The Morse Museum — A Winter Park Winner!
Are you an admirer of Tiffany glass? I wasn’t, until I visited the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. At the risk of offending long-time Tiffany glass aficionados, I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss over Tiffany lamps was about. I thought they were just okay, nothing special, and certainly not superb enough to warrant the kind of bucks required to purchase an original. In fact, I used to think the Tiffany connoisseurs were a bit crazy to dish out such colossal sums of money at those high-end auction houses — more money than brains is what I thought. But my attitude changed when Hubby and I spent some serious time at The Morse Museum during my birthday getaway to wonderful Winter Park.
“Judging art is no trouble at all. Everyone does it. Understanding art calls for time and thought. That is where the excitement and fun are.”
~Hugh F. McKean
World’s Most Comprehensive Collection of Works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933)
Although there are other galleries and exhibits at The Morse Museum, the majority of the building houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Since I wasn’t a Tiffany enthusiast, I had no idea his artistic talents were so vast. Whenever I heard the name “Tiffany” I automatically associated it with Tiffany lamps. But I learned there was so much more — including jewelry, pottery, enamels, paintings, mosaics, blown glass, and leaded-glass windows. In fact, Louis Tiffany was a painter, a decorator, an architect, a photographer, and a designer of furniture. In 1881 he was commissioned to decorate Mark Twain’s residence in Hartford, Connecticut. The following year he was commissioned by the 21st President of the United States, Chester Arthur, to decorate the Blue Room, East Room, a corridor, and the State Dining Room of the White House. His achievements were as broad as his success which extends across America, through Europe, and around the world.
The Morse Museum offers a short, but in-depth film which beautifully covers the life and art of Mr. Tiffany. It plays continuously, which enables visitors to enter and exit the theatre at any given time. I recommend watching the film before touring the galleries. That’s where I became educated regarding Tiffany’s accomplishments. Having that knowledge brought a huge appreciation for his works as I viewed the masterpieces on display.
The Morse includes works from every medium and type produced by Tiffany, and they’re nicely separated in many different rooms. Each room has a pamphlet specific to that gallery. Make sure to pick one up every step of the way. Not only does it include an Object Guide with information on each individual item in the room but also gives much history. By the time I completed my tour I had accumulated nearly 20 of them, which, when woven together, creates a wonderful biography of Mr. Tiffany. They’re a nice keepsake and souvenir. NO PHOTOGRAPHY of any type (camera, cell phone, video, etc.) is allowed in the Morse Museum, which is another good reason to take home the Object Guides, which contain small black & white photos of the most popular Tiffany works.
One of my favorite parts of the Morse Museum was the chapel. Mr. Tiffany originally created the chapel interior for an exhibit at the Chicago world’s fair in 1893. When the fair ended he reinstalled it at his New York City studios. After that, the chapel interior was installed in Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York. Eventually, the chapel fell in disrepair so Tiffany reacquired it, restored it, and moved it to his private residence on Long Island. And currently, it’s on display at the Morse Museum. All of the elements of the chapel exhibit are original, except two of the four benches. Amazing, considering it dates back to 1893! With the marble and glass-mosaic furnishings, four huge leaded-glass windows, sixteen glass-mosaic encrusted columns, and 10-foot by 8-foot chandelier, it was difficult keeping my camera concealed. More than any other part of the Museum, I really wanted a few photos of the chapel. It was soooo tempting to sneak a pic… but I obeyed the rules!
Since visitors are allowed to enter the chapel and sit on the benches, hubby and I did so. There was not only appreciation for the incredible talent on display, but everyone present had a deep reverence for the religious aspect. It was so quiet we could have heard a pin drop, and the atmosphere seemed to carry a Divine presence.
Laurelton Hall — Louis Tiffany’s Most Personal Design Project
In addition to galleries with Tiffany art glass, pottery, jewelry, and Tiffany lamps, a large section of the Morse Museum is dedicated to art and architectural objects from the most personal design project of Tiffany’s career — Laurelton Hall. About a half dozen rooms have been re-created to simulate the appearance and character of Tiffany’s private residence.
Laurelton Hall was a vast country estate located on 580 acres on Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. The mansion consisted of 84 rooms on 8 different levels. He also built other structures on the property including conservatories and stables, and 60 acres of gardens. Every aspect of the estate was designed by Mr. Tiffany, and he was the interior decorator as well. Many of his own creations shared space with objects he collected from his travels around the world. Upon his retirement in 1918, Laurelton Hall became a study center for young artists and a museum for his collections and personal works. Mr. Tiffany died in 1933 and by 1940 a lack of finances forced the Tiffany Foundation to move to New York City and sell his prized collections as well as Laurelton Hall estate. Tragically, a fire gutted the mansion in 1957.
The Florida Connection
As news of the fire spread, Jeannette McKean (founder of The Morse Museum) along with her husband, Hugh, travelled from Florida to Laurelton Hall and purchased whatever Tiffany art pieces survived on the estate. Jeannette had been a long-time collector of Tiffany’s work, and Hugh was an artist himself who studied at Laurelton Hall. Undoubtedly, they were two of Mr. Tiffany’s biggest fans. The husband and wife team had the items shipped back to Florida and became the overseers of a massive restoration project on the Tiffany pieces (including the previously mentioned Chapel). The film we watched chronicled the process which was nothing short of remarkable. Jeannette and Hugh used the help of former Tiffany employees, artists who studied at Laurelton, collectors, and scholars to painstakingly piece together the life and art of Louis Tiffany so that visitors like me can experience it at the Morse Museum. Their collections were built over a half-century. Jeannette founded the Winter Park Morse Museum in 1942 and named it after her grandfather, Charles Hosmer Morse.
The McKeans set up the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation to support the private Museum, and today it is able to operate without contributions of public funds. Trust me, the very modest admission fee of Adults $5/ Seniors $4/ Students $1 is well worth it. As an added bonus, Friday nights from 4-8pm are free from November through April! There’s always something special happening at The Morse Museum like “Holidays at the Morse,” “Spring at the Morse,” and “Summer at the Morse.” Each season you’ll find options like live music, curator tours, art demonstrations, lecture series, organized children’s events, or free films and matinees. Additionally, throughout the year, many of the Holidays have free admission. Visit their website at http://www.morsemuseum.org for hours of operation and more information.
The Daffodil Terrace
After leaving the Tiffany Chapel exhibit we headed for the Laurelton Hall section of the Museum. There was a small area aptly named “Introduction to Laurelton Hall,” followed by the Daffodil Terrace. Mr. Tiffany loved daffodils. In fact, it was his favorite flower. Not only did he cultivate and plant them in prominent locations throughout Laurelton Hall, he made his own versions in glass for windows and lamps.
Just like the original Daffodil Terrace at Mr. Tiffany’s Long Island Estate, the one at the Museum contained eight Carrara marble columns each with concrete capitals encrusted with cast-glass daffodils. In the center of the columns was a skylight made of iridescent glass in a pear tree motif (his Long Island residence had a real pear tree in a planter that poked through an opening in the skylight). The ceiling was painted cedar wood, (the original used stenciled cedar Mr. Tiffany acquired in North Africa), and more than one hundred molded tiles in geometric and floral motifs, perfectly replicated right down to the wood-grain patterns of the originals. The Daffodil Terrace has a small sitting area where Museum guests may rest and overlooks a beautiful courtyard. This is the only area in the entire Museum that allows photography.
The Daffodil Terrace leads to the entrance of Laurelton Hall, which contains an original Iron Gate, circa 1904. Here, we were able to view replicated rooms of Tiffany’s mansion including the Dining Room, Living Room, Reception Hall and Study, all containing many original works of art.
My visit to the Morse Museum was worth far more than the meager $5 admission fee. You can scurry through and be out in an hour, or, like me you can tarry and read the Gallery Guides as you go for a deeper appreciation of the life and art of an American Icon. The Staff/volunteers at the Museum were all friendly and beyond helpful. Most of the larger rooms had a dedicated Security Guard, especially in the Tiffany exhibits. I had questions along the way, all of which were impressively answered by the Security team who were extremely knowledgeable. Feel free to ask them anything. I got the impression they actually liked the engagement.
Yes, Tiffany Studios in New York City made leaded glass lamps by the thousands — but Louis Comfort Tiffany also made unique one-of-a-kind massive windows and little known works of art that can only be seen in one place… the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida! I highly recommend this Museum!
ADDITIONAL POINTS OF INTEREST & ACTIVITIES IN WINTER PARK
Have you been to the Morse Museum? Please share your experience with our readers, or let us know the name of your favorite Florida Museum.