One of the most striking pieces of art ever inspired by Yates County has been restored to prominence in the heart of the county seat. A restored, six-panel, stained glass mural, depicting some of the most iconic architecture and scenes of Yates County’s history, was unveiled at Bank of the Finger Lakes in the atrium of the Village Centre at 100 Main St. in Penn Yan.
The piece was created for the Columbia Bank in 1979 by James O’Hara of Pike Stained Glass Studios in Rochester. Originally displayed behind the teller desk in the modernist, glass-walled, round Columbia Bank branch on the corner of Elm and Liberty streets, the historic mural was a brilliant contrast to the sleek lines of the building’s style.
Sadly, that impressive building was demolished in 1995. Sadder still, no special effort was made to preserve the glass panels. According to longtime Columbia Bank employee Renchen Greiner (formerly Falvey), the panels were found outside amongst the debris by the late Mike Linehan, who was President of the Chamber of Commerce. Linehan took them to the chamber office and stored them in the basement where they remained, in a dark corner for over 20 years, but not completely forgotten.
Mike Briggs, president of Bank of the Finger Lakes, says in 1997 he and Linehan had discussed displaying the panels at the Bath National Bank that was under construction at what is now the Town of Milo office on Main Street.
He says is was always clear to him and Greiner, among others, that the panels were important pieces of art that should be repaired, restored and kept where people can see them. “And now, Duane Weldon (owner of Village Centre) has been kind enough to let us use the wall,” adds Briggs.
Greiner and other former employees including Sharlene Briggs, Mike Briggs’ wife, grieved for the loss of the handsome Columbia Bank building and the art that had graced it. At the unveiling, Sharlene said, “I worked at the bank from 1978 to 1988. Columbia Bank was a hometown bank, it felt like family. We worked beneath this mural for years, and I have to admit I never gave any thought to where it would end up.”
Two decades of leaning against a wall rather than being upright in a frame had taken their toll. The soft lead frames had bent and several of the glass panels had broken.
Through the efforts of this team and Bank of the Finger Lakes, the panels were acquired and returned to Pike Studios for restoration. The current owner of the studio, Valerie O’Hara, James O’Hara’s daughter and the third generation of her family to undertake this ancient art, was moved by the opportunity to bring her father’s work back to the public eye. She and her workers at the St. Paul Street studio had to recreate 16 broken panes. Choosing from their massive collection of colored panes, the hand painting and etching required on each took weeks before they could be reinstalled in the restored lead frames. The panels are displayed in a custom built oak framed light box above head height in the atrium, visible to the four corners through the Village Center’s windows. Mike Briggs, president of Bank of the Finger Lakes says the bank is pleased to make the commitment to preserve this important piece of history and display the mural for the enjoyment of the entire community.
Sharlene says, “This is also a hometown bank and it feels like family. Last summer, with the help of many people here today, the mural was located and the decision was made by the bank to restore it. Renchen has mentioned to me more than once that she cannot believe how quickly this project was put together.
“So today, this mural has been brought back into its hometown to stay. It’s here for all of us to enjoy and I believe it has come full circle.”
Pike Stained Glass Studios is among the oldest stained glass studios in the country. They are among the leading designers and manufacturers of one-of-a-kind stained glass windows and the most expert and informed restorers of antique windows. In 1908 William Pike, the current owner’s great uncle, moved to Rochester to start his company after working for Louis Comfort Tiffany in Long Island.
In 1966, at age 12, Valerie O’Hara began working for her parents, James and Norma Lee, after school and during the summers. After graduation from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1976, she began working full time, designing and creating one-of-a-kind, custom commissions, and repairing and restoring stained glass windows. She has owned the business since 1987.