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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Artist Creates Colorful Stained Glass-like Lamp With Stratasys Objet500 3-D ...3DPrint.com, August 21st
trig Creative artist Daniel Hilldrup has used a 3-D printer to create a Tiffany-style lampshade. Trig, Hilldrup's lampshade is comprised of polygons in various colors. Though like Tiffany lamps, Hilldrup's lampshade, features geometric designs, Hildrup...Read more
Two new stained glass windows designed by Weedon artist installed in ...Northampton Chronicle & Echo, August 21st
Two large new stained glass windows have been installed into a church in Northampton to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The new windows at the Catholic Church of St Aiden in Kingsthorpe have been designed by Weedon-based artist Anthony MacRae...Read more
If you want a LI home with stained glassNewsday, August 21st
When the homeowners renovated this 1910 side-hall Queen Anne Colonial, they were able to preserve some of the original details, including two small stained-glass windows. One is in the vestibule, while the other is at the top of the staircase, which...Read more
Hole shot in St. Luke's stained-glass windowGrants Pass Daily Courier (subscription), August 21st
Someone shot an object through a stained-glass window above the altar at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in downtown Grants Pass this week. The Rev. Todd Young said that on Wednesday morning, a girl who is part of the church's Altar Guild came up to him ...Read more
Businessman donates time, talents to restore stained glass at Oak RidgeThe State Journal-Register, August 16th
But Brooks' recent restoration work of the 8-foot by 4-foot semicircular, stained-glass window original to Oak Ridge Abbey was a labor of love because he didn't want to see something historic that was “about ready to fall out” get destroyed. “It's of...Read more
Artist in stained glass hands down the traditionLansing State Journal, August 9th
In this photo taken on July 10, 2014, pieces of a butterfly stained glass piece are laid out in Don Zimmerman's studio at Chapel Hill Methodist Church in Battle Creek, Mich. Zimmerman, who works for the Department of Defense as a training site program ...Read more
Stained-glass studio inspires new talentShreveport Times, August 6th
Just the way people talk about working with glass at Ed's Emporium Stained Glass Studio might make you want to take up a new hobby. "It's addictive," said Katherin Aulds, 65, who was layering speckled blue shards on top of one another to mimic the look...Read more
Finding their calling in the 'almost lost art' of stained glassVEGAS INC, August 3rd
Anyone who wants custom glass in their home or business, those buying supplies or seeking to learn the art. And the casino industry. It's difficult to walk through casinos and not see beautiful stained-glass pieces. At times, these pieces are in need...Read more