Wednesday February 23, 2011 | by Andrew Page

IN MEMORIAM: Ludwig Schaffrath (1924 - 2011)

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The late Ludwig Schaffrath in a 2006 photo.

On February 6th, German architectural glass artist Ludwig Schaffrath died of a stroke at the age of 87. A memorial service was held last Saturday at a cathedral in Würselen, Germany, followed by a reception at the late artist’s studio in Alsdorf, his birthplace and the town he returned to after retiring from teaching in Stuttgart. Schaffrath leaves behind a remarkable body of bold, abstract stained-glass works that adorn not only dozens of churches throughout Germany but also government buildings, museums, and even railway stations in Japan. In addition to his public commissions, he was actively working on his own individual works up until his death, including a series he titled “Swan Song” that included tributes to figures who influenced his life and work. His major influence was architectural glass artist Anton Wendling (1891 – 1965) , for whom he was a teaching assistant at the Technical University in Aachen from 1947 through 1954. Thanks to his frequent visits to the United States starting in the 1970s, Schaffrath also has had an outsize influence on American glass artists such as Ed Carpenter, Kenneth von Roenn, and John Leighton, who first connected with the German glass master during his courses at Pilchuck and Berkeley. Schaffrath’s visits to the United States were less frequent in the 1980s, as he found teaching positions in Australia and Japan. From 1985 through 1993, he was a professor at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, Germany.

Ludwig Schaffrath working in his studio in Alsdorf, Germany. photo: algirdas milleris

“I was his teaching assistant in 1977 at the Pilchuck Glass School,” writes John Leighton, associate professor in the Cal State Fullerton art department in an email to the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet. “It was a tremendous honor to participate in those early visits. Herr Schaffrath’s design courses at Pilchuck and numerous other schools and studios throughout the U.S., over the next decade, did for architectural glass much the same thing that Lino Tagliapietra’s teaching would do for American blown glass. The massive walls of stained glass that Ludwig Schaffrath designed since the 1950s surely place him near the top of any list of the most influential artists of the 20th century. I’m extremely proud to have had him as a teacher.”

Ludwig Schaffrath, Window at St Mary's in Bad Zwischenahn, 1970. photo: dieter busch

“Ludwig was a huge influence in my career and I owe a great deal to both he and Robert Sowers,” writes Kenneth von Roenn, Jr., president and design director at Architectural Glass Art., Inc., in Louisville, Kentucky, in a response to an email from the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet. “Unfortunately not many young artists know of Schaffrath’s work and especially how influential he was in the early 1970s. He really opened a lot people’s eyes and showed us a whole new way of designing architectural glass by making the lead line primary and the glass secondary in a composition. I gave a lecture to the SGAA about 15 years ago entitled “Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal: Confessions of a Bad Thief,” in which I showed work from Schraffrath and then followed it with some of my early work to show how much I ‘borrowed’ from him. Thankfully I grew away from emulation and developed my own approach, but there were a few years that I felt very guilty. One night, Ludwig and I had a few too many bourbons and I told him how ashamed I was for using his style, and he told me that he said the exact same thing to his mentor, Anton Wendling, who told him that he had said the same thing to his mentor, Johan Thorn Prikker. Schaffrath told me that it’s okay to learn from a master’s vocabulary so that we can develop our own language and eventually create our own poetry.”

Ludwig Schaffrath, "New Pattern" chapel window, Aldenhoven, 1993. photo: inge bartholome

“Ludwig clearly understood the power of traditional stained glass in the great cathedrals of Europe, as an awe-inspiring tool for teaching biblical narratives,” says Leighton. “More importantly, he was perhaps one of the first to imagine stained glass as a ‘tool for modern thinking.’ Thinking about a new architecture. Thinking about completely new ways for light to enter our sacred spaces. He played a pivotal roll in re-inventing a thousand-year-old art form. Ludwig explained this role to those of us that were fortunate to study with him as subservient to the architecture. He taught his students to first consider the use of the space in humanistic terms. He described subtle, less literal, walls of soft light with intricate grids and patterns of line that complimented, strengthened, and sometimes even corrected flaws in the architecture. He envisioned quietly powerful contemplative spaces, and in doing all of this, he humbly described his role as ‘a brick-layer in glass.’”

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Glass: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for more than 40 years.