The La Farge Restoration Fund (“The Fund”) is dedicated to preserving a singular American artistic achievement—John La Farge’s 1880 comprehensive decoration of the Newport Congregational Church’s sanctuary in Newport, Rhode Island. An installation like none of La Farge’s other works, the sanctuary wall and ceiling murals and decorative windows, made mostly of opalescent glass, are largely intact today. In this modest Protestant structure built in the 1850’s, La Farge had a unique opportunity to imagine an entire space and to create all the elements of one magnificent personal vision. He had a chance to model his invention—opalescent glass—in the church windows and experimented with pigment in his murals of Middle Eastern-inspired motifs.La Farge crafted, in the words of Art Historian Ron Onorato, “a highly elaborate ensemble of color and light.”
The La Farge Restoration Fund, founded in 1995, is pledged to restore the artwork completely. This important mission makes this National Historic Landmark part of another vision, that of a dynamic, vital City of Newport that builds on its past and its many historic structures and stories to create a new community for a new century.
The La Farge Restoration Fund is doing its part, not only with its restoration focus, but also for economic development. As the restoration phases are underway, walking this path during construction and site upheavals are several artists and other creative entrepreneurs. These are the parish house tenants who labor long hours in their work spaces adjoining the sanctuary.
Finally, as a 501(c)3 charitable and education organization and the interim steward of this National Historic Landmark, the Fund embraces its role to make the sanctuary available to the public and the scholarly community, so that both may more fully experience and appreciate La Farge’s achievement.
Newport Congregational Church, originally called the United Congregational Church, was awarded National Historic Landmark status on October 16, 2012 by the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior. The Fund’s historian, Mr. Ned Connors, wrote the application, assisted by several directors on the Fund’s Board, La Farge scholars, Aaron Usher, Photographer and members of the congregation. Once polished, the application underwent exacting review by National Park Service staff and advisory panels made up of experts in the area of 19th Century American Art.
About 2500 sites throughout the United States and its territories have achieved this prestigious status. In the words of the NPS’s guidelines, National Historic Landmark sites must show “exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.”
The Fund is grateful for the honor bestowed by the NPS. The Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust, the van Beuren Charitable Foundation and Ocean State Charities Trust as well as individual donors generously supported the Fund’s four-year journey to this achievement. Mr. Ted Sanderson, Rhode Island State Preservation Officer, and his staff at the Rhode Island Preservation and Heritage Commission, have been stalwart supporters. Partners for Sacred Places of Philadelphia, PA helped the Fund with the original strategic planning for this important step in the restoration process.