The Westmoreland's Tiffany window 'a treasure among treasures'

Sep. 13—Editor's note: Behind the Art is a new feature in Westmoreland Plus. It profiles some of the artworks that are in museums in the region.

An artwork would have to be quite remarkable to be considered "a treasure among treasures" in the permanent collection of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

The Thomas Lynch Tiffany Window is such a piece, said Doug Evans, the Greensburg museum's director of collections and exhibition management.

Like the layers of glass that make up the circa-1905 window, there are layers to the story behind its significance.

The New York-based artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany, was not just a glassmaker. He was a painter and interior designer whose work in the late-19th century defined elegance, luxury and wealth.

He developed new types of glass, including colors and textures not seen elsewhere.

"He makes his own glass in order to make the exact desired effects that he wants, like a painter, in a finished piece," Evans said. "He's making the glass and then adding layers to it so that, visually, the layers of glass produce the colors he wants.

"Thinking as Tiffany did as a painter, he puts layers together so the light coming through will create the finished color that he wanted to show."

Tiffany's leaded glass works were commissioned for churches, public buildings and private residences across the United States and Europe. The Westmoreland's window was one such private commission, and Tiffany's client was a Greensburg resident.

Thomas Lynch grew up in Fayette County and became general manager of the H.C. Frick Coke Co. The 56-inch-by-84-inch leaded-and-plated glass landscape window represents the birthplace of his father, Patrick Lynch, in Ballyduff, County Waterford, Ireland.

Depicting a thatched-roof cottage surrounded by trees, red clover, green meadows and cloudy skies, the window was mounted on the landing of the grand staircase of Lynch's brick mansion on West Pittsburgh Street.

"Tiffany is one the top recognizable artists of the early 20th century, and for us to have this sizable example, this prime example, in our collection would be spectacular in itself, but add to that layer that it was a commission for a home just a few blocks from the museum," Evans said.

When Thomas Lynch and his wife died, the home and window passed to their son, Thomas Lynch Jr., a founding member of The Westmoreland's board of trustees.

A subsequent owner of the home removed the window to another location, and, in 2001, it went up for auction through the renowned art and luxury auction house, Christie's.

It was important for The Westmoreland to acquire the window, not only for its artistic worth but also for its historical significance to the city and tie to the museum, Evans said.

"It was a difficult purchase, because there is an important collector of Tiffany, and he wanted the window as much as we did," he said. "But we were successful."

The museum's $350,000 winning bid was backed by contributions from 167 donors.

Upon its arrival in Greensburg, the window was disassembled, and each piece was cleaned and re-soldered by Thomas Venturella, founder of Venturella Studio in New York City, which specializes in conserving and restoring historical stained glass.

Because the window contains several layers of glass, the museum added support bars to strengthen it, along with a new frame. LED light panels behind it provide illumination.

As a result of the restoration, there's one tiny, less-than-fingertip-size piece of replacement glass in the window, Evans said.

"We were lucky to source it in Connellsville, because at the time there was a glassmaker there, and his formula was very close to the piece that the conservator needed," he added. "But I won't point it out."

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley by email at smcmarlin@triblive.com or via Twitter .