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Ruby, Edna Browning Stained Glass Windows, 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.”

  • Stained Glass Windows, 1915
  • 70″ x 75″ (grouped)
  • Stidham United Methodist Church, Lafayette
  • Keywords: design, architecture, stained glass, glass, metalwork
  • Subjects: windows, geometry, religions, churches, lights

The windows shown here are not artworks that show people but instead are designs made with geometric and floral patterns. The coloring chosen is rich, with pink, emerald, ruby, purple, and opalescent cream blending to make a harmonious experience for the worshipper. Note the shapes of the windows all pointing upward as well as the use of items in threes and other Christian religious symbols. Note also that wider structural bars on the windows (to allow for opening) have been incorporated in the design.

The design of the arch maintains the design elements of the windows. The degree of difficulty is magnified in the making of a three-dimensional form in stained glass. Ruby has accomplished this task masterfully. She has also led the viewer to perceive the arch as larger than it is by playing with the perspective in the glass panes. The squares nearest to the viewer are large and get progressively smaller as they move up the arch. The quality of interest has been enhanced by the varied colors in the large expanse of yellow hues.

Ruby was often asked about the difficulty of being a woman working in the medium of stained glass. She indicated that the work was neither laborious nor too difficult for women. She said, however, that it was no work for amateurs because poor drawing is more conspicuous in this kind of work than any other.

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.