In every State we’ve visited there are moments of serendipity – that feeling of being in the right place at the right time … to feel tangible history in the fall-cornfields of the Civil War town, Antietam in West Virginia; to see well-loved paintings by Vermeer and Wyeth; or to read the hand-written draft pages words by the great American writers … Hemingway, Kerouac, Faulkner, Poe, Twain, Dickinson and London.
For Chicago the planets aligned for me when we walked through the public thoroughfare under Navy Pier and came across the Smith Museum of Stained Glass.
This darkened 800 ft long series of galleries is the first museum in the United States dedicated solely to stained glass windows – secular and religious, from the 1870s to the present. Most of the windows in the exhibit were originally installed in Chicago’s residential, commercial and religious buildings.
Did you know Chicago is the stained glass capital of the US? I didn’t and I’ve been a fan of stained glass for a long time. Never attempted it myself, I get cut enough doing mosaics. But I can admire the art and the craft involved.
I bet you’ve heard of Tiffany lamps – so called because this unique style is by American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. And yes, he experimented and excelled in design and manufacture of stained glass. He’s just one of the artists involved in the multitude of windows exhibited in this space.
The artistic themes divide into four themes: Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary. They also include national and ethnic styles of Chicago’s European immigrants.
This dimly lit walkway under the Navy Pier is stunning – imagine being confronted every few feet by a breathtaking explosion of colour and shape.
Outside on the Pier are the usual clutter of hot-dog and pretzel vans, souvenir shops, restaurants, even a House of Horrors – a fun park sort of place.
But if people want to get from one side to the other of Navy Pier, they walk though the dimmed space of the Smith Museum.
That’s another fantastic thing about this Museum …this is accessible art – it’s free and it’s in the right place – for the masses, for the devotees of stained glass and also for the serendipitous-lucky tourist like me.