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Ruby, Edna Browning Arch Over the Pulpit, 1915


Edna Browning Ruby was born in Lafayette. Her father’s ancestors were French settlers in Vincennes, and soon after the town of Lafayette was laid out, her grandfather made his way to the new settlement. The old homestead he built stood at the corner of 11th and Brown streets.

Ruby’s art training was extensive, beginning with specialization in miniature portraiture, jewelry designing, and metal work. Later she became interested in textile design and gained recognition as one of the three most skillful women designers in the United States. In 1915, at the age of 28, the petite artist took up the study of stained glass. She also gained great renown in ecclesiastical art; at the time of her death she was the only woman in the United States who designed, built, and installed stained glass windows. Two churches in Indianapolis have her windows—West Washington Street Methodist Church and United Brethren Church on Walnut (1923). Her windows also are in Stidham United Methodist Church and Stidham Memorial Church (Elston Presbyterian Church) in Lafayette.

A minister at the West Washington Street Methodist Church is reported to have said that he did not need to preach about the windows because “they preach their own sermons.”

  • Arch Over the Pulpit, 1915
  • 156″ x 88″
  • Stidham United Methodist Church, Lafayette
  • Keywords: design, architecture, stained glass, glass, metalwork
  • Subjects: windows, geometry, religions, churches, arches, lights

She once outlined the process for making stained glass windows, explaining that the designer must understand the problems of the architect and adapt the design to the demands of lighting the building and the style of architecture.

According to information supplied by the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, a watercolor drawing is first made to show the color scheme and general effect of the finished window. This is then enlarged to the exact size of the window space and the parts are carefully numbered. Patterns then are prepared for each piece of glass used. Large sheets of opalescent, or pot-metal, glass are placed on easels beside the drawing, and the sections that possess the proper shading and texture for each part of the design are chosen. Only faces, hands, and feet are hand-painted. Finally, the glass is fitted into grooved lead and properly finished.

Some Points To Consider

  • Compare Edna Browning Ruby’s stained glass windows to Rose windows in Gothic cathedrals. Discuss the similarities and the differences. Does the function of the art change with location? Why are these windows used in churches in Indiana and France? (Art 4.1.2)
  • Find organic and geometric shapes; discuss the use of lines and color contrasts and the effects of using repetition. What is the meaning of playing with perspective to make the arch appear larger? (Art 4.3.2)
  • Why would a stained glass designer need to be aware of the lighting in a building? How would an initial watercolor painting help in the conception of the stained glass design? Discuss how a poor drawing plan might lead to a poor stained glass window. (Art 4.5.2)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Help students make stained glass windows. Have them create simple line drawings (at least 6″ x 6″) of an object such as a flower. Place waxed paper over the drawing and secure it with masking tape. Cut heavy string to fit around the line drawing, and dip it in glue. Place the string onto the waxed paper so it follows the line of the drawing beneath. Be sure to connect the ends of the string. After the glue is dry, brush more glue onto the string and apply pieces of colored tissue papers across the top of the string to correspond with the design below. Paste on two layers of tissue. When the glue is dry, turn the artwork over and carefully peel the waxed paper off the back. You now have a transparent design that looks like stained glass.
  • Tiffany glass is perhaps the best known decorative stained glass. Louis Comfort Tiffany bought much of his glass in Kokomo, Indiana. Have students research the revival of stained glass as decoration. Invite a stained glass artist in your area to visit your class.