BAR HARBOR — The fate of a rare Tiffany stained glass window worth tens of thousands of dollars, taken from a local church nearly three decades ago, is being investigated by a woman from Bar Harbor.
One of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the back wall of St. Saviour’s Church was stolen in the summer of 1988, 28 years ago. Katherine Whitney, who was a kid in the church at the time of the theft, is now an adult with degrees in art history and art education. She has been looking into the mystery of what happened to the valuable antique.
According to experts in fine art theft, many items reappear about 30 years after being stolen. A stolen piece could come to an appraiser, who checks databases to see if it is “hot,” meaning it has been stolen. It could be taken to an expert for cleaning and restoration. Or it could go to an auction house, and someone there will check lists of stolen pieces.
The window depicts Easter lilies and reads “In Memoriam” at the bottom. The tall, vertical design is known as a “lancet” window. It measures 15 by 63.5 inches. The name of the deceased person in whose honor the window was given probably has been removed by the buyer, Whitney said, to make it harder to trace. It was one of the earliest of the church’s many windows from Tiffany Studios in New York, dating to around 1894.
Another member of the church, Eva Davis, was one of the first people to notice it missing on the morning of June 18, 1988. She was getting ready for Sunday services. She had been in the church the day before, too, and hadn’t noticed anything unusual.
“That whole frame was clean as a whistle, there wasn’t a mark on either side to indicate that somebody might have chiseled or done anything to it,” Davis said. “They knew exactly what they were doing.”
It was likely stolen for a specific buyer, Whitney believes.
The late Rev. Edwin A. Garrett III was an assisting priest at St. Saviour’s at the time and reported the theft to Bar Harbor police. The complaint report estimated the value of the window at that time at $4,000. Now it may be worth more than $100,000.
“I strongly believe there was more than one person involved in it,” Davis said. “I feel that somebody stayed inside and somebody out. There was all kinds of room. I don’t think one person could have done it and done it so clean.”
The congregation was shocked, she said, “that someone could come in here and do that with us not having a clue.” The impact on them was dramatic; the space they cared for and worshipped in had been invaded and violated.
The investigation didn’t get very far, according to Garrett’s son Lee, who is also a current church member. “In 1988, this was a theft of property in a small town in Maine,” he said. The FBI would not have a dedicated stolen art unit for another 10 years.
Now, the window and information from the local police report are listed on those databases used by dealers and appraisers, Whitney said. Another parishioner, Diane Zito, found the window included in a list of top art thefts for the year by the International Foundation for Art Research. Whitney has contacted that group and the Maine Antique Digest, and both plan to list that the window as still missing in publications this year.
Theft of a Tiffany window out of a church is very unusual, Whitney said. More often, they have been stolen from cemetery mausoleums, which are easier targets.
“Experts feel that window is unique, there isn’t any other window identical to that, due to the placement of the lilies,” she said. “If it were to be recovered, it would be easy to prove that it is our window.”
“Most of our congregation had no idea of the value of that window,” Davis said. The window that’s there now was given as a gift soon after the theft.
It was intended to be a temporary replacement, Whitney said, “because the hope was eventually the window would show up.
“It’s a big window, and somebody has seen it.”
If you have any information that may shed some light on the case, email [email protected]