeless art nerds and my photographer friend and I definitely qualify as the latter.

After we finished seeing the Tiffany exhibit at the VMFA back in June here, we (like probably a bazillion other visitors to that show) picked up a sheet mentioning that Virginia was full of Tiffany windows available for public viewing.

But unlike those who tossed that sheet or forgot all about it, we were determined to start the process of seeing them all, beginning with Blandford Church in Petersburg.

So on this beautiful rain-washed and windswept day, we took a leisurely drive down Route 1 past the trailer parks and tiendas to see what Tiffany had wrought in the name of Civil War memorial windows.

Our intention had been to eat at the Dixie Diner, but once again they were closed ("You just never know when they're going to be open," we were told), so we headed to nearby Longstreet's Deli and a sunny window table.

Today's special was a half club sandwich, cup of soup (Italian wedding, chicken/sausage gumbo or French onion) and fripps ("They're our house-made fried potato chips, but they're addicting," our server warned us).

And although I enjoy a good club sandwich, I rarely order one because it ends up being too much.

So a half sounded great (as did cheese-covered soup since the temperature had dropped 17 degrees since I'd walked this morning).

And, for the record, the thick sliced fripps were delicious, with far more potato taste than a typical house made chip

We ate and watched the clouds tearing across the sky as if they had somewhere to be, like Nebraska.

It was almost like an artsy time-lapse shot in a movie to indicate the passage of time, except that not much time was passing.

Arriving at Blandford, we were met by the Ladies Memorial Association decorating committee, two welcoming women working on the Visitors' Center Christmas tree.

When they learned that we were there because of the VMFA exhibit, we became the star visitors.

Apparently they had hoped to get a lot of residual guests as a result of the VMFA show but that hasn't really been the case.

Pity, really, because Blandford's windows made for as soul-satisfying an afternoon as did the museum show, with the bonus of being in a 1735 church with a glorious wooden vaulted ceiling.

Our tour guide, a charming women who's been doing it for five years and willingly gave her age as 76, provided more than facts and encouraged the closest possible viewing points so as not to miss a nuance of the works of art.

When the Ladies' Memorial Association began the project to restore the abandoned church as a memorial chapel in 1901, they conceived a plan where each of the Confederate States would provide funds for a window in memory of that state's Confederate dead.

For each window of the planned size for the chapel, Tiffany was charging $1800 at the time.

For this project, he dropped his price to $300 per window with a $35 packing/shipping/installation fee. It boggles the mind today.

Additionally, the faces, hands and feet of the saints depicted in each of the windows were hand-painted by artisans for the most realistic detail possible. In many cases, tiny painted rounds of glass were added at the last moment to add a three-dimensional element to the image.

We were astounded to learn that these magnificent windows had gone uncovered until the 1980s when Plexiglas was put on the outside of them.

Seventy years of Tiffany masterpieces undisturbed, not stolen, not shot out, with no rocks thrown through. Surely that's some sort of cosmic gift.

Up close with today's brilliant sunshine streaming through Tiffany's Opaline and gem-like colored-windows was even better than the VMFA exhibit in some ways.

The proximity, the natural light and the cohesiveness of the windows' themes were breath-taking.

The only state that hadn't managed to raise funds for a window was Kentucky, so Tiffany had created a small window with a cross on it in honor of the state's dead and charged the ladies only $100 for it.

Neutral states Maryland and Arkansas had smaller windows as well.

Walking out through first the Colonial cemetery and then the Civil War cemetery was like being in a rolling sea of gravestones.

After the war, when the Union made no provision to bury the Confederate dead, the L.M.A. spent twenty years burying 30,000 men's bodies in the hilly back of the church.

We were both surprised to learn that although Blandford is no longer an active parish, you can still be married there and buried in the cemetery ("You can end it either way here," one of us quipped).

Driving back out, I asked my friend if he wanted to be buried because I know I intend to be cremated.

"And scattered where?" he asked.

I think I'll leave that to the scatterer, presuming that he'll know me well enough to know my mind.


  1. lovely. and slightly haunting.
    well done, as always

  2. Lovely and slightly marriage and death?

  3. i've seen those windows & yes they are truly works of art. I've also got relatives buried at Blandford & I'm told my family still retains two plots there...[future use??] ...Well you never know..Cremation? something about being burned up & thrown away seems a bit distasteful...don't U think?

  4. Those windows deserve to be seen by a much larger audience, for sure.

    Actually, it's the six-feet under part that disturbs me, so I'm okay with the burned up and tossed part.