PROVO — A lit 9-foot-8-inch by 5-foot-10-inch stained glass window showing the New Testament story of Jesus Christ teaching the woman at the well is now at the end of the main hall of the Brigham Young University Museum of Art’s exhibit "To Magnify the Lord: Six Centuries of Art and Devotional."
The window is nearly 100 years old and came from a church in New York, according to information from museum officials.
The First Presbyterian Church of Astoria in New York, from which the stained-glass window originated, was first constructed in the early 1920s and included a set of six stained glass windows that were made for the church and funded in part by members of the congregation. Each of the six windows depicted a different scene from the life of Jesus Christ, according to information from museum officials.
The congregation of this church flourished for many years, reaching around 1,200 members in the 1950s, according to Ashlee Whitaker, the curator of religious art at the BYU Museum of Art. Their numbers slowly began to diminish and in 2008, the congregation of around two dozen members decided to sell the property, which was followed by the church being demolished and turned into a nonprofit senior living center.
Before the church was demolished, the collection of stained glass windows was preserved and purchased by an antique art dealer in Salt Lake City, who in turn sold them to a collector, according to Whitaker. This collector donated one of these windows to the Museum of Art and at least two more to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of which is in the Provo City Center Temple and the other in the Star Valley Wyoming Temple, which is scheduled to be dedicated on Sunday, Oct. 30.
“A lot of the great art was motivated by religious interests and more importantly about coming to know the Savior and in some way teaching about the Savior,” Whitaker said. “That’s the core idea about what we chose to hang, and this new stained glass window we wanted to be one of the focal points of the exhibit because it really is exemplary.”
This window at the BYU Museum of Art depicts the story of Jesus Christ teaching the woman at the well, as told in John 4 of the New Testament. It is on display in a glass light case, which Whitaker said is done in order to honor the longstanding tradition of stained glass windows being instructive and symbolic.
“A lot of these windows and art in churches played an important role in reminding people about the stories they learned in scripture from the priests that would teach them,” Whitaker said. “The aspect of light coming through adds an additional symbolic component that Christ is the light, his teachings are the truth and he himself is the way, the truth and the life. So it’s just a beautiful, symbolic tradition in these stained glass windows.”
The original artist of the window is currently unknown, but in attempting to find out who the artist was, Whitaker said they came in contact with Robert Singleton, a former member of the congregation who was thrilled that the windows had found a new life.
“I cannot find words to adequately express my appreciation on both your interest in, and reclamation of First Presbyterian of Astoria’s windows,” Singleton wrote in an email to the BYU Museum of Art that was shared by Whitaker. “A poet once wrote, ‘the rarer the victory, the sweeter its savor.’ History ebbs and flows. You point to a future when all things will be reclaimed and set in good foundations.”