Stained glass got its reputation for subliminal, breath-taking beauty first in medieval Europe, where it was incorporated into stunning Gothic cathedrals with their flying buttresses, rose windows, and sky-high ceilings. These graceful works of architecture wouldn’t be the same with out their rows and rows of stained glass windows, whose intricate designs and images seemed to glow in the sunlight, filling interior spaces with jewel-like color.
The process of adding ground-up metals to molten glass to give it color dates from ancient Roman times, when stained-glass windows first appeared. The technique was perfected around 1150, when pieces of colored glass were assembled into patterns and then fitted between soldered strips of lead. At first these windows were mostly geometric in design, but during the Renaissance, artists would actually paint on the colored glass to create enormous glass paintings, whose religious imagery was illuminated by natural light.
For centuries, the Catholic Church was the only organization in Europe wealthy enough to afford such extravagance. During the Victorian Era, secular stained glass did appear as coats of arms or diamond-shaped Dutch windows, but this was rare.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that stained glass made its way into laypeople’s homes. In 1889, architect E.S. Prior developed a new kind of glass called slag glass, which had irregular texture and color. This kind of glass was favored by those in the Arts and Crafts movement, who employed stained glass in abstract, geometric patterns to produce slag glass lamps, among other objects. From this innovation, Christopher Whall invented a new style of stained glass that focused on the lines made by the lead and used very little paint.
Some of Whall’s students found their way to the Glass House studios, run by Mary Lowndes and A.J. Drury. Whall also influenced Sarah Purser who founded the Tower of Glass studio in Dublin, run by Whall’s colleague A.E. Childs—the studio led to a revival of stained glass in Ireland. Over the decades, Tower of Glass produced work by influential designers like Michael Healy, Wilhelmina Geddes, and Evie Hone.
Meanwhile, around the turn of the century, American artists John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany set out to put a modern-day spin on medieval ideas with their stained glass windows, lamps, and works of art glass. LaFarge, like Tiffany, began his career as a painter and brought a painterly sensibility to unpainted glass. Sometimes he would layer pieces of differently colored glass to achieve new hues, and in 1879 he even developed and copyrighted a type of opalescent glass. These two rivals made both church and home windows.
The work of these artists became more intricate as a new process allowed them to assemble their stained glass with copper instead of lead. Tiffany jumped on new electric lamp tec...
After Tiffany’s and LaFarge’s experiments, stained glass became a more common medium for decorative artists, who made stained glass in patterns and images that reflected the movement du jour—Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, De Stijl, and Bauhaus. Frank Lloyd Wright designed stained-glass windows in geometric patterns intended to complement the serene lines and patterns of his rooms and their furniture. Piet Mondrian made stained-glass windows that echoed his famous black-on-white grid paintings with their colored squares. Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse are just a few of the other artists who executed pieces in stained glass.
During World War II, much of the medieval and Gothic style glass in Europe, usually featuring narrative religious scenes, was destroyed. After the war—particularly in Germany—it was replaced with stained glass in the abstract geometric patterns of the day. In fact, Germany is credited with completely breaking the art of stained glass from its pictorial past, starting with ’20s artists like Johann Thorn Prikker, and continuing after the war with Georg Meistermann, whose symbolic work had a sense of movement, and Ludwig Schaffrath, who created tremendous walls of light.
In France, artist Jean Crotti is credited with developing a technique in the 1930s known as gemmail, in which no lead or copper is used between the pieces of colored glass. Instead, the different pieces of glass are fused together, creating a 3D illusion. Many great paintings have been reproduced in glass using this method.
Stained glass thrived again as an art medium in the 1970s as artists, particularly on the West Coast, experimented with the design, imagery, and illusions that could be produced with glass. Their experiments often featured highly detailed imagery, optical illusions, organic shapes, or jokes on the nature of glass and windows. Jad Fair, Paul Marioni, Fred Abrams, Peter Mollica, Dan Fenton, Narcissus Quagliata, Otto B. Rigan, Kathie Stackpole Bunnell, James Hubbell, Dick Weiss, and Judy Raffael are among these modern innovators.
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Recent News: Stained Glass
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Stained glass workshop to be held at libraryAltus Times, March 27th
Shortgrass Arts Institute and the Southern Prairie Library System are sponsoring a “Stained Glass Workshop” for Adults with Oklahoma Stained Glass Artist, Stefani Nachatilo, on April 6 from 2 to 4 p.m., and April 7 & 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Altus...Read more
Film showcases majestic West Point stained-glass windowsThe Journal News | LoHud.com, March 26th
TAPPAN – West Point is known for molding the Army's top brass, not necessarily for its collection of stained glass. But the stained-glass windows at its landmark Cadet Chapel are widely considered to be among the finest examples of the art form in the...Read more
New London students create stained glasstheday.com, March 26th
The glass tiles, designed and created by the 88 4th grade students at the school, using materials donated by Bullseye Glass Co. of Portland, Oregon. The tiles will be combined into a stained glass window entitled Wind Rose Compass by Pizzol in his East ...Read more
City stained glass tour scheduledNews-Press Now, March 26th
The St. Joseph Museum will host a summer trip featuring stained glass windows in St. Joseph. The tour will start at the Wyeth-Tootle Mansion, which has a display of stained glass windows on loan to the St. Joseph Museum, and continue to a tour of ...Read more
Stained glass artist stands out as an Alzheimer's care advocateSuburban Life Publications, March 26th
From the countless hours she has spent creating the beautiful stained glass windows that twinkle throughout the sanctuary, to the time she devotes to volunteering with the daycare program for Alzheimer's patients, Dee is at home in the church, and she...Read more
CHHS gives a lesson in stained glass at SCH's Epiphany ChapelChestnut Hill Local, March 25th
Bryant discussed the chapel's three main stained-glass windows, which were designed by the noted English artist Henry Holiday at the behest of George Woodward, a Houston heir who was on the board of directors of Chestnut Hill Academy at the time...Read more
New stained-glass windows highlight renovated Marymount ChapelInside NoVA, March 24th
Twenty-two custom-designed stained-glass windows serve as the centerpiece of the first renovation to the Sacred Heart of Mary Chapel in its 62-year history on the Marymount University campus. Paul Loverde, the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of ...Read more
This Stained Glass Window, New to the American Art Museum, Is Like Nothing ...Smithsonian, March 24th
Schaechter takes differently colored stained glass pieces, uses stencils and other tools to engrave shapes, and sandblasts color away from portions of glass, and uses glass paint to create stronger shapes. Then she fires the layer. She eventually...Read more