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Tiffany Mosaic

When over the dizzy heights we go

One soft hand blinds our eyes,

The other leads us safe and slow,

O love of God most wise!


Thy Kingdom Come | The Wanderer | The Pilgrim

The impressive Favrile glass mosaic behind the pulpit in the Sanctuary of The First Unitarian Church in New Bedford was given in 1911 as a memorial to Judge Oliver Prescott and his wife Helen Augusta Howland Prescott by their three children: Oliver Prescott, Jr., Mrs. Frederick Stetson, and Miss Mary R. Prescott.

The composition was drawn from Eliza Scudder’s famous hymn, “Thy Grace Divine,” the second verse:

When over the dizzy heights we go
One soft hand blinds our eyes,
The other leads us safe and slow,
O love of God most wise!

Eliza Scudder, who had died only a few years before, wrote powerful devotional hymns in her early Unitarian years. She was a niece of the famous Unitarian minister, Edmund Hamilton Sears, who wrote “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” The mosaic shows a pilgrim high on a craggy mountain trail, facing a narrow, dangerous path. Behind him stands a bright angel spirit of God, to guide him “safe and slow” as the path grows steep and the way more difficult.

Thousands of pieces of Favrile glass set in cement portray a beautiful landscape depicting a deep ravine lined on either side with massive trees, luxuriant foliage and bold rocks. The peace and tranquility of the valley is disturbed by the motion and murmur of a little stream seen winding its way through the fertile valley.

The Artist

The mosaic commissioned by the Prescott children from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Studios, was created by the chief artist of the Studio, Frederick Wilson (1858-1932) already justly famous for many stunning stained glass windows. In its time it was the “largest and most intricate work of its kind in America,” requiring more than a year to complete. The Tiffany Studios featured it in full color on the cover of their 1911 brochure.

Among Wilson’s designs include windows that were displayed at the 1893 Chicago Exposition. His predilection was for figurative windows and mosaics as demonstrated by his work on the following projects: “The Ascension,” “The Archangel Raphael” and “Christ Blessing the Little Children.” He also designed the beautiful “The Last Supper” mosaic, which can be found in the First Independent Christ Church in Baltimore.

There is another Frederick Wilson mosaic in New Bedford, in Pilgrim Congregational Church, and a few stained glass windows by the same artist, including one in Grace Church, Episcopal.

The Glassmaker

Louis Comfort Tiffany (b. 1/17/1848–d. 2/18/1933) began his career as a painter in the 1860s and 1870s. He grew up surrounded by the decorative arts, his father having founded the most prestigious jewelry and silver store in America. Louis studied landscape painting and by 1880 established himself as an artist, becoming the youngest member of the National Academy of Design. Influenced by his travels in Europe and North Africa and his acquaintance with medieval and Roman glass, he became interested in a new challenge. He began experimenting with techniques of glassmaking at age 24. In 1885 he founded his own firm focused on art glass.

As his fascination with glass grew, he experimented with lustering techniques, patenting his first glass-lustering technique in 1881. Favrile glass, which was to become his trademark, was the result of these experiments. The word Favrile was taken from the old English word for ‘hand made’.

At his glasshouse at Corona, Long Island, Tiffany Furnaces concentrated on blown glassware. His special combination of dissolving salts of metallic oxides in the molten glass along with subjecting the glass to special heat and chemicals quickly gained Tiffany Favrile glass international acclaim for its surface iridescence and brilliant color. His vision and energy along with his blending of classical motifs with new techniques in glassmaking created a distinctive American art form and his glass is in great demand today.

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