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 artist's skill shinesPort Huron Times Herald, October 10th
CLYDE TWP Rick Cameron often can't get his iPad 5s to work. It's an occupational hazard – Cameron is a stained glass artist, and his thumb is often so cut up the thumb pad on the device won't recognize him. He also wears a heavy-duty apron when he ...Read more
Central Missouri church's stained glass windows get restoredWashington Times, October 9th
ST. THOMAS, Mo. (AP) - The colorful panes of artfully-cut glass show brilliantly at night outside St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in St. Thomas. Although the view outside is beautiful, it's the precise storytelling of the century-old, stained glass...Read more
Altamont celebrates 125 years with stained glass windowsThe Altamont Enterprise, October 9th
Celebrating a quasquicentennial: Altamont celebrates 125 years as an incorporated village this month, and the curator of the archives and museum, Marijo Dougherty, is highlighting its history using the village's three churches and their stained glass...Read more
Restaurant Inspections: Panera Bread, Domino's, Stained Glass Pub, Tastee ...Patch.com, October 9th
Restaurant Inspections: Panera Bread, Domino's, Stained Glass Pub, Tastee Diner + Wingstop. The most recent health and safety inspections for restaurants and commercial kitchens in Silver Spring and Montgomery County...Read more
These Legend of Zelda stained glass decals are a window into HyruleGamesRadar (blog), October 9th
Remember that captivating Minish Cap intro that displayed the Hero of Time on stained glass? Or the Seven Sages in the Master Sword chamber in Wind Waker? Now you can get gorgeous Legend of Zelda wall decals in the same style, and show off Link ...Read more
Storm survivors: Looking through the stained glass at Hurricane KatrinaThe Sun Herald, October 8th
A stained-glass panel depicting the face and hands of Christ -- salvaged after 1969's Hurricane Camille destroyed Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi -- again survived. It now has a home in the rebuilt church on Popp's Ferry Road, well north of...Read more
ENMU-Ruidoso: Blacksmithing and stained glass classes offeredRuidoso News, October 8th
Terrell Perkins will open his shop to teach "Introduction to Blacksmithing" in October. The class will concentrate on the traditional methods, terminology and tools used in forging steel for tools, architectural hardware, furniture, metal sculpture and...Read more
Rudy Collective, Historic York to host open house of stained-glass installationsYork Dispatch, October 6th
Rudy Art Glass co-owner Matt Mitchell poses with historic stained-glass renderings at the Rudy Collective Gallery in York City on Friday. The company will host an open house Saturday, Oct. 17, from noon to 5 p.m. Bill Kalina - firstname.lastname@example.org...Read more