Friday, January 20, 2012

Stained Glass Artistry

Update: More photos and info in my article in Signature Montana here.

The fifty-nine stained-glass windows in the capital city’s St. Helena Cathedral are a rare and irreplaceable collection of imported German art. The firm of F. X. Zettler, whose exquisite “Munich style” glasswork is found in St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City in Rome, crafted the windows between 1908 and 1926. These windows tell the stories of historical events and recall the middle ages when most could not read. Pictures of Christian teachings served as the “Bible of the Poor.” But the exquisite pictorial style Zettler’s studio blended nineteenth-century Romantic and German Baroque styles with Italian Renaissance artistry. Painting on large sheets of glass and firing them at high heat allowed fantastic portraiture and detail. The leaded seams of the Munich style do not interrupt the scene but are part of it. Zettler’s paintings are multi-dimensional. Even the plants have such miniscule detail that the flowers and foliage can be botanically identified. Zettler windows are still in place in many American cathedrals, but the artist himself believed that St. Helena’s windows were the finest his company ever turned out. In 1982, stained glass expert Father Dan Hillen began restoration of St. Helena’s windows. The glass had suffered damage, especially in 1935 when earthquakes rattled the area. Father Hillen uncovered and repaired over one hundred broken pieces that had been patched with window glass and touched up with house paint.  Careful maintenance remains ongoing. Many artists copied Zettler’s work, and without a signature it is difficult to authenticate. The company signature of F.X. Zettler, however, appears in the first panel to the left in the cathedral’s foyer, authenticating St. Helena’s irreplaceable treasures.


  1. FX Zettler was an apprentice then a colleague in the Munich studio of Meyer. He later separated from the studio and branched out on his own. One of the best things about his work is the detailed artistry of his layering of stained glass on top of one another, leaving many small details in the layers. These layers create deep tonality and the opportunity for etching in the glass. His flowers and faces are greatly detailed giving the viewer an opportunity to see intricate shadows in the designs. He often included German and French styles in his designs and many of his patterns were later sold to several other companies. His work can be seen in many hidden jewel churches in the west including Helena and Denver, Colorado at Annunciation Church. Legend has it that he also left detailed signatures in the framing of the glass and always a love note to his wife etched in the metal separators of the glass panels.

  2. I am still looking for that love note!

  3. Thank you so much for your blog Ellen! Born in Hamilton 1952,raised in Missoula and now residing in Reno Nv,your blog a JOY to read !!!!!