It begins more like a Sherlock Holmes novel than one might expect of a stained glass tour.
Barbara Krueger, Director of the Michigan Stained Glass Census, points to two windows in the atrium of Christ Church in downtown Detroit. The church was founded in 1845 and is less than a thousand feet up the Detroit River from the global headquarters of General Motors, whose Renaissance Center skyscraper dominates the Detroit skyline.
“Look at these two stained glass windows. Can you tell which one was made by Tiffany Studios and which one was not?”
To the untrained eye, the two windows look like any other stained glass window in any other church. Colored mosaics of angels and halos and rays of light. However, the difference is worth several thousand dollars.
Krueger has been sleuthing in the realm of stained glass for over 30 years, over half of which have been for the Michigan Stained Glass Census, a project sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum. In helping to create a catalogue of over 1200 windows, she has developed a rare eye for peering through glass in a wizened way that can pull stories and meaning from seemingly discordant color and form.
“Look at the hands and the face of the window on the left,” Krueger instructs, “That is the only place you will see paint on a Tiffany window; the rest is exclusively colored through the layering of the glass.”
She goes on to say that the most experienced stained glass aficionados can identify specific artists that were employed by Tiffany Studios based solely on their brush strokes. Tiffany Studios combined various glass techniques, some invented by the studio, to convey texture elements in its works.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the eponymous jewelry company, opened Tiffany Studios in 1885 in New York. It very quickly became one of the preeminent names in stained glass in the United States. His work was highly sought: Tiffany Studios designed the interior of Mark Twain’s home and was commissioned by U.S. President Chester A. Arthur in 1882 to redesign a number of rooms in the White House. Stained glass tells the story of a turn of the century America that adored the decorative applications of this opulent medium in not just windows but lamps and other luxury goods. This was the same era that gave Detroit its nickname “Paris of the West.”
Yet, inevitably, tastes changed. “Many people saw the opalescent sheet glass that was invented by Tiffany as too saccharine, too bright. It was very different from the more traditional ‘Gothic Revival school’ of stained glass,” says Lindsy Parrott, Director and Curator of the Neustadt Collection, one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass in the world. The fickle American consumer had moved on from Tiffany. The Tiffany Studios collection was auctioned off after Joseph Briggs, the successor to Tiffany as the studio owner, filed for bankruptcy in 1932.
Then, after World War II, Tiffany works started to creep on to the collector scene. “Typically museums lead the way, but this revival was led by collectors and dealers,” says Parrott. Today, Tiffany is a revered name in the stained glass world.
Yet just as many of the stained glass windows in Detroit were brought by immigrants from Europe so they could partially recreate the churches they had left behind. For example, in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Midtown Detroit hang two tapestries from a collection in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.
“The Clerk of the Works and I sat in the pews here for hours with binoculars staring at the windows trying to relate the windows to the woodwork, which we eventually did” says Krueger. Finding and cataloguing the thousands of stained glass windows throughout Michigan is no easy task. Six windows in St. Pauls to the left and right of the altar proved particularly challenging.
“We had no idea where they came from,” admits Krueger. That was until a book, Stained Glass Before 1700 in the Collections of the Midwest States, was published in 2002. Krueger was then able to trace similar windows in Kansas City to an antique dealer who was able to identify the windows’ origin: late Medieval period (14th-16th century) Europe before being transplanted to Detroit in the early 20th century by a church member and patron of the arts.
We asked Krueger to create a “Top 10” list of her favorite stained glass windows in Detroit. While a difficult exercise for such an avid lover of glass - “there will be lots of hurt feelings I am afraid,” Krueger adds - think of this as a guide for any aspiring neophyte desiring a look into Detroit’s stained glass past. This list is non-hierarchical and includes commentary by Krueger.
1. Christ Church, 960 East Jefferson Avenue
“The church contains a very interesting and eclectic grouping of windows by well know stained glass studios.”
2. Sweetest Heart of Mary, 4440 Russell Street
"The large south facing window was long thought to be by Detroit Stained Glass Works, but evidence from a 1907 lawsuit shows a Chicago stained glass firm being paid for the window."
3. St. Joseph’s Catholic, 1828 Jay Street
"The altar windows are probably the first installed German windows in the United States, assisted by the firm Friederichs and Staffin, which made the decorative surrounds and installed all the windows. Also was the home church of the Friederichs family and includes several windows by that firm, which was formed in 1861 and finally closed in 1970."
4. Cathedral of St. Paul, 4800 Woodward Avenue
"Several windows by the Charles Connick firm, several by the Willet firm, several Medieval stained glass windows, at least one German window, and an English window. In this one building one can see the history of stained glass under one roof."
5. Mariner’s Church, 170 East Jefferson Avenue
"The church was moved here in the mid-1950’s, about 8 blocks. The steeple was added and the 'older stained glass' became the nucleus for the current windows with a military theme, designed and fabricated by the J&R Lamb Studio."
6. Detroit Institute of Art, 5200 Woodward Avenue
"Features a major collection of Medieval stained glass windows, purchased and donated to the DIA by several major donors from the mid 1930’s and then again in the early 1950’s. The La Farge window is a must see, having been formerly located at the Unitarian Church on Woodward at Edmund Place and given to the DIA in 1959.”
7. Beecher House, 5475 Woodward Avenue
"A huge Tiffany window designed for residential use."
8. Holy Cross Hungarian, 8423 South Street
"Lovely windows by the von Gerichten firm of Columbus, Ohio. Made in the US but by immigrant stained glass workers. Brings forward discussion of the major influx of immigrants prior to World War I."
9. People’s Community Church, 8601 Woodward Avenue
"Features a huge stained glass dome only visible from interior of the church."
10. Cass United Methodist Church, 3901 Cass Avenue
"A Tiffany Studio fabricated window, but apparently designed by the clergy at the time."
I studied at Oakland Community College for one semester and randomly signed up for a stained glass course. For my final project in that course I did stained glass vases – basically they looked like upside down lamp shades. The instructor laughed and said ‘You should take a glass blowing class’ because everybody else made stained glass windows. That was the first time I touched glass.
That is Kevin Carlin, 35 year old glassblower and owner of Motor City Glassworks in Sylvan Lake, MI – about 30 miles north of downtown Detroit. Like Detroit, Carlin’s first encounter with glass was stained. Carlin’s story and his journey with glass, which began in 2000, make him an unlikely narrator for Detroit’s own glass story.
Detroit is a city with many identities, so much so that it has become a running joke. Small-scale farms dot Detroit’s urban prairies that are so often the backdrop for the city’s bankrupt imagery and pop-up stores and food trucks are in vogue. A local comedy series on YouTube called “Detroit [Blank] City” pokes fun at this odd oscillating urban personality by asking what resource Detroit has in excess and could, perhaps, market for additional revenue. Their answer: the shards of broken glass – Detroit’s “diamonds” – that litter its streets.
But glass is more a part of Detroit’s history than the detritus of its decay. Broadly categorized, Detroit is shared territory for three realms of glass: the stained glass found in its numerous churches, the industrial glass that grew symbiotically with its more famous automotive cousin, and the modern studio glass movement that began just outside Detroit in Toledo, Ohio. Together, these form yet another identity for this city of slippery nomenclature:
City of Glass
I moved to Hawaii when I was 17 and began studying ceramics – wheel throwing, working with clay. I was just walking around looking for the Ceramics Department and ran into a grad student and about five other people working around this enormous blow mold – it was about the size of one of those big shipping crates - and they had these huge bubbles, two foot bubbles, and they were gathering up so much glass. There were five of them spinning this thing, torches going everywhere… it was just this scene of chaos going on but it was not chaos, it was this group orchestra. I was stopped in my tracks.
-Kevin Carlin, Motor City Glassworks
Carlin's emmigration from Detroit is a common tale, though Hawaii may be more unique than most. His parents met in downtown Detroit where they both worked but moved out of the city in 1977 - one more story obscured by the cold figures of Detroit's overall population decline that began in the 1950's.
The beginnings of this massive demographic upheaval in Detroit precipitated the city’s decline and with this mass exodus went much of the city’s wealth. Manufacturing began to decline as more labor-intensive industries shifted overseas and the story of Detroit rolls on.
But not glass. Despite the downward trend of Detroit’s manufacturing, the industrial glass industry continued to prosper during the 1970’s as many innovations were reshaping automotive design.
“Detroit is about the flat glass industry,” says Robert Cassetti, senior director of the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. “And up until recent history, the automotive industry has driven innovation in flat glass technology.” In Detroit, the automotive industry’s technical demands for safety and lightweight design propelled glass innovations.
The glass industry was late to the industrial revolution. At the beginning of the 20th century, there wasn’t a way to mass-produce flat glass. All glass making for industrial applications were fundamentally hand-made processes’ and highly labor intensive. In order to achieve flat glass, glass cylinders were created then opened and flattened manually. The first ten years of light bulbs were blown by hand, as were Coca-Cola bottles until 1900. It wasn’t until 1901 that Belgian glassmaker Emile Fourcault invented a machine that created long sheets of glass.
Fourcault’s machine utilized a method known as the vertical drawn process: a glass sheet is drawn five stories up from a vat of molten glass. Factors such as improperly regulated cooling, along with various melting, forming and annealing temperatures in rapid succession, caused process instabilities. The glass often had waves, small gas bubbles or undissolved materials. The resultin glass was suitable for most windows but not sufficient for windshields.
Early automobile with an un-laminated windshield. Prior to the invention of laminated glass, an automobile accident could leave dangerous glass shards in the windshield frame. Photo courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass.
In 1928, Libbey-Owens Ford, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, was the first company to successfully produce automotive laminated safety glass for windshields and was contracted to supply the Ford Motor Company for the Model A. It was at this same time that Ford began to order the use of laminated glass for windshields on all vehicles, a process that fuses a layer of plastic between two sheets of glass.
“There were a few big breakthroughs in the history of flat glass manufacturing, beginning with the development of tempering. Basically making car windows stronger, flat glass safer,” Cassetti says. “Tempering the glass means heating it up then rapidly cooling it, adding strength to the glass, referred to as thermal tempering.”
The Making of Modern Automotive Glass
In 1937, British manufacturer Pilkington Brothers partnered with Ford Motor Company to develop the twin-grinding machine, a fully mechanized process for making plate glass. The machinery was over 1,400 feet of engineering ingenuity.
“[The twin-grinding machine] allowed for rapid manufacturing of large plates of window glass. It was the dominant manufacturing technique until the 1970’s when replacement technology came along called the float glass process,” continues Cassetti. “The arch of the innovation is that the earlier flat glass technology was extremely labor intensive with huge waste.”
The float glass development, also referred to as the Pilkington process, is still the global method for making modern automotive and architectural glass.
“A float glass factory is tireless. Its tank can operate endlessly for up to 12 years, creating over 50,000 miles of high-quality flat glass almost automatically.”
Detroit's Floating Glass Boom
Detroit’s Guardian Glass established their first float glass facility in Carlton, Michigan in 1970. There had not been a new entrant into the primary glass industry in the U.S. in 50 years. “Then in 1973, we constructed our second line, the only double line and the largest float glass facility in the company,” says Amy Hennes, a spokesperson from Guardian.
The first step in making float glass occurs in the melting furnace, where pre-mixed raw materials are heated into liquid. The molten glass then flows out of the furnace and onto a shallow pool of liquid tin. Surface tension and gravity distribute the molten glass into a flat ribbon of uniform thickness, while edge rollers form a desired width. From the float tank, the glass continues rolling while being slowly cooled to prevent stress in the glass. Cooling too quickly or in a non-uniform fashion creates tension. Once the glass has completed the cool-down phase, the edges of the ribbon, marred by the rollers, are trimmed off, and the glass is cut to size.
According to Hennes, after 80 years in the glass business, Guardian is now one of the world's largest manufacturers of float glass and fabricated glass products. Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan it employs 18,000 people worldwide and ships glass to 47 countries on six continents.
The Dawn of Safety
In the 1970’s and 1980’s automotive safety began to emerge in the public consciousness. Seatbelt regulations, airbags and crash testing entered the industry, emphasizing the structural integrity of vehicles. And because automobile designers use glass as a critical structural component, the safety was a testament to the glass.
“While doing research in Detroit 15 years ago, the famous statement was made that a modern vehicle would not pass a crash test - would fail - if the glass was taken out of the car,” Cassetti says, “And if you put the glass back in the car, with the same speed and the same forces, it actually passes the test. Quite a statement in terms of what glass contributes.”
The next major achievement in flat glass, as it pertains to the automotive industry, was the windshield in the 1970’s. Chemical tempering strengthens the glass by compressing its surface. The glass is placed in a bath of molten potassium salts where the application of heat causes the large potassium atoms to exchange places with smaller sodium atoms. As the surface of the glass becomes crowded, it compresses, resulting in extremely thin, super strong glass. Cassetti estimates that chemically tempered glass is 25 times stronger than ordinary glass.
“So as it turned out, what was originally a safety windshield was ahead of its time. It turned out to be the fundamental technology that is now used on laptops and mobile devices.”
Then, in 1984, Detroit’s General Motors imagined the seemingly impossible: an intricately contoured window for its new 1984 Firebird.
There was not yet a method to make these complex curves until Libby-Owens-Ford experimented with GM’s dream. Liberty-Owens-Ford press-bent precisely heated glass in an experimental full-contact mold made of a high-tech ceramic. It worked. Flat glass was no longer flat; for the first time, glassmakers had complete control over the shape of a window without marring its surface.
Up to this point, the flat surface of glass had been an unfortunate design necessity: to operate a car, the driver had to see the road. This design prerequisite was now not necessarily a fixed variable. With the contours of glass subject to manipulation, glass moved from the lonely realm of safety into the exciting possibilities of aesthetics, unleashing a new era of automobile design.
In the winter of 1983, seemingly unrelated to the previous developments of glass, a 28-year-old computer executive named Steve Jobs walked onto a stage in Monterey, California and introduced the Macintosh computer.
The computer age brought a new level of complexity to the the demands in glass manufacturing. Electronics manufacturers needed flawless glass for liquid crystal displays in laptop computers. The glass had to be very thin and extremely flat, with a pristine surface on both sides. “Only fusion draw could produce flawless glass without grinding and polishing,” says Cassetti.
Now, optimizing glass surfaces for electronic devices is transforming our communication: through capturing clear images to transmitting information. According to Hennes, Guardian electronic display glass makes electronic products clearer, safer, stronger and more effective through performance coatings and advanced fabrication techniques.
“Guardian’s glass brings pictures to life with television screens featuring anti-reflective glass and optical filters. It captures and projects with mirror glass, used on imaging devices including copiers, scanners and projectors,” Hennes says. “We also create interactive electronics applications that respond to touch with conductive glass and brand user experience through specialty edges, tempering, lamination and silk screening.”
As for the future of the glass industry in Detroit?
Hennes points to Guardian as an example “We started small in Detroit and continue to expand globally. In the 1990’s, we became the first and only company to manufacture and fabricate both glass and trim product for the automotive industry. In 2000, we opened our Science and Technology Center in Carleton, Michigan. We now offer glass products not just for automotive, but for commercial, residential, solar, and electronic use.”
She pauses for a moment before adding,
“The innovations and growth in Detroit are endless.”
I applied for a scholarship to Pilchuck Glass School and ended up winning. Pilchuck was started by Dale Chihuly and it’s just… walking up there was just mind blowing. After the program I came back to Michigan to hang out for like a week and I ended up seeing a friend who was going to CCS [College for Creative Studies]. I was so bright eyed after Pilchuck - ‘Pilchuck this, Pilchuck that’ - and he said ‘Cool… cool… you should really come to CCS and meet Herb Babcock.’
The difference with Hawaii was you had 3 hours per week outside of class to use the shop. That was it. If you were 15 minutes late someone else could jump in and take your spot. When I moved to CCS I asked ‘So how does the time scheduling work?’ and they said ‘What do you mean? You get a key and the only rule is you just can’t get hurt.’ [Carlin laughs]
-Kevin Carlin, Motor City Glassworks
Listening to the words Andrea Oleniczak, co-owner of the Detroit Glass House, uses to describe her medium is to hear passion personified. Following her first ever class in the material, she recalls the beginning of “a quest to find glass for the rest of my life.”
Taylor Kurrle, her boyfriend and business partner, echoes the same sentiments. He speaks of, “the speed and excitement” he feels when manipulating glass and the “change in energy” he is now currently experiencing in his work.
As a team, Oleniczak and Kurrle are on a life mission together-- to bring “transparency and accessibility to a previously elite and challenging medium.” The fact that they have started their glass house venture in Detroit, a “community centered environment,” is an equally integral part of their goal and narrative.
“We want to throw glass into the hands of the people who live here,” Oleniczak states. In 2010, she returned to her native Michigan, and more importantly, the urban landscape of Detroit, after appreciating, but still finding lonely, the mountains of North Carolina, where she worked as a glass apprentice.
Mention “Studio Glass” and the first city that comes to mind is Toledo, home of Harvey Littleton, a ceramics instructor, who decided in 1962 to explore how artists might create molten works outside of the factory environment. Never mind that his first “studio” was built in a garage of the Toledo Museum of Art, or that his early attempts to fuse glass failed.
Littleton became legendary.
Along with the chemist Dominick Labino, a fiberglass genius who helped him with furnace construction, they became the forefathers of a “studio glass” movement that flourishes to this day in the United States.
Today, glass artists like Dale Chihuly and “Toots” Zynsky are internationally well-known. By experimenting with shape, texture, and color in their artist studios they transformed the entire medium by questioning the standard, traditional forms of manufactured glass. To them, containers did not have to be just vessels-- be it a vase or goblet--produced by a well-known corporate player like Steuben, Tiffany or Corning. Instead, they created new abstract and figurative sculptures out of glass by blowing, molding, etching, or painting it, often combining it with other materials, wood, stone or metal. Simply by following their creative instincts, these early expressive pioneers began to turn a 2000-year-old craft into a modern artistic phenomenon.
It was a natural extension back to handcrafting glass, following the period at the turn of the 20th century when factory workers who blew glass were replaced by mechanical bottle blowing machines and continuous window glass. What these sixties artists spurred was a resurgence of an old craft with contemporary thought--an international modern glass blowing movement soon emerged from Europe to Asia.
Five decades later, the legacy of many of these first glass artists from Marvin Lipofsky to Robert Fritz, lives on as they founded studios and accredited glass blowing programs across the country from the University of California Berkeley to the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Wisconsin. To this day their work has inspired subsequent generations to experiment with glass. These days the largest concentration of glass artists can be found in Seattle, San Francisco, Ohio (of course), New York and Pennsylvania.
One of those young sixties artists, however, decided not to migrate to another part of the country after completing a year of study at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Workshop in the late sixties.
Thanks to Herb Babcock’s decision to instead head a mere forty minutes north, Detroit now has a cutting edge contemporary glass movement all of its own. Babcock went on to complete an MFA at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and then became a professor in 1974 at the College for Creative Studies. That eventually led to him becoming the chairman of the glass department there--a position he held until retiring recently in 2013.
“I was drawn to the coarseness of Detroit when I moved here after Toledo,” he says, citing the Cass Corridor artists of the sixties and seventies, who were working with found objects and gaining notoriety in the art world for developing a regional style all of their own. This expressionist Detroit art movement, located south of Wayne State University’s campus, included the artists Michael Luchs, Robert Sestok, Gordon Newton and Ellen Phelan (many of their works can be seen today at the Detroit Institute of Arts). “It was beautiful, tough stuff,” Babcock says, of the artists works, their creativity and gruffness fueled by the issues of their time: feminism, civil rights, Vietnam, gay rights.
“What I am pleased about is the number of students staying in Detroit and maintaining their studios and their expression. They are all growing here and finding markets,” explains Babcock, who, though retired from teaching, is still working in his own studio as a glass artist. Having continued his creative process during his entire academic career, Babcock has produced a plethora of work that has now been exhibited around the world.
Babcock began his artistic career in metal steel fabrication because he was, “drawn to things done with fire.” What ultimately seduced him to glass was that “you don’t beat it like metal, you lead it. You have to anticipate where the glass is going.”
Oleniczak and Kurrle, both graduates of CCS’s glass program, and consequently Babcock’s wisdom, are currently revolutionizing the glass movement with digital technology, bringing machinery back into the process but with enormous possibilities creatively. Using modern fabrication processes, such as water jet cutting, CNC mills, laser cutters, 3D printing and modeling, they are presently experimenting with advanced glass applications in the hope of providing an interdisciplinary environment to other artists.
“With these new fabrication techniques we can push glass into the future,” says Oleniczak, who does not see herself leaving Detroit anytime in the near future. When she returned from North Carolina, Oleniczak was more than pleased to find a vibrant arts community that had not existed in the city while she was a fledgling art student. Thanks to low cost housing, a growing arts movement and a soulful gravitation of people migrating to the city to help with its numerous challenges, she ended up finding the environment she craved back at home. “Now we can make our own molds inexpensively and efficiently,” she says, adding that they are blending the historic techniques of Italian glass blowing with new production methods--knowing for instance that by using compressed air to stop the glass from expanding it won’t blast through their more complicated molds.
Kurrle, a native Detroiter who used to work in glass on a beach in Costa Rica, goes on to describe how wide ranging the ramifications of these new processes could become, particularly in the lighting industry. “A designer can now email us a 3D model and we can create it for them. It now opens up working in glass to all types of artists.” Their long-term plan is to also offer the public a place where they too can “play” with glass in workshops and classes.
But even before these young artists, Detroit had created its own legacy in the studio art glass movement, thanks in large part to a number of glass artists like Herb Babcock who stayed in the area. Now between April Wagner, Andrew Madvin, and Albert Young, Detroit has gained notice internationally and domestically as a glass center (Madvin has been commissioned to work on much of the custom lighting for the new World Financial Center in New York.)
Not the least of that contribution is the glass blowing studio at Greenfield Village. Marc Vandenberg, who exhibits his work nationally and teaches and demonstrates internationally, has been a glass blower at the Henry Ford Museum since 1998. Josh Wojick, who also works there, is creating early American historical reproductions. Though his technique is based on the traditional style of Venetian furnace work, he employs mixed media sculpture with man-made and natural materials.
What seems as crystal clear now as the glass these artists work with in its purest form is that Detroit’s studio movement in this material is not going away. If anything, it is evolving here, sparking new ideas in a city steeped with a history of design innovation, reflecting the enduring spirit of Detroit’s creative community that has never given up in the face of adversity.
In 2005 I moved to Utah. I wanted the mountains. I wanted to ski. I saw places like Park City – these huge tourist hubs – with just gallery after gallery but not one glass blowing studio. A potential investor told me ‘You’re not going to get a shop in Park City’ basically, for fear of burning down all of these old wooden buildings.
So it was tough. Detroit has so much more art influence and art history that Salt Lake, being so young, does not have. The city of Salt Lake is only 30 years older than the DIA.
Once I got to that point where I could dump every penny I had into making some equipment, I did it. Two years ago. Now I have my studio up here in Sylvan Lake. It’s nice and safe and close to the lakes but, as far as glass is concerned, it’s not the spot I would like to be in. It is almost too empty. Downtown would be much better. So do I feel a pull towards moving down to Detroit? Yeah, absolutely, just to be a part of that culture.
-Kevin Carlin, Motor City Glassworks
As of publishing this story, Kevin is working towards that dream. He has closed up shop in Sylvan Lake and is searching for studio space to continue making art in the City of Glass itself.
These beautiful glass artifacts are more than paperweights - they're art. The design is an original creation of Kevin Carlin and is inspired by a Detroit's manhole covers. Kevin hand made each of these paperweights, which is preserved in his signature etched into the side of each piece. The paperweights come in two varieties: clear and sandblasted (see below). Subscribers will receive a random variety unless specified.
Carlin describes his design for the paperweights as representative of Detroit, "a dirty in-the-gutter town, yet when you really look at it, it's a beautiful gem."
"One reason I love working in glass is the Old World values it has. It demands human interaction and patience. It's something handmade, which is becoming a rare thing in today's modern world. Working with glass in Detroit is comfortable and takes me back to a time that most Detroiters my age have only been told about: a time when Detroit was booming," says Carlin.
Jaunt loves this design because, in addition to being beautiful, it represents our ethos when it comes to our home town.
"We all live in the rundown remains and outskirts of a town that was once the epicenter of the 'American City,'" says Carlin, "I think most Detroiters have this hope that we will see the Detroit we've all pictured in our heads."
Why do you love this paperweight? What is the Detroit you see in your head? Tell us @JauntCo on Twitter!