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 attempts to portray the 'glory of God'TriValley Central, August 5th
Chief Apostle Mary P. Bonner looks around as sunlight illuminates the stained glass windows of Harvest International Full Gospel Church created and installed by artist Jerry A. Williams in Petersburg, Va...Read more
Lynchburg firm finds window of opportunity in stained glassLynchburg News and Advance, August 2nd
“There are a small number of studios that do architectural work full time,” said Richard Gross, editor and media director for the Stained Glass Association of America. “Depending on where you draw the line of the size of the studio, there are about 300...Read more
Summit monastery to use stained-glass windows from shuttered Bayonne conventNJ.com, July 31st
In an effort to bridge the old with the new, stained-glass windows in a now-closed Bayonne convent will be installed in a new extension of a Summit monastery. Six stained-glass windows that lined a stairwell at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel convent in Bayonne...Read more
Lynchburg company producing stained glass for Greenbrier wedding chapelWDBJ7, July 30th
Lynchburg Stained Glass is fabricating Tiffany-style windows for The Greenbier's new wedding chapel. 30 colorful panels are being produced for the West Virginia venue, which is scheduled to open at the end of August. The windows feature scenes of...Read more
A DIY Pantone Stained Glass Door Anyone Can MakeCo.Design, July 30th
I should probably wrap "stained glass" in quotes, because it's not really stained glass: i.e. glass that has been colored by adding metallic salts to the mixture while it was being manufactured. Instead, the 585 separate colorful squares have simply...Read more
Woodstock's Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple's stained glass windows need repairs ...Northwest Herald, July 24th
Two large stained glass windows and a smaller one at Blue Lotus, 221 Dean St., are in dire need of repair after being in place for 109 years, said Bhante Sumana, a Blue Lotus monk. Repairing and preserving the century-old panes depicting Jesus Christ...Read more
Release Date: Concepts x Nike SB Dunk High “Stained Glass”KicksOnFire.com, July 21st
Previously showcased, new official imagery of the standout Concepts x Nike SB Dunk High “Stained Glass” is revealed, as its arrival is expected this weekend. With the model mimicking stained glass art found worldwide, the Nike SB Dunk High incorporates ...Read more
Philadelphia craftsman repairs 90-year-old stained glass windows at St. Peter ...Lexington Herald Leader, July 17th
Michael Mezalick of Mezalick Design Studio in Philadelphia worked on a stained glass window at St. Peter Catholic Church on Barr Street in Lexington on Monday. The work is the first major renovation to the windows since they were installed by famed ...Read more