The Kelsey Library’s Tiffany window was a gift of brothers E. Crofton Fox (U-M student 1871–73) and Charles Fox (U-M class of 1875) of Grand Rapids in memory of their father, Reverend Charles Fox (1815–54), and two of their four brothers, William H. Fox (1850–87, U-M class of 1873) and George T. Fox (1848–77, U-M class of 1871).
Reverend Charles Fox emigrated from England in 1836 and was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He came to Jackson, Michigan, in 1839 and in 1843 he bought a farm on Grosse Ile and built a church there. Due to the need to manage his large farm, Charles Fox took great interest in agricultural matters, becoming editor of The Farmer’s Companion and author of The American Text Book of Practical and Scientific Agriculture.
Although continuing to maintain his farm on Grosse Ile, Reverend Fox came to Ann Arbor with his family in 1853. There he gave free lectures in agriculture to University students, farmers, and others in the community while waiting for the legislature to authorize a program in agricultural education at the university. The program was created in 1854, and in June of that year Reverend Fox was appointed the first professor of theoretical and practical agriculture at the University of Michigan.
Before classes were to begin that fall, Charles Fox returned to Grosse Ile. When their farmhouse was destroyed by fire, the family moved to Detroit, where Charles died from cholera in July 1854, before having formally taught a class at the university. The program in agriculture died with him, as shortly thereafter the legislature decided that agriculture should be taught at a college located closer to the state capitol. In 1871, Mrs. Fox moved her family to Ann Arbor, and her four surviving sons attended the Ann Arbor High School and the University of Michigan.
The family later made its home in Grand Rapids, where Crofton and Charles entered the lumber business. In 1889, they built a new home in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, remarkably similar to the concurrently built Newberry Hall. The style of this home suggests that the Fox brothers were probably influential in the choice of style for the SCA building and of Spier and Rohns as its architects, who very likely also designed the Fox house.
During the years their family was associated with the university, the Fox brothers must have been active in the Student Christian Association, and when the campaign for a new building began in 1883, Charles and Crofton sought to honor their father and brothers with the gift of a leaded stained glass window, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) and executed by the Tiffany Glass Company of New York. The window is not signed, but—beyond a longstanding oral tradition that it is a Tiffany window—two important references help confirm its provenance. An article in the student newspaper of the time, describing memorial gifts to the building, indicates that “E. Crafton Fox and Charles Fox of Grand Rapids have contributed a window designed by the Tiffany Glass Co.” (The Chronicle, May 11, 1889). More importantly, this window is listed in an inventory of works, A Partial List of Windows, Designed and Executed by Tiffany Studios, published by Tiffany Studios in 1910. The listing for Ann Arbor, Michigan, includes: “Y.M.C.A. Building-Fox memorial window, Ornamental.”
The window measures 8' 1" wide by 15' 10" tall and is surrounded by an oak frame. Unlike Tiffany’s better-known works, which depict figures or landscape scenes, the Fox memorial window features an abstract geometric design, common for Tiffany’s earliest works. Most of these early pieces were designed by Louis C. Tiffany himself, who, as demand for his windows increased in the 1890s, began to hire other artists to execute the designs.
The Fox memorial window utilizes many kinds of glass, including roundels and chunks or nuggets, as well as plated layers, to produce a range of colors from rich claret and deep sapphire to greens, golds, and lighter shades of pinks, yellows, and blues. The abstract design incorporates not only geometric forms but also floral and vegetable motifs, such as the green pods around the perimeter and the petal-like forms at the bottom, which embrace the panels naming the honorees. These forms, plus the medallion at the top with its floral images surrounded by roundels, hint at Tiffany’s coming mastery of landscape, figural, and ecclesiastical designs.
—excerpted from an article by Julie Truettner, the University’s preservationist and building historian, in the Kelsey Museum Newsletter, spring 2002.