The lights dimmed until all that glowed were the cross on the altar, the three-dimensional cross-shaped electrolier above my head and those beautiful Tiffany windows. If I had been dazzled by the intricate arches of mosaics when the lights were bright, now I whispered — because exclaiming would have ruined the sacred moment — “Wow.” In the dimness, the luminescent glass glowed. It demanded my attention. And I was transfixed, drawn to the space and even more to that gorgeous window.
At the advice of a fellow travel writer, I headed to Winter Park for a day of shopping and museums — but when I heard there was a museum devoted to Louis Comfort Tiffany, I knew that’s where I had to go.
The luminous beauty of Tiffany glass always stops me in my tracks. But the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art made me so grateful to these fans of Louis Comfort Tiffany who saved a collection in serious danger of being lost. And the museum was everything I could have imagined.
Its collections celebrate not only Tiffany’s jewelry, glass, enamels and mosaics, but all sorts of American art of the Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements.
The story of the Morse all by itself is extraordinary. Named for a major benefactor of Winter Park by his daughter, the museum features works by Tiffany that were in danger of being lost. These include the architectural details — whole rooms — rescued by Hugh and Jeannette McKean from Tiffany’s country home Laurelton Hall, which burned after his death. The chapel, created for the World’s Columbian Exposition held in 1893 in Chicago, has to be the centerpiece. Other visitors, of course, may find themselves transfixed in another gallery.
The museum’s object guides, offered in every gallery, give visitors a bit of insight into the collection of pretty things — some history and perspective and details I might have missed without these in hand. Also, they came home with me to remind me of the things I saw.
Two other small exhibits celebrate the creative process of designing the leaded glass and the colorful lamps for which Tiffany is so famous. Haven’t you always wondered how bits of glass can be shaped into those glowing lampshades?
Time is always a problem in a place like this. So make sure to set aside a few hours to savor these works and to bask in their radiance.
Then head back into the warmth of the Florida sunshine for lunch or dinner and a bit of shopping along Park Avenue. Winter Park, a winter getaway since Tiffany was making his art, still has a busy train station set in Central Park. Familiar chain stores mingle with one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops. I was so absorbed in the Morse, I hadn’t had time to enjoy the pretty town.
I returned to Orlando raving about the charming town. We had a free day — Disney? Universal? Orlando? No, I wanted to go back to Winter Park and so we did. A sunny Sunday, we stopped after church to have a Mediterranean lunch at Bosphorous, browse through the shops and enjoy the green space of Central Park. And I’ll be back again.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman
Photos inside Morse courtesy of
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art,
Winter Park, Florida