Columcille J. Sharkey was born into a stained glass family. His father, Edwin J. Sharkey, was an accomplished designer and glass painter who for many years was the head designer for the famed D'Ascenzo Studios in Philadelphia. Colum attended art school and then became an apprentice to his father. He joined the Willet Studios as a staff designer in 1967 and remained the Willet Hauser senior traditional staff designer until his death in 2001. His designs for Willet windows adorn churches throughout the United States. 


Hall of Science, Flushing Meadows, NY photos.  Willet Library Collection, Philadelphia, PA

In the early 60’s Willet Studio illuminated architect Wallace Harrison’s Hall of Science, designed for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, with thousands of pieces of faceted blue glass. The ninety foot serpentine structure is made up of over 5,000 2’x3’ panels pierced with one inch Blenko glass dalles cast into a matrix of reinforced concrete. Designed to give the impression of being in deep space the primary glass color is blue. More than a dozen shades of blue were used, accented with touches of gold, ruby, green and purple to further intensify the feeling of outer space. During the World’s Fair a full-scale model of the lunar rocket was displayed with a film of the planned moon landing which would be accomplished just a few years later.

Due to a tight production schedule, studio artisans worked seven days a week for nearly a year to complete the commission. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass were hand cut, chipped and placed on the pattern in the Chestnut Hill studio. Binding was poured, cured and waterproofed and then tested. 

Each panel was subjected to controlled laboratory testing- hurricane forced windows beat on them. Water was sprayed on the exterior surfaces while, simultaneously, a vacuum was created on the opposite side to simulate the power of 100 miles per hour winds. Fortunately, they all successfully passed the tests before installation in the building!


Photographs of Willet Studio locations.  Willet Hauser Library Collection, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It’s #ThrowbackThursday! Today we are looking back at the a few former locations of the Willet Studio (now Willet Hauser Architectural Glass). William Willet established the first studio location in Pittsburgh, PA in 1898. The first photo (above) shows William Willet and family in front of the Pittsburgh Studio, which he purchased from Ludwig Grosse. William Willet stands at center wearing a black robe. To his right is his wife, fellow artist, and business partner Anne Lee Willet. Their son, little Henry Lee Willet, sits on the ground in front of his bike. Among the Studio’s Pittsburgh commissions was a large medallion window for the west wall of the First Presbyterian Church. American artist Ralph Adams Cram saw this window and in future commissions recommended Willet’s stained glass- including the Cadet Chapel at West Point. (The Willet windows at West Point were just restored by the studio and are soon be re-installed!) The studio relocated to Philadelphia in 1913. After William’s death in 1921, the studio moved to another location in Philadelphia, and widow Anne assumed management of the firm, followed by their son Henry Lee in 1934. The second photo (below) shows the Studio under Henry Lee’s leadership. His Studio was located on Wood Street in Philadelphia.  #TBT

One of the Magi by Auguste Labouret, 1936. Cover page to L'Illustration, 1936 Noel edition.  Willet Hauser Library Collection, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A 1936 edition of the now defunct French weekly arts magazine, L'Illustration, features the first dalle de verre panel in North America. “One of the Magi” was designed and fabricated by Auguste Labouret in 1936. It was eventually installed in the Chapel at the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre, Quebec, Canada in 1939 after first making an appearance at the French pavilion at the New York World’s Fair that same year.

According to L'Illustration:
“This stained glass window, exhibited in L'Illustration, illustrates a revolution which has taken place in the art of fashioning stained glass. It is the work of Labouret, who has evolved a daring new technique in the manipulation of translucent materials. His windows, indeed, carry us far from the traditional method of setting flat pieces of glass in leads in the manner that has been followed for centuries. By the use of thick slabs of glass which he sculptures, M. Labouret obtains a multiplicity of facets about which the lights play with a colour and an intensity which suggest the fire of precious stones. It is impossible to deny the remarkable effects he achieves by means of this new method, and it is easy to imagine the wealth of decoration, which it may, in the future, confer on our churches and cathedrals. The several slabs of glass, it may, perhaps, be added, are held together with cement.”

The Dalle de Verre (or faceted glass technique) went on to become a widely popular style of stained glass at Willet Studio and it is still used today! Do you have any favorite faceted glass windows?

A little about L'Illustration:

“L'Illustration was a weekly French arts magazine published in Paris from 1834 to 1944. It was the first French magazine or newspaper to publish a photograph and in 1907, L'Illustration was the first to publish a color photograph.

During the Second World War, L'Illustration was directed by Jacques de Lesdain, a Nazi collaborator, and it became a voice for Nazi propaganda. As a result, it was shut down in 1944 following the Liberation of Paris. Another version re-opened in 1945 under the name France-Illustration, but went bankrupt in 1957.” (http://bit.ly/1ixL5Ew)

This edition was tucked away years ago to be used as a resource for the studio’s artisans.

Collection of stained glass window designs, watercolor c. 1940.  Willet Library Collection, Philadelphia, PA.

The Willet Library is busy at work digitizing its collection of approximately 19,000 stained glass window designs.  Some designs go back to the early days of the studio, designs by Anne and William Willet! This week a few designs for the Park Church in Elmira, New York were added to our digital collection. Though not signed, 3 of the 4 were most likely designed by Willet designer George Gugert in the early 1940’s.