A Touch of Tiffany

For a bride-to-be, a Tiffany setting may refer to how a diamond is mounted in her engagement ring. However, another “Tiffany setting” is in the heart of the Finger Lakes, and may be an ideal location for a wedding ceremony.

The focal point in the Chapel of the Spa Apartments at 11 East Main St. in Clifton Springs is a dazzling Tiffany artwork. Above the chapel’s altar is an 18-foot-long mosaic of “The Last Supper” that was made at the Tiffany Studios in New York City.

How did the Tiffany mosaic get to Clifton Springs?

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), the eldest son of Charles Lewis Tiffany of the famed jewelry and silver store, began as a painter, but later turned to working with glass as an art medium. He is probably best known for his work with stained glass and interior decoration for homes, churches and public buildings at the turn of 20th century. Inspired by the interiors of Byzantine churches, Tiffany’s mosaic technique used iridescent glass, mother-of-pearl and transparent tesserae backed with gold leaf.

The donors of “The Last Supper” mosaic were Myron and Velma Buck. Buck, a native of Shortsville, owned a St. Louis-based railroad supplies business. He came east in 1875 so his wife who was in ill health could be treated by Dr. Henry Foster at the Clifton Springs Sanatorium. Dr. Foster had founded a water-cure facility in the village in 1850 due to the availability of sulphur springs. The sanatorium became known worldwide for its sulphur baths and Dr. Foster’s unique blend of medicine and faith.

With Mrs. Buck’s recovery, the couple’s ties to Clifton Springs strengthened. After Dr. Foster’s death in 1901, the Bucks visited the Tiffany Studios in New York City where they selected a memorial after seeing sketches of “The Last Supper” mosaic, which was then at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. The multi-pieced mosaic is based on a painting done by Frederick Wilson, who worked for L.C. Tiffany. The Bucks purchased it for the sanitarium chapel where it was later installed.

Chapel salvation and renovation

By 1972, the sanatorium was threatened with demolition with the construction of a new Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic. However, the large five-story sanatorium soon took on new life as the Spa Apartments, a senior housing facility.

The Spa Apartments Chapel has recently been completely renovated thanks to an anonymous donor. Its stained glass windows made by a Boston firm – Spence, Moakler and Bell – and its best known feature, the Tiffany mosaic, were a focus of a major restoration carried out by John Lord of Waterloo. Lord also oversaw the installation of new lighting over the mosaic. Other chapel improvements included new hardwood flooring, upgraded heating and air conditioning, along with painting.

Enhancing the chapel’s musical life

Parsons Pipe Organ Builders of nearby Bristol located an appropriate historic pipe organ to replace an electric organ which had been used there since the 1950s. In a church in Brooklyn, Parsons found a long-silent instrument built in 1901 by William and Charles Pilcher. It may be the only organ in the world that the Pilcher brothers built together. The organ was destined for the landfill, but the American Guild of Organists pushed for its rescue. Parsons craftsmen put more than 3,000 man-hours into the restoration, which included replacing all the leather, cleaning all the pipes – plus straightening most – and restoring the keyboard with antique ivory.

The mechanical action tracker organ can be played with or without electricity. Parsons completed the historically accurate restoration in December 2012. The chapel was proudly re-dedicated with a pipe organ recital on the anniversary of Dr. Henry Foster’s birth on January 18, 2013.

The Spa Chapel is regularly used for church, funeral and memorial services, as well as concerts and weddings. It is also available for private meditation for those who live in the apartments.

For more information about the Spa Chapel, contact accounts manager Dedee Wilkes at dwilkes@spaapartments.com, or by calling 315-462-3080. The Spa Chapel seating will accommodate 150 to 175 comfortably. While no food or beverages are allowed in the chapel, the main lobby down the hall from the chapel may be used for refreshments. The Spa Chapel is closed to rentals from November 1 to April 1.

by Laurel Wemett

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