First United Methodist Church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as one of the fifteen distinctive structures comprising the Twin Falls City Park Historic District. United Methodist was one of six churches to be constructed around the city park between Twin Falls’ incorporation in 1904 and 1925, along with the high school, courthouse, and library. The rapid growth of Twin Falls was spurred on by the diversion of water from the Snake River by I.B. Perrine, turning the area into a hotbed of agrarian development.
United Methodist stands out from the surrounding buildings in a couple of distinct ways. First, most of the district’s structures are made of brick, while United Methodist is a handsome example of the Tudor Gothic style crafted from sandstone brought to the site by wagon from over thirty miles away. The second distinguishing factor, and the topic for today’s discussion, is the dazzling array of stained glass windows adorning the building. With help from IHT and tireless fundraising efforts of their own, United Methodist is in the midst of a three-phase project to preserve these remarkable works of art. Spearheading this project is Ron Jones, lifelong parish member and current chair of United Methodist’s Board of Trustees, and he was kind enough to share his time in the preparation of this article.
Stained glass is created by adding certain metallic salts to the typical silica mixture during the molten state of the glassmaking process, and its origins can be traced back to antiquity. Artisans in ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, Assyria, Persia, and Rome crafted small objects out of colored glass. In the arid climates of the near East, stained glass was not only used as decoration, but also to help control the interior temperature of communal buildings. Eastern stained glass is typically purely geometric and floral in design, while the style that proliferated through the West, such as the examples at United Methodist, often features illustrations of key biblical moments and Christian narratives.
This pictorial style rose to prominence in the medieval period in Europe during the Romanesque and Early Gothic periods (950 to 1250 or so). At this time, most of the populace was illiterate and the liturgy was spoken in Latin, which would have been equally unintelligible to the common person. As such, churches used stained glass to communicate important stories and depict religious figures. Common narratives were the Stations of the Cross, Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Last Judgment, while common figures were Jesus (of course), the Twelve Apostles, and those seen as recent or regional champions of the faith, such as Charlamagne or local saints.
During this period, stained glass design developed in tandem with the more complex and impressive architectural styles at the time. Massive gothic cathedrals would not have nearly the same majesty without their towering, intricate windows. These elaborate designs were created by fastening small pieces of colored glass together with strips of lead (referred to as calms), and the lead strips themselves were considered as part of the overall visual effect. Often, the interior of the glass would be embellished with painted characters and details. Circular Rose Windows also came into vogue at this time, several of which can be seen overtop the main entrance to the home of Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise.
After the Renaissance, political and social movements in Western Europe led to a steep decline in the production of stained glass, as well as the destruction of many such windows. Thomas Cromwell’s campaign against objects of veneration in England resulted in the loss of thousands of windows, and a similar scene played out in the wake of the French Revolution, leading to the destruction of many churches and their priceless works of art. These events, coupled with the proliferation of more austere forms of Protestantism throughout Western Europe, led to a steep decline in the production of such windows. As is typical of the ebb and flow of history, however, there was a great revival of the art form in the 19th century, spurred on by the Catholic Revival in Great Britain and a concerted effort by the French to restore or replace their desecrated churches and cathedrals.
Stained glass as an art form reached new heights in the 1800s as part of the Arts and Crafts movement, which would go on to proliferate throughout the English-speaking world. New compounds were discovered to provide an even wider array of colors, and copper foil was sometimes used to replace lead for more delicate work in smaller windows, lamps, and other decorations. In the late-1800s up through the 1930s, noted stained glass artisan Louis Comfort Tiffany set the standard for craftsmanship and artistry in the United States. Shortly after Tiffany rose to prominence, the Povey Brothers incorporated a studio out of Portland, Oregon and gained renown as ‘The Tiffany of the Northwest’.
All three of the Povey Brothers worked in glass studios in the Northeast before striking out on their own, and the eldest, David, traveled extensively in Europe studying various designs and techniques. Their church windows mirrored classical forms and paintings, but they also incorporated more contemporary techniques, such as the use of opalescence pioneered by Tiffany. They were known to collaborate closely with architects and homeowners to create truly unique decorations in all manner of sizes and shapes, which can be seen throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and as far as Alaska and Ohio. Though their style was very distinctive, the Poveys never signed their work, leading to much confusion as to the provenance of certain pieces. The Oregon Methodist Church in Corvallis is currently compiling what they hope to be an exhaustive list of ecclesiastical Povey work. So far, they have verified 81 churches in the greater Northwest ordained with Povey windows, 76 of which are still standing
Included in the Corvallis list is our very own United Methodist Church, which is a truly stunning example of the Povey’s artistry and the illustrious tradition of stained glass as a medium. Two main installations flank the corner entrance to the naïve and stand nearly two full stories. These splendid, arching windows with interlacing sandstone are comprised of five main panels each, featuring intricately painted biblical scenes with more detail than can be succinctly put into words. In total, more than fifty individual stained glass windows are incorporated into United Methodist’s architectural design. Some are certainly simpler than the elaborate ones described, but each has its own motifs, coloration, and artistic flourishes worthy of the Povey name.
Over the years, wind, time, moisture, and vandalism have threatened the integrity of these marvelous works. Unlike with other works of art, stained glass is fairly resistant to UV damage from sunlight. Since the color is derived from the mixing of elements during the baking process, only similar heats (around 350*) can alter the coloration. That being said, the painted interiors can still deteriorate over time in a similar manner to the way paintings on other materials fade when exposed to direct sun. Of more concern is humidity and condensation in particular, which can accumulate when the temperature inside a structure is lower than the exterior. Years of condensation not only dulls the luster but can also lead to structural damage that can threaten the integrity of the windows, making them more susceptible to cracking.
To address the issues with the current coverings and unprotected windows, United Methodist is in the midst of their three-phase restoration and preservation project. The first phase began by taking stock of the current state of the windows and setting priorities for moving forward, during which three windows were identified as in dire need of attention. They showed significant bowing and were ‘a ticking time bomb’, as Ron put it ‘and looked in danger of falling out at any moment.’ The windows were carefully removed and transported to Associated Crafts & Willet Hauser Architectural Glass in Minnesota, where they were painstakingly cleaned and remounted. They are now in the murky middle between phase two and three, which will continue to protect these works of art and ultimately ensure these windows will persist for generations.
In total, the project is estimated to cost nearly $200,000, but Ron and the United Methodist congregation are committed to seeing these precious windows preserved. ‘Someone made a deliberate choice and sacrifice to have windows of this quality installed in this way, and this is our way to honor the decisions, the sacrifices, and the work that gave us these amazing decorations we enjoy today,’ Ron explains. ‘These people were farmers first and foremost, and though Twin Falls was bustling at the time, to secure something so beautifully impractical for their congregation must have taken a heavy toll on all involved.’
Ron speaks further to the way United Methodist’s windows connect him personally to traditions that span eras and reach across continents. ‘They are a link to my people and the place I came from, a lineage passed down from other churches and artists through the centuries. They connect us to the stories of the past, but also enrich our present and, hopefully, our future.’
Idaho Heritage Trust is proud to support Ron and the United Methodist congregation in their preservation efforts. To learn more about their windows and contribute to the cause, visit Stained Glass — Twin Falls First United Methodist Church. While you are there, be sure to look into the amazing things they do for the Twin Falls community, including hosting the Everybody Eats program. Thank you again to Ron and his compatriots for their work to save and share his story with us.
First United Methodist Church of Twin Falls