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.

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