Stained Glass Masters
The innovative artists of the American Stained Glass Movement focused on using glass to create new effects not seen in European painted windows. They essentially painted with glass, that is, they used features of the glass itself as well as new techniques to achieve pictorial details.
They created new vividly colored glass and new types of textured glass. They invented drapery, confetti, and ridged glass, among others. They were the first to use faceted glass nuggets and pressed glass jewels. But the most important development was opalescent glass, which became a trademark of the American Movement. Opalescent glass included multiple colors in the same piece, suggesting highlights and shadows, muting bright light, and creating complimentary tones to adjacent colors. It allowed the artist to render realistic subjects relying on the effects within the glass rather than painting on the glass. Both La Farge and Tiffany claimed to have invented opalescent glass windows.
The use of multiple layers of glass was another major technological innovation that deepened colors and allowed for the creation of shadows and other effects without painting. This technique is called plating. The layers created depth of field and the suggestion of three-dimensions. Layering also enhanced the effects of sunlight shining through glass. Much smaller pieces of glass were used in American windows than in European ones. American artists sometimes layered small pieces of glass behind larger pieces to depict clothing and other details.
The size and positioning of leading took on new importance in the work of the American artists. For centuries, leading had played a functional role in stained glass windows—connecting the pieces of glass. In American windows, leading had an additional purpose—it also provided lines within the design. The American artists also used leading of various sizes. They did not always use straight lines of lead as had been done in the past. La Farge developed a technique of back-plating leading to create the impression of shadows.
Traditional leading was difficult to use for complex patterns requiring many small glass pieces. For such projects, American artists developed the copper foil technique. They wrapped the edges of glass pieces with a thin copper foil before the pieces were laid out and soldered together. This type of leading flowed with the design and helped create more organic landscapes.
The new types of glass and new techniques meant American artists did not have to rely on painting on glass to create details. Therefore, they limited painting primarily to faces, hands, and feet. They were thus able to create windows with a new and stunning appearance like those you see in our Collection.