Thursday, July 8, 2010

Palm Beach Social Diary

“Let’s buy everything and try to save it,” said Jeannette Genius McKean to her husband Hugh F. McKean, after Tiffany’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall, was devastated by a 1957 fire. Among their acquisitions, pictured above, a chapel designed by Tiffany for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, described by the artist as “A temple of art not a place of worship.” Forty years later, the McKeans reassembled the chapel as the spectacular centerpiece for their museum in Winter Park, Florida.
Glass Act: Tiffany & the Arts & Crafts Movement
The Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park

By Augustus Mayhew

Every few minutes the Tiffany Chapel’s chandelier light shifts from recreating its original dim 1893 flicker to displaying its amped 21st-century dazzling brilliance. This vivid change reflects the effect the chapel’s acclaim had on Tiffany’s fame and fortune as well as highlights the impact the Morse Museum’s discerning founders, Jeannette Genius McKean and Hugh F. McKean, had on American decorative arts, elevating their significance from cobwebbed second-hand shops to the limelight of museum exhibitions. Without the McKeans’ regard for Craftsman tables and stained-glass windows when their aesthetic value was discounted, Tiffany’s work and that of many other American artisans would have been consigned to dumpsters.

Last month, as I arrived at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, the Daffodil Terrace columns were being installed, the centerpiece for the museum’s new 6,000-square-foot Laurelton Hall Galleries, a showcase for more than 300 artifacts and architectural elements, many salvaged from Tiffany’s estate.
Last month's view of The Morse’s new glass courtyard pavilion where a videography crew was filming the installation of Daffodil Terrace.
During the fifty-year span from the time when The Morse Gallery campus mounted the first exhibition of Tiffany’s work on the Rollins College campus until the more recent New York collaborative exhibition “Louis Comfort Tiffany & Laurelton Hall — An Artist’s Country Estate” by The Morse and The Met in 2006, this privately-funded Winter Park museum has been at the vortex for the appreciation of American decorative arts.
Once the Laurelton Hall Galleries are opened in early 2011, The Morse's exhibit promises to be much more than the show at The Met..
This virtual simulation shows the Daffodil Terrace upon completion, its glassed enclosure overlooking the courtyard. The terrace’s eight marble columns are topped with glass daffodil bouquets.
Daffodil Terrace at Laurelton Hall, 1926. Courtesy of HABS, Library of Congress.
Set on the north end of Park Avenue, one of the state’s few remaining picturesque authentic Main Streets, The Morse Museum offers “the most comprehensive collection of Tiffany material in the world today.” Even though Tiffany’s expertise is most often gauged by his stained-glass windows, and The Morse for its concentration of Tiffany’s work, the artist and the museum offer a far more diverse aesthetic spectrum.

The Morse spotlights Tiffany as a painter, potter, jeweler and craftsman. For Flagler’s Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine, Tiffany not only fashioned the staircase windows but also supervised the hotel’s entire interior décor. At The Morse, Tiffany is one artist among many that comprises the venue’s significant array of Arts & Crafts artifacts.
In 1942 Jeannette and Hugh McKean opened the Morse Gallery of Art on the Rollins College campus, several blocks south of their current location. Named for Mrs. McKean’s grandfather, Charles Hosmer Morse, a Chicago industrialist, the museum’s present location is near Morse’s Osceola Lodge, his Winter Park retreat.

The McKeans staged the first museum exhibition devoted to Tiffany’s work in 1955, regarded as launching a national appreciation for Tiffany’s work. The McKeans’ collections have been shown in the nation’s major museum; their Tiffany-designed Oyster Bay window is on long-term loan to The Met. The Morse Museum is privately-operated and funded by the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation with additional funds from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation.
Madonna and Child, c. 1890.
Here are some of impressions from my recent visit to The Morse.
Tiffany windows.
Rose window. 1906.
Rose window, detail.
Door panels, autumn vines. August Heckscher house, New York. 1905.
Presbyterian church window, panel. Window panel, Richard Beatty Mellon house.
The Chapel
World’s Columbian Exposition. Chicago, 1893.
During the Chicago exposition, men reportedly took off their hats when they entered the chapel. Seen by more than 14 million visitors, the 1,082-square-foot space includes sixteen mosaic columns, a marble-and-glass mosaic altar, a dome-shaped baptismal font, several windows and a 1,000-pound electrolier, an eight-foot cross-shaped electrified chandelier.
The electrolier's 1893 flicker. The electrolier's 2010 full light.
A view of the Baptistery in 1926 when it was installed at Tiffany's estate, Laurelton Hall. Courtesy of Library of Congress. A view of the Baptistery installation at The Morse.
Scenes from the galleries
Tiffany lamps
Laurelton Hall, central courtyard, featuring portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany. 1926. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Laurelton Hall, covered glass bridge. 1926. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Four Seasons, jewelry box.
If you go:

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida 407.645.5311

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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