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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University builds $1.2M stained-glass windowsGrand Rapids Business Journal (subscription), October 20th
Cornerstone University, a Christian school in Grand Rapids, said last month that a renowned artist has located his workshop at the university's campus to begin construction of the four 23-foot stained-glass windows at the school's Christ Chapel. The...Read more
'A Gunn Gem' Program To Features Stained Glass ExpertLitchfield County Times, October 16th
Founded in 1857, J&R Lamb Studios is the oldest continuously operating facility in the United States and has been at the forefront of Stained Glass art, creating (and restoring) works for major religions, public entities and private facilities...Read more
Lyman Allyn Art Museum Obtains Tiffany Stained Glass from ChurchNBC Connecticut, October 15th
The Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London has acquired a one-of-a-kind Tiffany stained-glass window piece to ensure that it will be on display for public view. The acclaimed Tiffany Studios of New York created “Come Unto Me,” which depicts Jesus Christ ...Read more
Professor explains history, significance of Basilica stained glassObserver Online, October 14th
Tuesday evening, theology professor John Cavadini explored the history and artistry of the stained glass windows in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. He spoke in the Andrews Auditorium of Geddes Hall as part of the University's celebration of the 200th ...Read more
Stained glass a meticulous artBeaver Dam Daily Citizen, October 11th
Like most art, stained glass windows tell a story or carry a message. In a church they often depict Bible scenes or honor a saint. For Church Health, Molldrem is designing windows that carry the theme “Hope in Sorrow.” Hope is a message that resonates...Read more
Stained glass highlights Bristol Village FairChillicothe Gazette, October 8th
The stained glass art being created is the result of Hal Tripp starting a stained glass group in 1996 that was joined by fellow Bristol Village resident Hal LaParl. Other glass workers have joined them over the years, but they are the only two from the...Read more
Thieves take home's stained-glass windows worth $20000Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 30th
Sandy Bohanon is up for the challenge of living in a 100-year-old fixer-upper in a central city neighborhood. But she's heartbroken that someone entered her new house when she was gone and made off with 13 stained-glass and leaded-glass windows...Read more
Church of Geekery: Reflecting Batman, Avengers in stained glassCNET, September 30th
"I love stained glass as an art medium," Garner told Crave. "It combines my two favorite things -- color and light. I grew up loving video games, anime and cartoons. There are fans who celebrate these stories and characters in almost a god-like status...Read more