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The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows is a permanent display of 150 stained glass windows housed in an 800-ft.-long series of galleries along the lower level terraces of Festival Hall. Open since February 2000, it is the first 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 residential, commercial and religious buildings.
The windows provide unique insight into Chicago's cultural, ethnic and artistic history. The time period they represent, 1870 to the present, was an era of intense urban revision that featured the development, decline and revitalization of neighborhoods, the development of commercial and cultural institutions, the evolution of artistic styles and the response of various ethnic groups to these changes. The religious windows reveal the national and ethnic styles of Chicago's European immigrants, while the residential windows display the history of architecture and decorative art styles.
Well-known artists' windows on display include Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge, as well as Chicago artists Ed Paschke and Roger Brown. The museum also presents unique contemporary pieces including stained glass portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Michael Jordan and a window created from soda pop bottles.
The Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass is also featured within the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. This extraordinary collection features 13 windows that highlight the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and his workshop from 1890-1930.
All 13 windows come from Tiffany's studio in New York City, and he specifically designed most of the stained glass. Tiffany first began experimenting with glass art in 1873. He opened the Tiffany Glass Company in 1885; it 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, and his reputation for experimentation in stained glass techniques and originality in design is unsurpassed.
The Tiffany windows in the Driehaus Gallery, some of which are pairs or triptychs, are showcased in an enclosed, dark area and lit with artificial light. This theatrical atmosphere gives visitors the opportunity to view the windows in the most vivid setting possible. Each window in this exhibition incorporates several types of glass crafted from various techniques, including drapery, opalescent, etched and enameled glass. The glass plates are held in place by copper foil and lead, which support the windows and make them durable and weather resistant. The relationship between the different colors, the densities of layers and the techniques applied combine to create extraordinary luminescence and vibrancy of color and detail. Among the windows featured in the gallery are:
Rapelye Memorial - St. John's Episcopal Church, New Jersey. Religious windows, especially memorial windows, were the cornerstones of Louis Comfort Tiffany's stained glass business. Although clients often requested figural windows, Tiffany preferred floral and landscape themes for memorial windows. He felt these themes drew their inspiration directly from the Creator. Poppies represent the Resurrection and passionflowers symbolize the Crucifixion of Christ.
Girl with Cherry Blossoms - probably commissioned for a private home. Private clients occasionally requested portraits of their loved ones. In this window, the figure is not identified but is likely the portrait of a client's daughter. Tiffany avoided use of enamels in his windows, with the exception of painted faces, hands and feet.
The Annunciation - probably commissioned for a church. As an artist, Tiffany's use of perspective and selection of glass added to the theatrical quality of the window. In this diptych of the Annunciation, note the use of milky white glass that covers much of the composition. When the window is backlit, the image is softened, giving a sense of depth to the architecture and drama to the scene. When the light is turned off, the viewer only sees the milky white layer.
The Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass is representative of Driehaus' collection of both religious and secular windows, which he has accumulated over the past 25 years. This is the first public exhibition focused on his private collection.
For more information on the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, click here.
To download a pdf of our brochure, click here.
The Smith Museum of Stained Glass currently does not offer private group tours.
Admission and Operating Hours
Admission to the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows is free and the museum is open daily during Pier operating hours. Click here for current hours of operation at Navy Pier.
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