The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows was the hidden gem of the Chicago Navy Pier–a space for sacred art amidst vulgar carnival entertainments. Too bad they closed it down in 2014.

St. Peter Receiving the Keys to Heaven
St. Peter Receiving the Keys to Heaven

A highlight of the exhibit were several fine examples from Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Tiffany developed new techniques for producing glass to create different effects, such as opalescence, iridescence, texture, and mottling that gave his landscapes a hazy, impressionistic quality.

These stained-glass angels in the Art Nouveau style look more New Age than Roman Catholic. Their wings are refracted like a jeweled scarab’s as if they belong instead in an Egyptian tomb.

There’s an amorphousness to New Age spirituality in its syncretic absorption of elements from Oriental religions, as opposed to the solid edifice of Catholic orthodoxy, refined and restricted by medieval scholastics.

This opium vagueness, reflected in the hazy opalescence of the Tiffany stained glass, seems to appeal to the New Age sensibility, a roughly articulated pop spirituality out of the pot and patchouli mists of the 1960s.

(Chicago, 2010)


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