American Stained Glass Superiority in the
In Part 1, we discussed the difference between European and American stained glass with contemporary, reproduced examples. In Part 2, we showcased real examples of European and American stained glass windows for comparison.
Now, we will continue by featuring additional windows in our Stained Glass Masters gallery, this time with a piece by David and Helen Maitland Armstrong.
David Maitland Armstrong and Helen Maitland Armstrong
DAVID MAITLAND ARMSTRONG AND HELEN MAITLAND ARMSTRONG
Types of glass: 1. Opalescent 2. Cathedral 3. Striated 4. Streaky 5. Antique 6. Rolled
Extensive painting including faces, hands, feet, feathers, and clothing
Up to 3 Layers
This window most likely dates from late in Mr. Armstrong’s career when his daughter, Helen, became more heavily involved in the design and production of their windows. He was known for his use of plating. He included up to seven layers of glass in a window to deepen colors and produce shading. In much the same way, he used washes of color in his watercolors.
In 1890, Helen Armstrong joined her father’s business to paint faces, hands, and feet on his windows. She became known for her skilled painting of clothing, flesh, and other details. In this window, she painted the angel’s garments giving them a lush appearance.
A unique feature of this window is the extensive amount of enamel painting on cathedral glass. This type of painting needed to be “fired” so the enamel would adhere to the glass. Heat tends to destroy the effects seen in opalescent glass. Therefore, enamel painting was most often done on cathedral glass.
The artists used both European and American techniques in this window. Plating is an American technique, while the extensive use of painting is a European technique.
This window is painted on the front and back layers.
The wings are painted and have an iridescent coating, giving them an ethereal appearance.
Notice how the orb representing the world is brought to the forefront using opalescent glass. The hands recede because they are a layer behind.
BIBLICAL STORY OF THE WINDOW
Images from the story of creation fill this window. An angel gently holds an orb that represents the world. The design above the dove depicts the seven days of creation. And a semi-circle of stars borders the top of the panel. The angel’s banner also underscores the theme of the window. It says in Latin, “Bless the Lord, all ye works of the Lord,” which is the first line of a canticle from the Bible.
David Maitland Armstrong (1836–1918)
Helen Maitland Armstrong (1869–1948)
In 1887, the multi-talented David Maitland Armstrong formed Maitland Armstrong and Company, which provided decorating services, stained glass windows, and mosaics. He had already worked in many capacities, including as Consul to Rome and the Papal State, landscape painter, and Director of American Fine Arts at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle. His work as a painter helped him to develop a notable talent in color blending in glass.
His daughter Helen who had a drawing background joined the firm in 1890 to paint faces and hands for windows. She had an exceptional style. Helen soon became responsible for the presentation watercolors and drawings, which she completed after her father had determined the color scheme for a window. They were works of art. Together or separately, the Armstrongs created about 1,000 windows—a huge number for a firm so much smaller than Tiffany Studios. The pair produced the Creation window in this Collection.
Before opening his firm, Armstrong helped his friend Louis C. Tiffany with stained glass projects. At the Tiffany firm, Armstrong worked in design, fabrication, project coordination, and client relations. Most of the projects he created for Tiffany were anonymous. But some windows from Tiffany Studios have been attributed to Armstrong because their design motifs also appear in his known independent commissions. The Armstrong business was organized differently than the Tiffany firm. A much smaller group of people handled the work, and the Armstrongs maintained artistic control throughout the entire process. The Decorative Stained Glass Company fabricated their windows.
In his American-style windows, Armstrong used less opaque selections of opalescent glass and plating techniques to deepen his colors and shading. He was also one of the first stained glass designers to place realistic figures in naturalistic settings. Armstrong supported his windows with a minimum of lead lines and steel bars using his own fabrication technique called hanging plates. He often used four and sometimes up to seven layers of glass, requiring special framing for the extra weight. He also layered different sizes of glass.
When her father died in 1918, Helen continued the business. She had developed an excellent reputation and had as much work as she could handle. She began creating windows that were a hybrid Gothic Revival style. She incorporated opalescent glass and the plating techniques of the American School in these windows, but she used more painting than was typical. She also used simple, traditional assembly methods to create strong and stable windows.
Both Armstrongs died in their family home at 58 West 10th Street in New York City. They are counted among the finest American stained glass artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.