Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stained Glass Woman

Learned a few interesting things about stained glass recently when I posted this image on Facebook. My initial caption under the photos was this:

 "Likeness of the Deceased?" - I've always wondered about the stained glass widow in this mausoleum. Does anyone know if it is supposed to be an anonymous face? Looks too realistic to me."

The replies that were posted by various people surprised me. Most importantly was the request to please remove the location information for security purposes. Security to the stained glass window, that is. I promptly removed any identifying  location information from the post. It’s very possible that the window (created in 1909) was made by the Tiffany Studios. And therefore, the window could easily fetch half a million dollars on the art black market. Doubt that? Don’t think people would rip a stained glass window out of a mausoleum and sell it?

According to a (year) 2000 article in the Maine Antique Digest entitled, “Alastair Duncan Gets 27 Months, Must Pay $220,000 Restitution, ”Tiffany expert, author, and dealer Alastair Duncan was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to 27 months in prison for two schemes to deal in Tiffany stained-glass windows stolen from cemeteries and mausoleums in the New York metropolitan area and to export them abroad." Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia (not the location of the window I photographed) had all seven of its Tiffany windows stolen from their respective mausoleums in the 1970s, shortly after a news article appeared mentioning their existence! (The cemetery was in a sad state of disrepair at that time.)

So back to the female likeness in my photograph, which is a bit too realistic and doesn’t really “fit” on the less-detailed body. Several stained glass artisans responded to my post. One person states that the Tiffany studio, like many others, would sometimes include a family member as the model for a window.” (I assume this to mean a member of the glass artist's family.) So this was accepted practice. A verified example can be seen here.

Interestingly, I also received this comment:
If the painting staff at Tiffany was anything like those of Beyer Studio [a contemporary stained glass studio, referenced below], the reference for the portrait was that of a co-worker. If you paint the other staff members of the studio you don't have to shell out for a model and the subject can look as if they are helping you when really all they are doing is standing still and complaining about the coffee or the mess in the break room."

I thought that was hysterical! Now, if your only exposure to Tiffany stained glass is the Tiffany lamp, you would never think that their artisans actually painted people’s faces on glass. The Tiffany glass studios were quite diverse, even responsible for creating (with artist Maxfield Parrish), the immense stained glass mural (15 feet high, 49 feet wide!) "The Dream Garden" in 1915 that was installed in the lobby of the Curtis Publishing Building in Philadelphia (Sixth and Walnut Streets). As I didn't have any photos of this masterpiece, I just took a walk at lunch time today and shot the photos you see here (the Curtis Building is a few blocks from where I work).

"The Dream Garden" glass mosaic by Parrish and Tiffany

From the plaque in the lobby:
The mosaic’s images [of an original Maxfield Parrish painting] are rendered in “favrile” glass following a complex hand-firing process developed by Tiffany to produce over 100,000 pieces of glass in 260 color tones. Most of the glass was set in 24 panels in Tiffany’s New York studios. Installing the panels in this location took six months. The finished work was hailed by art critics as “a veritable wonderpiece at the official unveiling in 1916. The amazing variety of opaque, translucent, and transparent glass entirely lighted from the lobby, achieves perspective effects that have never been duplicated.

References and Further Reading:

For a fascinating look at a contemporary stained glass studio, please visit


  1. Fascinating on many levels... though I lived near Philadelphia and went to school at Penn, I never heard of the Curtis Building or the stained glass marvel inside...

    We live in a barbarous age, where people will even pillage and plunder graveyards to make some money. Though I guess grave robbing is right up there at the top of the list of the world's oldest professions ?

    1. As long as there have been graves, you're right - people have probably robbed them. Think of the Egyptian tombs ransacked throughout the ages...

  2. Interesting story. I have share it on the Stained Glass Association of America Facebook page. You may have a few more comments. You can view the blog here:

    Laura Goff Parham

  3. Dear Ed,

    I am a pastor and book author very interested in the image of the stained glass woman you recently posted. My publisher and I are interested in the possibility of obtaining the highest-possible resolution image of your beautiful photograph, for possible use as a book-cover image. Will you kindly email me at and let me know how I might make such an arrangement with you? Thank you. Rachel Srubas

  4. I believe there are several more pleasurable sessions in the future for those who check out your blog.
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  5. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do some research about this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such excellent information being shared freely out there.
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  6. A Tiffany stained glass window was stolen out of a church in Bar Harbor, Maine back in 1988. Check out the article from Feb. 2016 in the Mount Desert Islander about my search to find the window.