Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chagall's America Windows, and other delights, at the Art Institute of Chicago,

The Art Institute of Chicago
      This past summer my family and I made a trip to the Windy City to visit some popular tourist attractions.  After a wonderful tour of the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier, we made our way to the Art Institute of Chicago.  My husband and I have been making the Art Institute a standard stop during our visits to Chicago since before we were married.  This was Evelynn and Hank's very first visit. Hank, age 5, was not impressed...until we came upon the Thorne Miniature rooms. 
German Sitting Room of the "Biedermeier" Period 
      Hank was enraptured by these tiny, but so realistic, perfectly furnished rooms, and we had to inspect all 68 of them.  I'm sure Hank's little imagination was entertaining thoughts of how his G.I. Joes could utilize these perfectly-sized spaces!  
      Evelynn was thrilled to find some paintings by her very favorite artist, Claude Monet.
Evelynn with Water Lily Pond, by Claude Monet
Evelynn with Monet's Cliff Walk at Pourville
      As pleased as I was that my kiddos were finding art that they could appreciate at the Institute, I was chomping at the bit to reach my own destination of choice...the America Windows, an exhibit of stained glass designed by Russian artist Marc Chagall.  

      The America Windows were created specifically for the Art Institute in 1977, as part of Chicago's rich tradition of public art.  
Panel #1 of America Windows, depicting the musical arts
      The story of the America Window's inception begins in the early 1970s, when Chagall came to the city to work on his mosaic installed outside Chase Tower, The Four Seasons. In response to the city’s enthusiasm for his work and the Art Institute’s great support, the artist offered to create a set of stained-glass windows for the museum. 
Panel #2 of America Windows, depicting the fine arts
      Over the course of the following three years, plans were clarified and Chagall decided that the windows would commemorate America’s bicentennial. 
Panel #3 of America Windows, depicting literature
      The resulting six-panel work celebrates the country as a place of cultural and religious freedom, detailing the arts of music, painting, literature, theater, and dance. 
Panel #4 of America Windows, depicting America's cultural freedoms

      Because of his admiration for Chicago and its strong commitment to public art during the 1960s and 1970s, Chagall chose to dedicate the work to Mayor Richard J. Daley, a great supporter of public art projects. 
Panel #5 of America Windows, depicting the dramatic arts
      The America Windows were first presented with much fanfare at a formal unveiling, hosted by the Auxiliary Board of the Art Institute, on May 15, 1977.
Panel #6 of America Windows, depicting the art of dance
      My previous blog post detailed my tour through the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, where I was enlightened by the glass making techniques of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  The Chagall windows are SO DIFFERENT!  Like at the Smith Museum, I was able to approach these windows within mere inches and study up close the physical glass work. In so doing, I realized that this masterpiece of glass art is made of actual "stained" glass.   
Detail from Panel #4 
      Stained glass is, literally, stained glass.  It is glass that has been painted, kiln fired, and the result is glass that appears colored.  But sheet glass (used in Tiffany's studios) is different. Pigments are added to the "recipe" of glass ingredients before the glass is formed (see the glass making process here), which creates a sheet of glass that is colored through and through, not just on one surface.  
Detail from Panel #1
      Chagall employed French stained-glass artist Charles Marq to physically piece the individual glass sections to Chagall's specifications. Upon completion of the glass surface, Chagall painted his designs onto the glass using metallic oxide paints that were permanently fused to the glass through a subsequent heating process. 
Detail from Panel #6
      Not only did he paint the vibrant blue background and colored areas, but he also painted the drawn-looking details throughout the 8' x 30' glass masterpiece.
Sketchy painted detail from Panel #1
      But of course, after waiting who-knows how long for me to visually digest all the vivid creativity before me, my family became restless and it was time to move along.  It was an awesome day, yet tiring, so we were off to hit the gift shop and catch the train home.  But on the way out something caught my eye...
Window from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, 1912, by Frank Lloyd Wright
      We had stumbled upon a small collection of architectural leaded glass windows!  To the groans of my weary companions, I whipped out my camera one last time.  
Detail of a window from the Emil Bach House, Chicago, 1915
      It just so happens that I am a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style designs, architectural and have always been intrigued by the geometric intricacies of his leaded glass window designs. Lucky me!  I was again in the presence of glass art greatness!  
Window from the Robert W. Evans House, Chicago, 1908
      What is the difference between "leaded glass" windows and "stained glass" windows? Nothing really. "Lead" refers to the strips of metal between the pieces of glass holding them together. Many artists often refer to a window that is assembled with mostly clear glass as a leaded glass window, but panels that are assembled with stained glass are also referred to as leaded.
Tomek House: Spare Window1907
      After the unexpected pleasure of a run-in with Frank Lloyd Wright, it was off to the gift shop and on home.  We were a ragged band of travelers by this time so the crazy-driving cab driver didn't even give us pause.  We were too busy reflecting on our terrific day.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, Chicago

Chicago, IL

      In late summer my family and I traveled to Chicago to do some sight seeing.  We of course stopped off at the Shedd Aquarium and Navy Pier.  While wandering through Navy Pier's vast shopper's paradise we stumbled upon a treasure trove of stained glass windows!! Housed within Navy Pier's Festival Hall is an entire stained glass museum...what luck!!  The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows is a permanent display of 150 stained glass windows displayed in an 800 foot long series of galleries.
Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, Navy Pier, Chicago
      Open since February 2000, The Smith Museum is the first, and only, museum in the United States dedicated solely to stained glass windows. It showcases both secular and religious windows and is divided by artistic theme into four categories: Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary. All of the windows were designed by prominent local, national and European studios and most were originally installed in Chicago area buildings.
Landscape With Yellow Sky, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1915
      Imagine my delight when I discovered that within this amazing stained glass wonderland were 13 windows designed in the Louis Comfort Tiffany Studio!  I was standing mere inches away from stained glass creations that had come from Tiffany's studio in New York City! I confess...I embarrassed by daughter more than a few times with stifled "eeeks!" of excitement. 

Evening Landscape, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1910
      Tiffany first began experimenting with glass art in 1873. He opened the Tiffany Glass Company in 1885, which then became the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company and later Tiffany Studios. After designing hundreds of beautiful windows for churches, public buildings, and homes of his wealthy clients, Tiffany became one of the most well-known glass designers in the United States.
Landscape With Waterfall, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1920's
       For me, and many other glass artists, being able to see Tiffany's designs in person, and to be able to get up close and study his physical methods of glass craftsmanship was incredibly inspiring.  Tiffany incorporated some revolutionary techniques in his designs that simply do not translate through textbooks or internet photos.  

Autumn Landscape, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1890's
      Louis Comfort Tiffany treated glass art differently than any artisans had since the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  For example, Tiffany studied the distortion effects of light in wine bottles and discovered that imperfections, like streaks of lighter or darker areas, in sheets of glass could be used to depict atmospheric colors such as during a sunrise. His conclusions led him to experiment with entirely new types of glass, including opalescent glass, to portray atmospheric conditions. His radical new treatment of stained glass windows didn't stop there...

Tiffany explored using dimensionally formed drapery glass to mimic folds of fabric in clothing.
The texture in this angel's dress have been specially formed to mimic the folds of actual fabric.
He utilized mottled glass to emulate the dappled effect of sunlight through leaves.
Close up of tree foliage created using mottled glass for a sun-dappled leafy effect.
See that mottled, leafy-looking glass near the top of this window?
Angel Pair, Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1910
By strategically placing striated glass, Tiffany could evoke the movement of water.
Close up of the waterfall seen in Landscape With Waterfall.
Tiffany also began to incorporate non-traditional objects such as seashells, pebbles, and large faceted chunks of jewel-like glass.
Large glass chunks incorporated into a stained glass window design giving a jeweled appearance.
Tiffany even created a practice called “plating” which refers to the technique of placing several pieces of glass one behind the other.  By plating various pieces of glass into one composition Tiffany created the impression of depth of color and of geographic distance.  
In this photo you can see how the section of green is mounted atop the rest of the glass panel.
The bottom section here (the area that looks less in-focus) is a section of glass plated atop another piece containing the pebbly detail.  The top glass softens the details of the bottom glass to create the illusion of distance. (Close up detail from Landscape With Waterfall)
Another example of plating a solid glass atop a detailed layer to create atmospheric perspective.  In this window, Evening Landscape, the skyline detail of the bottom layer of glass has been painted on.
      Painting the finer details of a design on the glass's surface was not a new technique during Tiffany's time.  Glass artists practiced the art of "staining" glass during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Tiffany also used this tried and true method of creating dramatic details in some of his glass creations, especially those featuring people.  
Painted detail from Angel Pair
      Even though I've chosen to focus on the awe-inspiring designs of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Studios here, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing abundance of crazy-awesome stained glass windows on display at the Smith Museum.  There are designs by renowned stained glass artists John LaFarge and Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as Chicago artists Ed Paschke and Roger Brown.  There is even a very large window designed by the successful female glass designer, Marie Herndl. 
      The museum also presents unique contemporary pieces including stained glass portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Michael Jordan and a window created from soda pop bottles. I found it very interesting to see how modern stained glass designers incorporated some of the techniques that Louis Comfort Tiffany developed during his lifetime, such as...   

...the use of dimensionally formed drapery glass to mimic folds of fabric...
 Jerusalem Mount Zion Window in King David's Tomb, 1998
Designed and fabricated by Isaac Malis
This formed glass creates the look of a fabric curtain hanging in a window.
At first glance one could forget that it is made of hard, brittle glass.
...the incorporation of non-traditional objects such as large chunks of dimensional glass...
Slab Glass Composition, 1960
Designed and fabricated by Conrad Schmitt Studio
This piece is constructed largely of thick slabs of irregularly shaped glass.
...and contemporary glass artists still engage in the age-old practice of painting on the surface of the glass...
Roger Brown Silhouette Window, 1999
Designed and fabricated by Botti Studio 
      Please stay tuned as my family and I continue our journey through Chicago, and discover more stained glass treasures along the way...see you at the Art Institute of Chicago!