Updated: Apr 4, 2022
The work of one of the world’s leading manufacturers of stained glass windows has been gifted to the John A. Widtsoe Foundation. The story behind the gift is as illuminating as this prized endowment.
By JoAnne Harris Michaels
From a letter written in 1933 by my father, Franklin S. Harris, Jr., about his friend and mentor, John A. Widtsoe, who was then President of the European Mission: “All of the office staff have profited greatly by the hour-daily class we have been having. We are learning things that we might not have understood clearly in a lifetime—and from a master teacher. I hope that the Church can use President Widtsoe’s talents to the best advantage of the cause. With his writing style and ability, his scientific training, the rich background of knowledge and experience, I think he should be given about a year off to just write a masterly treatise for the Church. He would like to and if he did, it would go down through time as a landmark. We have need of such a work. There are so few men, even in the Church, who can turn the clear light of reason and intelligence on problems, two that I know well, Father [Franklin S. Harris], and President Widtsoe. The Spirit needs a good medium.”
Father’s particular assignment in the Mission Office was to field doctrinal questions that arose during proselytizing, and in that capacity he worked closely with President Widtsoe. He further wrote: “It has been my privilege to be sorting President Widtsoe’s miscellaneous correspondence during the last few weeks. My, how my vision has been widened and my understanding of many things increased—and a profounder admiration for that man has grown upon me. In fact, in general and in particular, I feel that never in my life have I developed so rapidly as I have since I arrived here!”
This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between my father and Dr. Widtsoe, who my father referred to as his closest friend. They collaborated on “Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon,” (1937), which was the impetus for my father’s more detailed work, “Messages and Evidences of the Book of Mormon,” (1953). When I was but six years old, Dr. Widtsoe spoke at my mother’s funeral. Following my father’s remarriage, both our families lived in the Federal Heights Ward, and the Widtsoes were often quoted in our home. When I was a young woman, my father directed me to read Dr. Widtsoe’s book, “A Rational Theology,” (1915), which profoundly influenced me, and was foundational to my understanding and testimony of the gospel.
It is in honor of this great friendship and of our profound respect for Dr. Widtsoe that Jerry and I are donating a 19th-century stained glass window to the Widtsoe Foundation. It illuminated the stairwell of our home in Encino, California for many years, and we’re happy now to share it with a wider audience.
We bought the stained glass along with two others at an auction many years ago, which were salvaged from churches in England and Ireland. It is Victorian stained glass in the Gothic style, which curators believe was crafted by the famous John Hardman Powell, circa 1850. Powell became the chief designer in the firm of Hardman and Powell and collaborated with the John Hardman Trading Co., whose major commissions included the Houses of Parliament, Arundel Cathedral and Castle, and Tewkesbury Abbey.
Unlike like many glass designs, which are imitative, this magnificent work is an original. The quality is superb, using techniques such as calligraphic brushstrokes and pure color.
The subject is “Christ Teaching in the Temple,” an apt theme for this foundation dedicated to higher learning and scholastic pursuit.