While I finishing up Christmas shopping on Friday, I had a chance encounter with a lovely collection of Stained Glass windows in the Macy’s Pedway. First and foremost, if you are unaware of the pedway or haven’t used it, you are in for a treat. It’s a lovely system of underground and occasionally above ground routes that connect many buildings in the loop. It’s perfect for avoiding the cold and inclement weather. It was first built in 1951 to connect the red and blue lines at Washington. Here is a map from the city. There are even tours of the pedway which I haven’t done yet but really should. There are even businesses down there.
Anyway, there is a portion of the pedway that connects Macys to the Daley Center (along with several nearby building). Recently, twenty-two American Victorian windows were installed in a portion of it next to Wrigleyville Sports or the Starbucks in the basement floor of Macy’s. The project was done in conjunction with Macy’s , the Chicago Cultural Mile Association and Navy Pier’s Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.
The windows are brilliant with colors and textures. They are all made between 1880 and 1910 by people in the US. It’s all non-religious so it’s a lot of natural scenes and Greek/Roman Mythology. There are a couple more abstract constructions, a nod to Moorish design, which are really before their time. There is even a window from Louis Comfort Tiffany himself (or his studio). It’s an amazing celebration of nature and colors. Some pieces have glass shaped like jewels, which is really different from the other stained glass I’m used to seeing.
Most of the stained glass I’ve seen is in a religious context like a church or synagogue. The stained glass is either set in the Bible or Lives of the Saints or is very abstract. I lean towards the Bible scenes since they are more compelling for me. I like to see how the scenes are depicted. Also there is something wonderful about the typical blue and red robes worn by Bible figures. And animals. Gotta have more animals in stained glass. The abstract ones, typically found in synagogues, are not really to my taste.
But these American Victorian stained glass are a revelation to me. The color is more vibrant (probably due to more advanced glass coloring techniques and materials) and for lack of a better word, flatter. Religious stained glass shows several scenes with lots of minute details in small pieces of glass. In these Victorian windows, the entire glass is typically one scene so it’s seems bigger and therefore flatter. (This may also impact the perception that these windows seem brighter- larger pieces of glass would probably do that).
Also there are some games that are played with representations. The inscriptions discuss that Victorian windows tended to have frames within the composition. It reinforced the notion that you were looking at the natural scene from a frame within a frame. It’s a couple steps to Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” but we are getting there in art.
The variety of window uses is striking. There are some that have curved tops that may have been in public spaces while one window is actually three stacked for a staircase. The rectangular ones were probably used in people’s private homes. Far cry from the days when taxes were levied on windows!
The plaques that accompany it were really striking. One thing that was very American about these stained glasses was the use of beveling for some of the glass. Apparently, Bohemian immigrants had learned the art of beveling and applied it to stained glass in America. It’s not something you’ll find in Europe.
And according to DNAinfo, the stained glass industry was remarkable for the advancement of women. According to Corning Museum of Glass, it goes back to the 18th century in Europe where women ere permitted to undertake some tasks with glass making, including glass cutting and bead stringers. Some women were able to be designers. I was extremely overjoyed to hear that Rene Lalique’s daughter, Suzanne Lalique Haviland, even made some designs for glassware and perfume bottles.
Corning Museum of Glass reports an interesting notation in the 1902 Annual Report of the United States Commison of Labor, “Some manufacturers do not want female designers…Once employed, they are preferred, because they are naturally of a more artistic temperament. They display more taste, are always reliable, and can do fully as good work as men. lt is the opinion that the competition and employment of women in the field of design…has tended to improve the work of men.”
Tiffany hired women in his studios, inclding Agnes Northrup, Mary McDowell, and Elizabeth Comyns. He even opened the Women’s Glass Cutting Department in1892. Clara Bud, an artist, worked for Tiffany but had her own studio. Clara Driscoll had her own staff at Tiffany. Reports discussed how glass was more suited for women due to their attention to detail.
What lovely little known history!
As commentators have noted about the recently installed Victorian windows in the pedway, these windows complement the giant Tiffany ceiling within Macy’s itself. But it really awakens the pedway. It’s just so unexpected to see these brilliant constructions in the otherwise nondescript basement. I have always loved the contrast between the mundane and the sublime to be very appealing.
What a lovely addition to the city. Go check it out sometime you are downtown. It’s worth the stop.