Historical Background of Stained and Leaded Glass

     Glassblowers were among the founders of Jamestown in 1607, and early glass 
manufacturing was also attempted in 17th-century Boston and Philadelphia. 
Dutch colonists in the New Netherlands enjoyed painted oval or circular 
medallions that bore the family's coat of arms or illustrated Dutch proverbs. 
German colonists in the mid-Atlantic region also began early glass ventures. 
Despite the availability of good natural ingredients, each of these early 
American glassmakers eventually failed due to production and managerial 
difficulties. As a result, colonists imported most of their glass from England 
throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

     Social values as well as high costs also restricted the use of stained and 
other ornamental glass. This was particularly true with regard to churches. The 
Puritans, who settled New England, rejected the religious imagery of the Church 
of England, and built simple, unadorned churches with clear glass windows. 
Consequently, not much glass remains from the colonial and early national 
periods. Less than 1% of the Nation's stained and leaded glass predates 1700. 
Considering the enormous loss of 17th-, 18th-, and early 19th-century 
buildings, any window glass surviving from these periods is very significant. 
Every effort should be made to document and preserve it.

     Despite many failed starts, the War of 1812, and British competition, 
American glass production increased steadily throughout the 19th century. 
Stained glass was available on a very limited basis in America during the first 
quarter of the 19th century, but American stained glass did not really emerge 
in its own right until the 1840s.

     America's glass industry boomed during the second half of the 19th 
century. (And although stained and leaded glass is found nationwide, the 
manufacturing was based in the Northeast and Midwest, where good natural 
ingredients for glass, and coal reserves for the kilns were available. 
Moreover, nearly all of the nationally renowned studios were based in major 
metropolitan areas of the central and northeastern states-near the 
manufacturers that supplied their raw materials.) In response to this growth, 
the industry formed self-regulating associations that established guidelines 
for business and production. In 1879 the Window Glass Association of America 
was established, and in 1903 The National Ornamental Glass Manufacturers' 
Association, precursor of the Stained Glass Association in America, was formed.

     The 60 years from about 1870 to 1930 were the high point for stained glass 
in the U.S. In the early years, American stylistic demands reflected those 
current in Europe, including various historic revivals, and aesthetic and 
geometric patterns. American patterns prevailed thereafter; they tended to be 
more vivid, brash, and bold.

     After the 1893 Columbia World's Exposition, the Art Nouveau Style became 
the rage for windows. Sinuous nymphs, leggy maidens, whiplashed curves, lilies, 
and brambles became standard subjects until World War I. Among the leading 
proponents of the Art Nouveau Style were glassmakers John LaFarge and Louis 
Comfort Tiffany. Both men experimented independently throughout the 1870s to 
develop opalescent glass, which LaFarge was first to incorporate into his 
windows. Tiffany became the better-known, due in part to his prolific output. 
He attracted world-class artists and innovative glassmakers to his studio, 
which produced over 25,000 windows. Today, "Tiffany" remains a household name. 
His favorite and most popular scenes were naturalistic images of flowers, 
colorful peacocks and cockatiels, and landscapes at sunrise and sunset. 
LaFarge, while appreciated in his own day, gradually slid into relative 
obscurity, from which he has emerged in recent decades. Tiffany and LaFarge are 
the greatest names in American stained glass.

     In dramatic contrast to the American Art Nouveau style was the Neo-Gothic 
movement that became so popular for church and university architecture across 
the country. Charles J. Connick was a leading designer of medieval-style 
windows characteristic of the style.

     Advocates of the Prairie Style, of whom Frank Lloyd Wright is the best 
known, rejected Tiffany's naturalistic scenes and Connick's Gothic imitations. 
Wright's rectilinear organic abstractions developed simultaneously with the 
similar aesthetic of the various European Secessionists. The creation of this 
style was aided by the development of zinc and copper cames in 1893. These 
cames-much stiffer than lead-made it possible to carry out the linear designs 
of Prairie School windows with fewer support bars to interfere with the design. 
At first, these windows had only an elitist following, but they were soon 
widely accepted and proliferated during the early 20th century.

     By 1900, stained and leaded glass was being mass-produced and was 
available to almost everyone. Leading home journals touted leaded glass windows 
for domestic use, and a nationwide building boom created an unprecedented 
demand for stained and leaded art glass windows, door panels, and transoms.

     The fading popularity of the ornate Victorian styles, combined with 
inferior materials used for mass production, and America's entry into World 
War I (which reduced the availability of lead), essentially eliminated the 
production of quality leaded glass. The great age of stained glass was over. 
However, leaded glass panels have survived in uncounted numbers throughout the 
country, and are now once again appreciated as major features of historic 
buildings.