The Restoration Story of the Gordon Sisters' Window by Mary Jo Day (August 2009)
The Gordon Sisters' Window -The ongoing story, 2001-2009 ...
There she stands, surrounded by injured children and a dog. She is a beauty who has survived much and is an outstanding choice for honoring the Gordon Sisters, icons in New Orleans’s history. My adventures with this spectacular window started way back in 2001 when I was co-president of the board. Naturally, the church was strapped for money, and I knew from climbing around in the nooks and crannies that we had some stained glass windows in storage. With help they were brought down and unwrapped and we discovered that there were some beautiful ones representing the Zodiac. Should we sell them to help with our budget issues?
About that time, Charles Foster, our resident artist and Renaissance man, was building small replicas of his idea for a center piece for the chancel. One featured an elegant lady as described above. Although I had heard about the Gordon Window, I really did not know what it was. But finally it clicked! All of these pieces of stained glass fit together in a beautiful magnificent window. I remember laying all of the pieces out in the middle of the center aisle and being amazed at the wonderful glass as it glittered, even there on the sanctuary floor.
The campaign began. We raised money in every way that we could; selling wine jelly, sending out grant proposals. The Wisner Foundation was the only one who granted us money,but it had to be matched by the church. Mary Gehman, long time church member, educated us on the history of the three sisters, and thought that the glass had been executed in the Newcomb studios here in New Orleans. Nancy Long, a long time art conservator, helped us painstakingly clean the glass, using q-tips and horse mane soap. Mary and Oliver Mitoff, Wayne, and Esther joined hands with Nancy and Al Long and myself as we struggled to be careful and do justice to this cleaning of a window in storage off and on for fifty years. We discovered that the window was executed not in New Orleans, but in the world famous Willet Studios of Philadelphia, and a letter to them confirmed this as well as bringing to us two of the original cartoon submission to Miss Fanny for her choice for the window.
During the cleaning time, we search and searched for an artist who would repair the glass. We found someone who came highly recommended and the cleaned glass was stored at his shop. We gave him a retainer of $1,250. We met with people whom we thought could help us in framing the window in the middle window of the present church on the Jefferson avenue side. One framer kept us on the fence for over a year, stating he would donate his supplies and labor to the church. Finally, he decided that he couldn’t do it. So we began again.
Then, Katrina hit. Frantic that the window was safe, many phone calls were made to the artist. He could not be located. After three months, he returned my calls telling me that the window was safe, but had set in the putrid waters for over 3 weeks. Would the lady be washed away? In the meantime, a friend had recommended that I contact Cindy at Attenhoffer’s Glass about the framing and the window’s placement. She helped convince me that it would be much too costly to place in the wall. I was also alerted by a friend that our artist was in deep financial trouble, and it would be best to get the glass returned to the church. It was another three months of calling before I was able to get the glass back.
The next step was to get the glass cleaned once again, and Cindy took on this job. She also found a carpenter who built the frame out of the wood from our pews destroyed in the storm.
But where to put it? Building and Grounds team decided to place it as the focal point of the Sanctuary and several months ago, it was put in place.
It has been a long time, but I think that the sisters would be so pleased that they are honored by this church that we kept on until the window was in its rightful place.
The Windows were dedicated on September 20, 2009.
First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans dedicated the two wonderful stained glass windows, one celebrating the lives of the Gordon Sisters, icons in New Orleans’ history, and the other symbolizing the strength of this congregation as it rises from the waters of Katrina.