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 event at Worcester Area Mission SocietyWorcester Telegram, January 29th
Born in Lowell, Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904) became one of the leading designers of stained-glass windows in the country. She had her own studio, the Lily Glass Works, at 184 Boylston St. in Boston, and was also well-known for her book covers and ...Read more
Faux stained-glass mural brightens church windowsQuad-Cities Online, January 28th
Sarah Robb, lead artist stands before a section of the 35-foot wide three section faux stained glass mural at the entrance of the Metropolitan Community Church in Davenport. The Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities, and Quad City Arts will...Read more
Masur offering stained glass workshop for beginnersMonroe News Star, January 28th
The Masur Museum of Art is offering a beginning stained glass workshop for adults on Monday in the Carriage House at the museum. This workshop will teach the student how to build a small stained glass panel using the Louis Comfort Tiffany method...Read more
Nutrition, pottery, stained glass classes offered at the Dietrich Theater in ...The Abington Journal, January 26th
From 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16, the Dietrich's own Esther Harmatz will teach students ages 18 and up the first steps of working with glass to create stained glass pieces. Participants will learn how to work with a design, cut glass, polish, foil wrap...Read more
Stained glass window gift installed in governor's mansionDaily Republic, January 23rd
A crew installed the stained glass window in the residence on Friday morning. The window includes a glass remnant from stained glass restoration recently completed at the Capitol. It is a gift from Conrad Schmitt Studios, which performed the Capitol work...Read more
History of stained glass: from churches to collectorsOrlando Sentinel, January 22nd
On Wednesday, Samick gave a lecture on “Stained Glass of the J. & R. Lamb Studios and Its Contemporaries of the 20th Century” at the Hugh F. and Jeannette G. McKean Pavilion at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, as part of the ...Read more
Artists Collaborate To Capture Audrey Hepburn and Zhang Ziyi In Stained GlassCo.Create, January 22nd
Edwards says he has always been a lover of stained glass and when traveling is transfixed "like a moth" by the light coming through church windows. After seeing an image of one of Hessami's stained glass pieces he thought it would be "awesome to try...Read more
Stained Glass Windows for Churches May Make Comeback With Younger ...Christian Post, January 6th
Churches fitted with ornate stained glass windows may not become a thing of the archaic past just yet, noted one church construction company. Although presently the stained glass industry has been experiencing a decline in business, research among ...Read more