New Brunswick

Saint John bid to buy back stained glass of Jesus and scout fails

After high hopes that its beloved Pathfinder window was finally on its way home, a Saint John group is crushed after hearing the window was sold to a museum.

Pathfinder window sold by U.S. dealer, despite group's deposit

The Pathfinder honoured Stanley Olive, the longest surviving scout leader in the British Commonwealth at the time and who lived on the lower west side of Saint John. (Submitted)

After high hopes its beloved Pathfinder window was finally on its way home, the Saint John group behind the effort to reclaim it says spirits are crushed since the window was sold to a museum.

Kathryn Wilson, who led the group, received an email Friday from D.C. Riggott, Inc., a Minnesota company that specializes in brokering antique church artifacts and had the window.

"Apparently, somewhere in the middle of our back-and-forth conversations last week concerning the Pathfinder," it reads, "another salesman here at DC Riggott sold the window before I even had a chance to talk to him about the details."

Work of war painter

The Pathfinder window shows Jesus with his hand on a scout's shoulder — an image copied widely across England and the world. It was authenticated by the family of the British war painter Ernest Stafford Carlos, who created the original image.

Only one other window of the same image, in an English church, was authenticated.

D.C. Riggott, Inc. estimated the value at the window from Saint John at between $40,000 and $90,000.

First installed in St. George's Anglican Church on the west side of the city in 1941, the window was sold by the building's new owner last year.

A group was formed a few weeks ago to try to organize the effort to bring the window back. For parishioners who make up some members of the group, the Pathfinder window was the crowning glory of their church. They believe they were never given a fair chance to save it. 

Money sent to hold window

Last week, the group assumed it had secured the window for $12,000. A $3,000 US deposit was sent to Riggott so the work would be held while the group raised the rest of the money.

Sales representative Joshua Tollefson said it would void the group's cheque, but Wilson hasn't asked for that yet.

"I am extremely sorry that things ended up the way they did and I wish that there was more I could do," Tollefson wrote.  "I 100 per cent did not mean to mislead you in any way. Again, it was just the timing of the whole ordeal."

The group had planned a fundraiser for Saturday. Members still went to the Lancaster Mall to tell people why their money couldn't be accepted.

"People welled up with tears. Some of the husbands had to go for a walk and leave their wives at the table," Wilson said.

"People were crying."

Apologies not enough

She's seeking pro bono legal advice on what can be done now, but doesn't know what the group's next steps will be.

Arlene Trask, a former attendee of the church, believes the window is lost forever.

The company said it would disclose the new home of the stained-glass window "at a later date for the people of Saint John to visit if they so choose."

"My response to that is thanks, but no thanks," Wilson said.

Overall, she said, the experience of having the window sold a second time has left her in a distrusting state, and the apology means nothing to her.

"It doesn't soften the blow at all," she said.

Tollefson didn't respond to requests for an interview Monday.

However, the company has offered to sell two more windows from the church back to the Saint John group — two windows the group believed to have been sold already.

"I'm not willing to deal anymore with this company," Trask said.

She said the group thought its goal was a noble one, but the result  has left her with anger, disappointment and sleepless nights.

"It's a disaster," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca

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