Windows of stained glass added to the glory of the great cathedrals that were built in the Middle Ages, an adjunct of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Although most of today's commissions for such windows are still ecclesiastical in nature, stained glass artists also are called upon to work on projects for homes, schools, colleges and universities, libraries, and mausoleums.
A survey of 20th century stained glass in the United States titled "Reflections on Glass" is on display at the Gallery of the American Bible Society through March 15. It includes the work of six working stained glass artists as well as examples of windows by some of the great glass artists of the past, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Katharine Lamb Tait, Charles J. Connick, and Robert Sowers.
Stained glass originally involved creating jigsaw pictures out of small pieces of colored glass or glass tinted with translucent paint that were fitted together with lead lines that outline the subject matter. The process involved, as it still does, three types of artisans -- glassmakers who blow or roll the glass, artists to design and paint, and fabricators who cut the glass and assemble the composition by joining the pieces with lead.
Linda Lichtman, a glass artist who uses such up-to-date techniques as acid-etching and sandblasting the components of her windows to enrich and alter color, is convinced that stained glass is a living art, not a cathedral relic.
"Stained glass windows are the expansive boundaries between an interior, personal world and the exterior," she said in an interview. "They are permeable yet somehow impregnable, expressive yet anonymous. It connects us to and separates us from the world. In the coming centuries I think stained glass will be used much more frequently in secular settings."
On view is a panel from Lichtman's "Quercus Alba" (White Oak) glass surround for a door designed to make a historical reference at the Charter Oak State School in New Britain, Conn. The surround consists of 12 panels in alternating oak leaf and abstract designs, the leaf painted in black against a red background with Quercus Alba spelled out in black.
Another artist represented in the show, David Wilson, also is optimistic about the future of stained glass as an evolving art form.
"I see the art and craft of stained glass capable of endless innovation," he said. "This reinvention of an ancient and traditional process along with manipulation of light is the root of my love for the medium."
Wilson, influenced by the stained glass designs of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, has designed windows with geometric patterns in blues and golds for the Spirit of Christ Roman Catholic Church in Orvada, Colo., a model of which is on display. In his Eucharist Window for the church, he used increasingly light glass from bottom to top to suggest ascent to a spiritual realm.
Stephen Knapp, an artist of international reputation who creates his designs on a computer, works with kiln-formed relief glass to give a third dimension to his art, engaging the viewer with a three-dimensional quality in addition to color and design. A panel completed last year bears a quote in relief from the Biblical Book of Micah enclosed in a diagonal pattern of textured glass.
Knapp also works in cut out pieces of dichroic glass, a new form of color-coated glass applied like a collage to a transparent sandblasted glass panel, so that lead lines can be eliminated. The example on exhibit is "Passages and Promises," a lyric composition of botanical forms in red, blue, gray, and yellow that seems to float in space.
Ellen Mandelbaum paints abstract compositions on glass with enamel paints, crossing the lead lines to create arching and slanting slashes of color. She sometimes scratches the enamel to release more light, as evidenced by designs on display for her windows for the chapel at the Marian Woods Convent in Hartsdale, N.Y. These windows are designed to blend in and reveal the natural wooded landscape outside.
Douglas Hansen also creates sculptured windows using kiln-formed molded glass polished with diamond grit to give a smooth finish. On display is his "IHS Window" created for Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University that gives the effect of an explosion of glass shards around a central panel bearing the IHS (Jesus Savior of Man) symbol with the "I" extending into a cross.
Ellen Miret, who does figural as well as abstract designs, designed windows last year for the Ascension Mausoleum in Monsey, N. Y., built in the shape of a Greek cross with each arm ending in a wall-size window. On display is the "Trumpeting Angel" window calling the dead to arise. Each color element of the design is lined in lead in the traditional manner.
But for St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Richmond Township, Pa.., Miret created windows with an overall interlocking curves design of stunning beauty, and for Christ Episcopal Church in Bronxville, N. Y., she designed a triple window as a tribute to French composer Oliver Messiaen that suggests his magnificent organ compositions through dramatic abstract forms.
The exhibit includes a video presentation on mouth-blown, machine-, and hand-rolled glass being made.