By Don MacGillivray
In the nineteenth century, Portland was home to one of the premier makers of art glass windows in the country.
Povey Brothers Glass Company was known as the “Tiffany of the Northwest”. Founded in 1888 by David Povey when Portland’s population was 42,000, the firm quickly became popular with the “well to do” of the city and soon the entire northwest region.
Povey Brothers became known for their excellence in art glass, leaded glass and stained glass throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Their father, Joseph, immigrated to the United States in 1848 and came from a long line of English craftsmen working in stained glass. The brothers studied and worked in New York City and Philadelphia and settled in St. Louis before coming to Portland.
Their Portland work began at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Portland. With his brothers John and George and other family members, they grew to become a business with twenty-five employees.
In 1908 they were credited with managing the largest complete glass establishment in the United States. David did the design work, John, the glazing and leading, and George managed the business.
The Povey brothers’ craftsmanship enabled them to create a level of artwork previously unknown. The studios work was known for its sensitivity and fluidity with unusual combinations of colorful designs using glass imported from Europe with the latest equipment and techniques.
Using a variety of textures and types of glass, they were known for adding small, thickly cut faceted pieces of glass in vibrant hues. Clear glass was often used in the background to lighten the rooms for dark winter days. Their glass represents some of the finest cultural artifacts of the period.
Because they were not signed, Povey windows can be difficult to identify and in the early twentieth century, several companies imitated their work.
David Povey was influenced by the Art Nouveau and Craftsman styles of the late nineteenth century. The dogwood blossom was their signature design and they used roses, lilies, grape clusters, and birds in much of their work.
The church windows they designed were often done in a classical style with images painted on glass inspired by religious works of art from the Italian Renaissance and other religious themes.
They worked extensively with owners and architects of the properties to create extraordinary designs. The fine residential work was generally small in scale, but the church installations were often large and complex masterpieces of the craft.
George Povey died prematurely in 1905, John in 1917, and David in 1924. The business was carried on by the sons David and Darrel along with other members of the family. They added creative staff, but the change in architectural styles, their financial challenges, and the depression forced them to go out of business in 1929 and sell the business to a Seattle company in 1930.
The SE Portland home of Joseph Kendall near SE Ceasar Chavez Blvd. and SE Taggart St. in Richmond is a fine example of their work. It is one of the oldest homes in this area of SE Portland and is an imposing three-story home of brick and stone. Povey Brothers stained glass is to be found in the Roman-arched parlor and in the dining room windows.
The Thaddeus Fisher House, near SE 33rd and Belmont uses Povey Brothers art glass in the transoms of the picture windows.
In the early twentieth century the Portland Cremation Association hired Povey Brothers to design and install stained glass skylights and windows throughout the entryway to the main chapel.
Today this historic landmark built in 1901 is Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral and Cremation located in Westmoreland just north of Oaks Bottom.
Other buildings in SE with Povey Brothers windows are believed to be the Mennonite Church of Portland near SE 35th and SE Main, Sunnyside Centenary United Methodist Church near SE 35th and SE Yamhill, St. Sharbel in Ladd’s Addition near SE 16th and SE Poplar, the Mars Hill Church (formerly Sunnyside [Staub Memorial] Congregational Church) near SE 32nd and SE Taylor, the Monastery of the Precious Blood,at SE 76th and SE Salmon, and the Pioneer Church in Sellwood near Oaks Park.
There are undoubtedly others that are not as well known.
Some of the best examples of Povey Brothers art glass in Portland are to be found at Temple Beth Israel, First Presbyterian Church, Huber’s Restaurant, Pittock Mansion and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
The non-profit Architectural Heritage Center(AHC) is a great resource for those interested in historic preservation hosting programs, tours, and exhibits each year.
The AHC is steward to a large collection of architectural artifacts including over two dozen examples of Povey Brothers stained glass windows collected in the ‘50s and ‘60s by AHC founders, Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan.