Updated: Mar 25, 2020
STAINED GLASS FROM THE AMERICAN FRONTIER.
I’m a glutton for stained glass. I travel miles to see it. I even photograph it (and resist taking photographs of anything else), then spend hours poring over the images on my laptop. I’m drawn to it all, from 12th century abbeys, to the windows in Prairie Houses. Even so, an email from Vidimus just recently was eye-popping. Vidimus? It’s an online resource for all things stained glass, indispensable to the addict. And the latest issue has an article called - wait for it - Where the Buffalo Roam.
It’s a review of an exhibition at the Stained Glass Museum of Ely Cathedral, not so very far from Cambridge, England. Now let’s clear up two possible confusions. One: there really are buffalo in that neck of the woods. They’re water buffalo, non-native and nothing to do with stained glass, but all the same it’s best that you know. And two: there is no stained glass in this exhibition. Right?
Where the Buffalo Roam is from the lens of award-winning photojournalist M.J. Alexander; a record of American frontier life as seen in the church and chapel windows of the Plains. For example, the one on the left of my picture. It’s a detail from “The Indian Window” in the Chapel of the University of Central Oklahoma. Its design is by Ray Gilliland of the Delaware Tribe. The model for the eight-foot figure on the right was Benjamin Beames, Choctaw star of the school’s 1942 football team. The window’s inspiration is John Oxenham’s hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West”. And the makers? UCO students all, many of them returning veterans of World War II, who cut the patterns, painted the glass and fired it. What a celebration of homecoming!
The unexpectedness and delight of all this brought to mind a visit to the Smith Museum of Stained Glass in Chicago. (First museum in the United States dedicated solely to stained glass windows, how could I miss?) Delight because, in a 250 meter-long series of galleries, in an unlikely-looking shed on Navy Pier, it housed some of the most remarkable secular and religious window glass I’d ever come across in one place. All of it designed by American and European studios from 1870 onwards. Much of it installed originally in Chicago churches, homes and office buildings. Showcased in Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary sections, many of the names were completely new to me. And the cream of the crop? Well, for me, the Richard Driehaus collection, no question. Thirteen windows from the Tiffany studio in New York City, some pairs, some triptychs, and all jaw-dropping for their colors and technique. Backlit against the darkened gallery, they turned the unlikely-looking shed into a jewel-box theatre set.
But that was 2010. Four years later the Smith Museum closed its doors on the Navy Pier for good and I still haven’t found out where the collections went. Can anyone tell me?
The exhibition in Ely Cathedral runs through February 20th 2020. Check it out on Vidimus:
https://vidimus.org/blogs/news/exhibition-at-the-stained-glass-museum-where-the-buffalo-roam-stained-glass-from-the-american-frontier/ And sign up for their free monthly newsletter. It’s way better than what’s in the daily news.