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Thistle Triptych

From the Patten Home in Evanston:


Thistle Triptych

George Maher

Thistle Triptych


  • Types of glass: 1. Opalescent 2. Cathedral 3. Mirrored

  • No painting

  • Single Layer

  • 1901


This triptych or three-part window exemplifies the art glass style associated with Chicago’s Prairie School of Architecture. George Maher, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other architects of the School designed entire buildings including the decorative elements and furnishings.

Maher often incorporated an organic design element throughout a home in its textiles, furniture, millwork, lighting, and windows. This was called his “rhythm motif theory.” He used a thistle theme in the James A. Patten home in Evanston, Illinois, to represent Patten’s Scottish ancestry and his Presbyterian faith. The thistle pattern was one of Maher’s most complex designs.

In this window, the flower within the octagon in the central panel resembles a spider, a popular Art Nouveau motif. Additionally, a spider appears to move down each side panel from one web to the next.

This window was reclaimed before the Patten house was demolished in 1938. A fireplace that matches the window currently resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The window was executed by stained glass master Louis J. Millet. Millet had considerable influence on Chicago’s Arts and Crafts movement, and his design firm produced some of the most innovative windows of the late 19th century.

George Maher (1864 – 1926)

At the young age of thirteen, George Maher began working for Chicago architects Augustus Bauer and Henry W. Mill. At the time, Chicago was becoming a center for innovation in architecture as it was being rebuilt after the fire of 1871. Maher then worked for acclaimed residential architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee before establishing his own office in 1888. Frank Lloyd Wright was one of his coworkers at the Silsbee firm. Like Wright, Maher influenced both the Prairie School of Architecture and the American Arts and Crafts Movement. In terms of the latter, Maher emphasized simplicity, natural forms, and respect for materials in his designs. As a Prairie School architect, he sought to create designs free from historical references. He also believed in fine craftsmanship and in integrating the structure with its contents and the surrounding landscape.

If you live on the North Shore of Chicago, you are likely already familiar with the work of George Maher. A resident of Kenilworth, Illinois, Maher designed more than forty buildings in that village alone, including the recently restored Kenilworth Club Assembly Hall. Maher also designed a remarkable cluster of structures on Hutchinson Street in Chicago, which is now a landmark district. His early work in these areas brought him to the forefront of residential design.

Maher later worked on a series of grand estates, such as the Patten House in Evanston, Illinois. Maher gave each of his projects a distinct floral theme. Each motif included a native plant and geometric shapes. It was repeated throughout his designs for a building. He included it in furniture, fabrics, light fixtures, fireplace surrounds, stencils, and art glass windows. He collaborated with talented artists who created the pieces. Maher felt this approach, which he referred to as his motif rhythm theory, visually tied together the design of the entire structure. The result was some of the finest arts and crafts design in America. Maher collaborated with Louis J. Millet in the creation of our thistle triptych, which is from the Patten House.

Later in his career, Maher worked on some non-residential projects. For example, he designed two buildings for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, including the Swift Hall of Engineering (1908), which is still in use. And although small in scale, the Kenilworth Club (1906) is often regarded as one of Maher’s most successful Prairie style structures. He also built several buildings in Winona, Minnesota, including several for the J. R. Watkins Medical Company.

During the early 1920s, Maher acted as chairman of the committee for the restoration of the Palace of Fine Arts from the World’s Columbian Exposition. It eventually became the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. In that same period, he also worked on town planning. Maher died in 1926.

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