Macy’s Pedway: Pioneering Exhibit of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows

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Above Image: Curator Rolf Achilles at Macy’s pedway
[American Victorian Stained Glass Window installations]


The recently installed 22 American Victorian Stained Glass Windows at Macy’s pedway, literally brings high class art at people’s footsteps. It’s uplifting to see such aesthetically pleasing beauty at a public space,  and it most certainly confirms my website tagline: Chicago, where public places are art galleries. The  exhibit  is best described in the words of E.B.Smith at the Opening Reception,  This exhibit continues Chicago’s long time tradition of museum-quality art in public spaces.  Art that educates the public, while bringing beauty to the public space…  Instead of insisting that public come to a large museum building, art itself is placed in a location where millions of people go everyday in their daily lives.



Macy’s Pedway Installation of American Victorian Stained Glass

Pioneering here..
Documentation of the  Exhibit.. click here..
Opening here..

Chicago: Art Glass.. click here..



Beauty of stained glass windows aside;  what absolutely intrigued me,  was the use of term: PIONEERING!
Macy’s pedway installation of American Victorian Stain Glass Windows has been described as a  “pioneering” exhibit.

A plaque at the exhibit reads..
The exhibit is pioneering because the profound originality of American Victorian non-religious stained glass windows [for residences and public buildings] has not been recognized by art scholars or the public. American Victorian secular glass was an important link to 20th century modernism. American Victorian secular stained glass windows [1880-1910] were completely different from most painted European stained glass. Innovators like Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge utilized opalescent glass [the glass itself is extravagantly colored] and focused on illuminating the glass, to let the light itself paint the desired image. They also frequently embedded glass chunks as well as actual pebbles and shells in their design. Other American innovations included faceted-glass and cut-glass jewels, beveled glass, pressed designs such as scrolls and stem of flowers, folded glass that looked like draped textile, ripple glass that looked like feathers and confetti glass.

But before I examine some details of some of the exhibits, it is important to note:

– The exhibit has only non-religious secular stained glass windows.
– The exhibit has stained glass made in American, during the late Victorian time period. The Victorian Era refers to the period from 1837 to 1901, when Queen Victoria ruled over Great Britain. American Victorianism was an offshoot of this period and lifestyle that occurred in the United States. The focus in this exhibit is on stained glass made in America,  during the late Victorian era, between 1880s and 1890s.
– The exhibits here are from the collection of Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, at Navy Pier. Like any other museum, Smith Museum too has a large collection of pieces that not on display, and some of these [22 to be exact] have been installed at Macy’s pedway.

With some basics clarified, it’s time to examine how this exhibit is pioneering. A good starting point is curator Rolf Achilles small less than two minutes speech at the Opening Reception..




It is important that you look closely at the windows because you are going to see abstractions from the 1880s and 1890s. At a time when painters were not doing this yet, they were still caught up in figurative works, especially in the United States and in Europe. And the window that you see here, are the type of window which the Europeans then copied from America. We always think that America has been copying everything from Europe. But NO. Painting on glass is one of the things American did, but also, they stained the glass, and used ornamentation on glass, they added jewels, they added large chunks of glass. We have a superb example of this type of work. Look at the jewels, the facet of jewels were cut by diamonds and then chunks of glass were cast. This is uniquely American in the 1880s and 1890s. It was only around late 1890s and 1900s when the European started doing this, and then it is called Art Nouveau and everyone gets excited. But in the US, we were doing it in advance. We have superb windows in this display, they are world quality, internationally important individual windows and I hope you look at them very closely.

– Exhibit Curator Rolf Achilles



Abstract Symmetrical Composition - by unidentified designer

Abstract Symmetrical Composition – by unidentified designer


Above Image: There is no paint in this exuberant window

In the 1880s and 1890s when the European stained glass windows were painted, in the US, leading stained glass artists were developing techniques that glass itself emit colors and textures making painting redundant. The windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge  [contemporaries and bitter rivals]  are milestones in the development of new techniques of making stained glass windows in the late 19th and early 20th century. Louis Comfort Tiffany was not satisfied with brushwork on glass.. “Glass covered in brushwork produced an effect both dull and artificial”.. He said.. “I could not make an inspiring window with paint. I had to use a medium which appealed to me.. How many times I have tried to make drapery glass? My chemist and my furnanceman for a long time insisted it was impossible, claiming that the metallic oxides would not combine, and that was the trouble for many years.  Finally he succeeded.

Stained glass windows of this type, with no paint, but use of glass itself to produce the visual effects, was uniquely American in the 1880s and 1890s. This kind of fabrication was strong in Chicago. When such decorative stained glass, designed by Louis Sullivan and fabricated by Healy and Millet was shown at World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. It was the first time Europeans had seen emphasis on glass technology,  not on a human painter’s skill. Europeans then started copying this from America in early 1900s.


Garden of Jewels - by unidentified designer

Garden of Jewels – by unidentified designer


Above image “Garden of Jewel” is another fine example of  stained glass, with no-paint, and glass-only producing the visual effects.  Leaders in American stained-glass technology, were experimenting  and producing  different types of glass that produced a wide range of colors and textures, without the use of painting.  Like..

Opalescent glass: Glass is a mixture of white with another color, to give it a milky look with streaks and swirls;  and increased opacity. Opalescent glass is generally translucent, but often opaque. There was a bitter rivalry  between Lafarge and Tiffany about rights to use  of Opalescent Glass,  which LaFarge patented in 1880. Tiffany filed a similar patent in 1881.

Favrile glass :  it possesses a superficial iridescence.  This iridescence causes the surface to shimmer, but also causes a degree of opacity. This iridescent effect of the glass was obtained by mixing different colors of glass together while hot. Tiffany patented favrile glass in 1894 , and was first produced in 1896.

Faceted glass:  are raw, thick, unpainted glass with deep color and shimmering sparkle.

Beveled glass:  made by taking thick glass and creating an angled surface cut (bevel) around the entire periphery. Bevels act as prisms in the sunlight creating an interesting color diffraction which both highlights the glass work and provides a spectrum of colors which would ordinarily be absent in clear float glass.

Drapery Glass / Folded Glass:  a sheet of heavily folded glass that suggests fabric folds.

Ripple glass:  Textured glass with marked surface waves, like feather or veins of leaves

Confetti glass:  Chips of multi-colored glass added during the blowing process and hand-rolled to create a distinctive speckled appearance.


Louisville Combo Window - by unidentified designer

Louisville Combo Window – by unidentified designer


Louisville Combo Window: Here we see combination of beveled glass, faceted glass and machine rolled rippled glass. This is a typical Queen Anne style window.


Chunk Jewel Window – by John LaFarge Studio

Chunk Jewel Window – by John LaFarge Studio


Chunk Jewel Window – by John LaFarge Studio. This is one of my favorites in the exhibit. It sparkles, which i could not catch in the camera! Chunks of glass are made from thick sheets of glass that has been smashed into small pieces. These individual pieces are then worked with a hammer, to achieve a more detailed shape. Then chunks are rimmed with a lead came or copper foil, placed as desired and soldered. The resulting window is significantly heavier than a conventional window.


Standing Woman - by Belcher & Compa

Standing Woman – by Belcher & Compa


Painting the exposed anatomy, while leaving the rest to glass, was first introduced by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany and quickly adapted by others. Here the woman’s face is expressively painted. Her hands and feet are also painted.

Some other features typical of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows:
– Central Feature: Most Victorian windows had a bold strong central feature
– Borders : Most Victorian windows had definite, well-defined borders. There maybe single, double or even triple borders
– Japanese influence became a central feature of late 19th century secular stained glass.  Combination of  asymmetrical arrangement,  complex harmony of colors, and extreme close-up of modest subjects giving them a powerful presence demonstrate Japanese influence.  Motifs typical in Japanese woodblock prints like fish, butterflies, iris, peonies, all highly informal subjects, were  used in American Victorian stained glass windows.


Earth, Air, Fire and Water – by Belcher Mosaic Glass Company

Earth, Air, Fire and Water – by Belcher Mosaic Glass Company


Above Image  shows Japanese Effect, where the triangles of stained glass are colored from light to dark, giving the window an overall appearance of shading from light to dark. This effect was inspired by Japanese woodcut printing and is now seen as part of the broad aspect of Japanese aesthetics on many aspects of American Art in the 1880s and 1890s.


Finally coming back to my initial premise of analyzing the use of the term, “Pioneering Exhibit”..
for Macy’s Pedway installation of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows..

–  The exhibit brings out one important, and indeed pioneering characteristic of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows in 1880s and 1890s. As against European who were using paints to produce visual effects , Americans were innovating techniques of  using glass itself to produces the various visual effects of colors and textures. Later, in early 1900s, Europeans started coping this uniquely American technique of producing stained glass.
– The Exhibit showcases many windows with different types of glass that were innovated in America, like faceted glass, beveled glass, drapery / folded glass, ripple glass, confetti glass. They also frequently embedded glass chunks as well as actual pebbles and shells in their design.
– American stained glass studios were among the first to be socially progressive in employment of women in a primarily male oriented workforce. Many of the late 19th century glass cutting shops employed women in their work force. It’s importance is only recently being understood.

And if this exhibit intrigues or interests you, it is highly recommended that you visit the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier.. click here.. and also the Driehaus Gallery, also at Navy Pier.. click here..

NOTE: The stained glass windows at display at Macy’s Pedway, are from the collection of Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, at Navy Pier. However these are not transferred from Smith Museum, but are from the collection which have never been displayed at the Smith Museum.



A 5 minutes video of Macy’s pedway with curator Rolf Achilles..



PHOTO GALLERY: Macy’s Pedway





Macy's Pedway exhibit of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows

Macy’s Pedway exhibit of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows


The Art of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows

Location: Macy’s Pedway

Installed: December, 2013.

Opening Reception: Dec 9, 2013… click here..

The Exhibit Team:
Exhibit Curator: Rolf Achilles
Architecture/ Project Design: Roland Lucien Lieber
Stained Glass Conservation, Restoration and Exhibition Wall fabrication: Botti Studio of Architectural Arts, Evanston, IL

 This pioneering Exhibit is presented by Macy’s in cooperation with the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows,
The Chicago Cultural Mile Association and generous donors.

The generous donors include: The Chicago Cultural Mile Association, Macy’s, Northern Trust, Exelon, BMO Harris Bank, The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, Prince Charitable Trusts, The Buchanan Family Foundation, Susan Crown and William C. Kunkler III, Chauncey and Marion D. McCormick Family Foundation.




Pioneering here..
Documentation of the Exhibit.. click here..
Opening here..

Chicago: Art Glass.. click here..



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1 Comment to “Macy’s Pedway: Pioneering Exhibit of American Victorian Stained Glass Windows”

  1. […] At home, I searched the web and found Jyoti Srivastava’s photos of this new wall of art. Don’t miss them and her beautiful descriptions at  Public Art in Chicago. […]

  2. Happy to report that the windows are still on display at the beginning of 2023.

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