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.

Gallery Stories: American Stained Glass Superiority in the Gilded Age

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American Stained Glass Superiority Part



Three Reproductions of La Farge's Sealing of the Twelve Tribes Window

Gilbertson's Stained Glass

• Types of glass: 1. Opalescent 2. Milk 3. Wispy 4. Marbleized
• Painting only on faces, limbs and hands
• One Layer, Two Layers, Three Layers
• Contemporary

American stained glass artists developed new types of glass that were tremendously varied and rich in textures and colors. While searching for the most effective way to use these new creations, American artists began layering glass in their windows. This technique is called plating.

This trio of windows was created to show the varying visual effects of one, two, and three layers of glass. The shapes of the glass pieces are the same; it is the additional layers that change the appearance.

The lower left window has a single layer of glass. It is more translucent than the other windows. The colors are not as vibrant. The faces and hands are more rudimentary, and they are in colors that are not realistic. Overall, the window is very flat and lacks depth.

The lower right window has up to two layers of glass with the additional layers added to the back of the window. In general, plating deepens and strengthens the colors of glass. In this window, the faces are plated with milk glass painted in a flesh tone, which gives the skin a deeper color. The more realistic sky has an uneven blue color, which was produced by plating with blue wispy and marbleized glass. The grey and white sections of the woman’s gown deepened in color because of the adjacent brown section being plated with pink and blue glass.

The top window includes up to three layers of glass with the additional layers added to the front of the window. Notice how they add depth of field and three-dimensional effects to the composition. They also enhance the effects of light shining through the glass. Plating has made the lower portion of the gowns appear softer and three-dimensional. The man’s arm also now appears three-dimensional. The faces and hands received a light clear layer with texture that created a deeper tone close to real flesh color. And the sky is now the deeper color of a real sky. The section of missing glass in the bottom right corner reveals the three layers.

Cartoon for Holy Family's Flight into Egypt

William T. Hickinson
Circa 1920

Born at Stratford-upon-Avon, William T. Hickinson studied at the Royal College of Art in South Kensington, the Sheffield School of Art in London, and the Académie Julian in Paris. Founded in 1868, the Académie Julian was popular with foreign students and was the major alternative school to the École des Beaux Art. Les Nabis, a group of young symbolist artists, originated at the Académie in 1888–1889. Louis C. Tiffany translated several of their works into stained glass.

The multi-talented Hickinson worked in glass, murals, painting, and sculpture. He exhibited at the Royal Academy for eleven years. He also assisted with the Victoria Memorial at Buckingham Palace and the mural decorations in Westminster Abbey. Additionally, he worked as a teacher and an artist for the British government during World War I.

By 1920, Hickinson had immigrated to the United States and settled in Milwaukee, where for many years, he worked for the E. F. Schmidt stained glass studio. Our Hickinson drawing (c. 1920) of the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt is the design for a stained glass window. Our museum based its two stained glass windows of the Flight into Egypt on this drawing.

Hickinson’s date of death is unknown. But he is listed in the archives of the Museum of Wisconsin Art as a Works Progress Administration artist from 1935 to 1943.

Prayer of the Shepherd

Frederick Wilson for Tiffany Studios
Before 1915

• Types of glass: 1. Opalescent 2. Mild drapery 3. Striated 4. Nodular 5. Mottled 6. Old Rolled Art Glass
7. Hand Cut Jewels
• Painting on face, hands, feet, and sheep
• Multiple Layers

The Good Shepherd was a popular theme for stained glass windows. Tiffany Studios depicted its Good Shepherd windows in several distinct styles. Frederick Wilson, one of Tiffany’s most talented artists, designed this window and executed the painting. He excelled in painting faces and other flesh. In this window, the fine quality painting includes the herd of sheep, which subtly fades into the distance. This window was included in the List of Tiffany Windows (1915).

Special Features
• The radiant halo was created through plating, silver stain, and acid etching. These laborious and painstaking techniques helped achieve the artist’s goal to make vivid and real that which we cannot see—to bring the otherworldly into the vernacular of everyday worship.
• The purple mottled drapery glass used in the bottom of the robe and in the sleeves is very unusual. It adds richness and depth to the clothing.
• The sunrise infuses the scene with a delicate aura, which is achieved through silver stain and acid etching.
• Notice the sparkling hand cut jewels on the side and top panels. The jewels around the cross are hand cut from a very thick slab of glass.
• In the large side panels, blue represents the sky, which is all striated glass plated with nodular glass. The sky has a certain depth that underscores the deep religious meaning of the window.

Biblical Background
Jesus often used imagery from shepherding to help people understand his teachings. The following Biblical quotes illustrate this point:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11)
“I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and am known by my own.” (John 10:14)

Spirit of the Revolution

Frederick Stymetz Lamb

• Types of glass: 1. Opalescent 2. Drapery 3. Herringbone 4. Striated 5. Mottled 6. Nodular 7. Hammered
8. Fractured 9. Acid-Etched Flash
• Painting on faces, hands, feet and on the second layer of the three layers of the wings
• Up to 5 Layers

This powerful window, featuring a militant angel, commemorates the 1776 Battle of Harlem Heights in New York. In this critical battle, the Americans stood their ground against British troops, regaining confidence after several defeats. It was also the first battlefield success for the great Commander-in-Chief General George Washington.

The Daughters of the Revolution, a nonprofit group consisting of direct descendants of soldiers who fought for American independence, commissioned this window. The well-documented window is described in the records of the Daughters of the Revolution from the original commission to the installation. This window was exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair before being installed at St. Luke’s Home for Aged Women in New York City in 1905.

Frederick Lamb was the head designer for his family’s firm. Still in operation, J & R Lamb Studios is the oldest glass company in continuous operation in the United States.

Special Features
• The predominately blue and red medallions on the side panels have been enhanced through acid etching on flash glass and the application of silver stain. The former technique involves applying a thin layer of color to blown glass before removing some of the color with acid. The treated area is then lighter or clearer in color.
• Notice the spectacular metalwork used in the construction of the collar, clasp for the robe, belt, and the triangular detail on the top garment. The designs are created with lead instead of glass, making the shapes look like real metal objects. The top flanges on the leading of each tiny piece of glass is shaved or nipped off to provide a more ornamental appearance. The layering of additional glass plates adds depth and enhances the metalwork.
• This angel squarely faces forward wearing an especially unique halo, which consists of brilliant stars emanating from behind a neoclassical laurel wreath headpiece. The artist performed intricate cutting of glass around the stars to achieve a celestial effect.
• The texture of herringbone glass is what creates the effect of feathers in the wings. Notice the fine ripples in the glass.
• The robe was created using detailed plating behind the drapery glass. The white part of the robe is translucent giving it an otherworldly appearance.


David Maitland Armstrong and Helen Maitland Armstrong
Date unknown

• 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.

Special Features
• 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.

Adoration of the Kings and The Flight into Egypt

Franz Mayer of Munich

• All Antique Mouth Blown Glass
• Extensive Painting
• Single Layer

These windows display the skillful painting typical of the German firm Franz Mayer of Munich. In these European painted windows, the artist painted on cathedral or one color glass to create the folds and draping in the simple garments of the Holy Family, as well as the rich and lavish fabric in the robes of the kings.

These windows were originally installed in an Episcopal church in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The shapes of the windows and the decorative details in the lower panels are identical, confirming the windows were produced for the same church.

Special Features
• The artist painted the glass to create details such as the shading in the clothes. Then, the artist baked the glass in a kiln fired to 1250° to fuse the paint to the surface of the glass.
• The lead work in these windows is all one layer.
• Notice the beautiful amber color in these windows; the artist put silver stain on the back of the glass to create this radiant effect.

Biblical Story of the Window
These windows depict biblical events often found in paintings and stained glass. The Gospel of Matthew recounts the Adoration of the Kings (2:1–12) and the Flight into Egypt (2:13–15). In the first story, three wise men follow a star to the birthplace of Jesus; they come to worship Him, bringing gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. In the second story, Joseph flees to Egypt with Mary and the Infant Son after the Magi inform him that King Herod intends to kill Jesus. The abundant use of the color gold throughout these windows underscores the divinity of Jesus.

Sealing of the Twelve Tribes

John La Farge
Late 19th century

• Types of glass: 1. Opalescent 2. Striated 3. Mottled 4. Rippled
• Painting on hands, faces, and feet
• Up to 5 Layers

This window belonged to a major American museum, which loaned it to another museum. The window was never returned and was presumed lost. But years later, a dealer offered it for sale with the top section missing. A dispute ensued between the original museum and the dealer over ownership rights to the remaining portion of the window. The museum eventually relinquished its claim to the window and it was subsequently sold by the dealer to this museum. We then began the endeavor of restoring the window.
Another Sealing of the Twelve Tribes window by La Farge is installed at Trinity Church in Buffalo, New York. That window won acclaim at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. La Farge received a first-class medal and the Cross of the Legion of Honor at this event. With the gracious cooperation of the church, we viewed that window to assist in our restoration.

La Farge created this window in the late 19th century. It is unsigned but very similar in style to his other windows of the period. He often included waterfalls in his work after an 1886 trip to Japan, and he created other angels in the manner seen here. In this window, the talented La Farge produced a magnificent scene with depth and breadth as well as movement using deep colors and up to five layers of glass. And the transcendental gaze on the face of each figure was created through expert painting.

Special Features
• The garments in the lower panel of this window have pieces of glass positioned in all directions. La Farge used many small pieces of glass and layers instead of drapery glass or paint to create the realistic appearance of the clothing. The fabric has texture, volume, and draping effects.
• The soft faces are in an impressionistic style. La Farge could create authentic faces in part because he used live models. The faces here are likely based on Mary Whitney, a favorite La Farge model.

Biblical Story of the Window
The window depicts an angel placing the seal of God upon the forehead of one of the faithful while two more figures ascend into heaven.

Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt

Gilberton's Stained Glass; design by William T. Hickinson

• La Farge-style window: painting on faces, hands, and donkey; 2 to 5 layers
• European-style window: extensive painting, single layer

These two newly created windows are based on William Thomas Hickinson’s sketch of the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt (circa 1920). The drawing includes lead lines, meaning it was intended as a design for a stained glass window. The sketch is presented to the left of the windows.

The art glass here illustrates the difference between American- and European-style windows. The window on the top reflects a very traditional European window with heavily painted designs and a single layer of glass throughout. There are simple fields of color. And details such as the expression of love on the mother’s face have been expertly created with the lines of paint. The multilayer design of the window on the bottom reflects the style of John La Farge, an American artist. The American artists usually combined techniques. They used plating or layering, painting, and new types and colors of glass to create vibrant, richly detailed, three-dimensional windows like the lower one on display here.

The difference between the two windows is especially evident in the robes and wings. The European-style window features painting in these areas. In the American-style window, the artist used multiple small pieces and colors of glass along with layering on the front and back to create visual effects typical of those seen in La Farge windows. The halos in the bottom window consist of vivid yellow glass, while the ones in the top window have been mostly painted. Here again the difference between the two windows is distinct. Also, the sky and the groundcover are more bold and colorful in the bottom window. The new types and hues of glass as well as plating provide a more accurate depiction of nature. Overall, the top window lacks the complexity of the lower window. However, in the past, intricate details could only be achieved in stained glass windows through painting. The two donkeys have been painted in a similar style.
The Gospel of Matthew recounts the Flight into Egypt (2:13–15). Joseph flees to Egypt with Mary and the Infant Son after the Magi inform him that King Herod intends to kill Jesus.

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1560 Oak Avenue  Evanston, IL 60201

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