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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Apr 20, 2022

There is a strange story behind why there is so much stained glass in the region. It involves many factors, including mass production, art history and, oddly, public health. Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and here’s history, on 88.1 KDHX. -----

From towering mansions down to the smallest shotgun houses, stained-glass windows are everywhere in St. Louis. They’re points of pride for homeowners and selling points for realtors, but the larger story behind these colorful windows is not so obvious today. It’s a story that combines mass production, art history, and public health. ------ 

As late-19th century society discovered how germs and bacteria spread, the endless layers of curtains and drapes found in Victorian-era homes suddenly seemed like breeding grounds for sickness. People wanted them gone, but in a dense city like St. Louis, they were vital for privacy. ------ 

At the same time, the new Arts & Crafts artistic movement began sweeping the country. This new style replaced the Victorian era’s gaudy frilliness with warm textures, clean lines, and imagery inspired by nature. ------ 

St. Louisans needed an affordable product that let them rip down the dusty curtains, while keeping both their privacy and their hip sense of style. Bathing your home in light filtered through fashionable artwork, stained glass windows were the perfect solution. ------ 

While they might look folksy and charming to us, St. Louis’s residential stained-glass windows were industrial objects. They were mass produced by the thousands in block-long factories like Wendling Art Glass Company, Kerwin Ornamental Glass Company, and the Huttig Sash and Door Company. Mail order catalogs full of designs let homeowners custom build their own windows. You could pick the patterns, complexity, and all the colors. Some catalogs even advertised that homeowners could send in wallpaper samples for the window makers to color-match. ------ 

After a few decades of roaring popularity, residential stained glass windows fell behind the times in the 1930s. These windows might be relics of history today, but the next time you’re in a St. Louis house with stained glass windows, try to imagine them through the eyes of the first homeowners to stand in their glow. To them, these hygienic, trendy works of art - custom ordered from a catalog - symbolized EXACTLY what it meant to be “modern.” ------ 

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX. I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ------