* Atkinson Memorial Church, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Oregon City, Oregon *

Povey Brothers Stained Glass Windows

By Herb Beals

A newspaper article by Debra Gwartney, The Oregonian, written December 26, 1998, and entitled Poveys' panels see light again, describes the rediscovery of stained glass windows that had once graced a skylight at the University of Oregon's administration building (Johnson Hall). The windows in question, which had been lost in obscure storage since 1949, were the work of the Povey Brothers Glass Company in Portland. The stained glass windows in our building are also from the same studio, and Atkinsonians might be interested to know more about the persons who designed and installed them.

Povey Brothers stained glass window of Jesus the Shepherd The Povey Brothers Glass Company was founded in 1888 by two brothers, David and John. They had learned about the design and manufacture of stained glass windows from their father, an immigrant from England, who had eventually settled in St. Louis, Missouri. David attended the Cooper Union Institute Art School in New York City, and traveled in Europe to give further study to art in general and stained glass in particular. The two brothers resolved to enter the stained glass business in Portland. David was responsible for design and art work; John did the glazing and leading. A third brother, George, later joined them and became the company's accountant and business manager. The firm was incorporated in 1893.

A Povey Brothers' advertisement in the 1889 Portland City Directory reads: "Povey Bro's Art Stained Glass for Churches and Dwellings, 42 Second St., Portland Oregon." By 1905, the Povey brothers had established themselves among the preeminent suppliers of stained glass windows in Oregon and elsewhere on the West Coast. The glass was imported from Europe, but the windows were designed and constructed in Portland. The Poveys favored the use of opalescent glass, which John LaFarge and Louis Tiffany had pioneered in the 1870s. Images or scenes were painted on nonopalescent glass, and themes they portray on church windows were generally based on various religious paintings.

There is no certainty as to how many stained glass windows the Poveys designed and installed. In addition to the ones in our building, it is known that at least eight other churches in the Portland area have, or had, the Povey Brothers' windows. They include: First Baptist (1894), First Congregational (1906-10), St. Patrick's Catholic, Rose City Park Methodist, St. James' Lutheran, First Presbyterian, Second Trinity (denomination and date uncertain), and First Christian (1923). St. Peter's Catholic Church in The Dalles also has Povey windows. As for secular buildings, in addition to Johnson Hall at the University of Oregon, Povey windows are known to exist in the Oregon Supreme Court Chambers (Salem), the Queen Anne Victorian House (north Portland), and the Deepwood House (Salem).

Povey Brothers stained glass window of Jesus in the Garden In October 1980, during the course of preparing documentation for the historic landmark designation of our building, I had the pleasure of meeting with Polly Povey Thompson, David's daughter, and her husband Raymond. They were at that time both practicing architects, and Polly was engaged in tracking down her father's windows, hoping eventually to write a book about the subject. Prior to our meeting, she knew nothing about the windows in our building. In return, she kindly supplied me with much of the information in this article. I was saddened to learn from an The Oregonian article that she died in 1994 before completing her planned book.

One reason it has been so difficult to locate Povey Brothers' windows is that most of them were not signed, a problem aggravated by imitators who passed their work off for Povey windows. In 1923, as a response to this problem, David began signing their windows with the words "Povey Brothers Studio" followed by the year of completion. The first use of such a signature was apparently on windows for the First Christian Church, Portland, in 1923. Our windows, dating from 1924, also bear the Povey Brothers' signature, possibly their last major commission so identified. David Povey died in 1924 and the business was sold in 1930.

The stained glass windows at Atkinson Memorial Church are among the best surviving examples of an important regional art form. Although it nearly fell into obscurity, as for example with the University of Oregon episode, it is now receiving the interest and attention it richly deserves. Polly Povey's planned book still needs to be written, but the song composed and sung by Jim Dana about our Povey windows is a fine expression of this renewed appreciation of the art that surrounds us every Sunday morning.

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