SGAA President’s Award Honors the Smith Museum

By B. Gunar Gruenke
Published in SGAA Stained Glass Quarterly

2008 SGAA President’s Award Honors the Smith Museum

On June 28, 2008, it was my utmost honor to present E.B. and Maureen Smith and Rolf Achilles with an award fit only for three of the most remarkable, influential patrons of stained glass art in America today. 
As members and leaders of the SGAA, we are all aware that the mission of our Association is to make certain the survival of the craft of stained glass. We work together to develop guidelines and train craftsmen in order to preserve the distinction of stained glass from other art forms, and to keep its existence alive today and into the future. 

SGAA President's award

E.B. and Maureen Smith and Rolf Achilles are devoted to a similar mission. The SGAA recognizes them with this award for their generous support and promotion of the art. Through the creation and curatorship of the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Chicago’s Navy Pier as well as the development of the stained glass exhibit at the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, they implement the mission of the SGAA on a new level.

It began with the Smith’s desire to collect stained glass art, and share it with the public. E.B. and Maureen Smith developed an appreciation for this unique form of art and began collecting beautifully crafted stained glass windows in the mid 1970s. By 1994, they were able to display these rare pieces at the international terminal at the O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois. The stained glass exhibit became so popular that the 43 pieces of museum-quality stained glass art remain a part of this airport today. 

The Smiths quickly grew passionate about this independent art form, and the reward of “watching so many people marvel at it.”  E.B. and Maureen Smith became devoted collectors, and went on to develop the largest American museum dedicated solely to the art of stained glass windows. 

The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows opened in February of 2000 at Chicago’s Navy Pier.  The Smith Museum is an exhibition displaying over 150 individual pieces of stained glass artwork, each illuminated so that colors and details are not overlooked. The glasswork is divided into Victorian, Tiffany, Prairie, Modern, and Contemporary displays. 

The museum’s location on the Navy Pier further communicates the idea that the art of stained glass can be appreciated in a variety of settings, and by a variety of people. The pier, encompassing over fifty acres, entertains its crowds with gardens and parks, shops, and restaurants. Admission is free. The museum is a terrific example of creative ways to preserve and promote our art.   

Rolf Achilles, curator at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, was also recognized in the award for being such a prominent figure in the stained glass industry. Like the Smiths, Achilles’ passion for the art helps carry out our mission on yet another playing field. 

Achilles uses his vast knowledge of the art and its history not only as curator at the Smith Museum, but also at the School of Art Institute in Chicago. Adjunct Associate Professor of Art History, Achilles teaches courses on decorative arts and historic preservation. As a professor, he services the stained glass industry by spreading interest and knowledge of this art to the next generation. He further promotes the art by sitting on the Board of Directors of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, Friends of the Windows, Office of Divine Worship, and the Center for Religious Architecture. He is Chair of the Chicago-Hamburg Sister City Committee and is on the advisory boards of the Hegeler Carus Mansion and the Farnsworth House.  He has also become so knowledgeable about the art that he writes books, pamphlets, articles, and catalogues, and advises churches and synagogues on preservation and restoration of their interior configuration, decorations, and windows.      

We must also mention that E.B. gives back to the community in his involvement as Associate Executive Director of the Kemper Fund, a foundation that promotes liberal arts education to young scholars, and as a Trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Kemper Fund, located in downtown Chicago’s Civic Opera Building, goes beyond financial grants by offering mentorships to prepare these students for work and life.  Maureen is Chairman of the Joffrey Ballet and is on the Board of Directors of The Field Museum of Natural History and The Chicago Public Library Foundation.       

Achilles and the Smiths look forward to a lifetime commitment to the art of stained glass. They are eager to display around 130 new acquisitions in Chicago. These include stained glass pieces from the following categories: Medieval, Renaissance, Persian, American Victorian, European High Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Prairie School, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Modern, Post War German, Contemporary European, and American.  An amazing array of examples.

The Stained Glass Association of America was just as pleased to present the President’s Award as Maureen and E.B. Smith and Rolf Achilles were to receive it. 
     “…My wife Maureen, Stained Glass Curator Rolf Achilles, and I cannot thank you enough for the wonderful President’s Award which you presented to us… It is very humbling to receive an award from the Stained Glass Association of America, given that its members, such as you, are the real leaders of this art form and are the ones designing and fabricating the magnificent works of art being installed throughout the country. It is you who have done the hard work to maintain and enhance this important art form… I want to thank you personally, and the Stained Glass Association of America, for presenting us with this award.  We are humbled and honored, and we thank you tremendously…”  E.B. Smith.  

It is our hope that we maintain contact with this triplet, so that we may continue in sharing the success of our common goal.

SGAA President’s Award Honors the Smith Museum (PDF 3.58 Mb)

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