Portland’s Povey Glass


By Elizabeth Rose | Photo © Elizabeth Rose

I first stood in awe of the unique beauty of stained glass art in the historic churches of Portland, Oregon, on an architectural walking tour. Portland was thriving in the late nineteenth century. Successful entrepreneurs in lumber and shipping wanted to build homes and churches worthy of their status and wealth. Early Portlanders certainly were out to impress. They competed with large cities like San Francisco by building grand homes with expensive detailing.

Beautiful jewel-like windows added to the impressive beauty of Portland structures. It was no wonder that Portland became home to one of the premier makers of art glass windows in the country. The Povey Brothers Glass Company, founded in 1888 by David Povey, became known as the “Tiffany of the Northwest.”

The Povey brothers’ father immigrated to the United States from England, bringing with him knowledge of the craft and art of stained glass. The brothers developed their trade in New York City and Philadelphia and lived in St. Louis before coming to Portland.

First Presbyterian Church (firstpresportland.org) at 1200 SW Alder Street, completed in 1890, is home to some of the most unique Povey stained glass windows. Adorning this church was their first contract upon arriving in Portland. You can take a self-guided tour of the church to see the beauty of the glass, especially colorful on a sunny day. You’ll also be amazed at the use of beautiful local woods throughout the church. (Call 503-228-7331 Tuesday through Friday to inquire about visiting.)

The Old Church (theoldchurch.org) at 1422  SW 11th Avenue, is the oldest church building in downtown Portland. It is a great example of Carpenter Gothic architecture. Now a non-profit event center, The Old Church has some excellent examples of Povey Brothers glass. You can visit Tuesday through Friday 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. At noon you can enjoy a free concert and view the windows.

By the early 1900s, the Povey Brothers ran the largest art glass establishment in the United States. They were known for putting the “art” in art glass by using unusual combinations of glass. In one window, I noticed a multi-faceted three-dimensional piece of glass. They were also known for beautifully painted scenes and figures on the glass providing detailed art, some reminiscent of European paintings. Most of the Povey art glass is not signed but you can identify it by the quality and creativity. Povey Brothers’ windows can also be found in some of the historic fine homes of Portland including Pittock Mansion (pittockmansion.org), open for public tours.

I learned of the Povey Brothers’ art through architectural historian Eric Wheeler, who leads engaging narrated walking tours such as “Sacred Places of Portland.” You can find more information about his tours at meetup.com/Positively-Portland-Walking-Tours. To learn more about visiting Portland, go to travelportland.com.