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The Nativity (1921), found at Christ Episcopal Church, Bluefield, West Virginia.By William H. Oppliger
Supplemented by information from Stephen Frei
Edited for Christ Church by Don Williams

Partially as a result of the large German population that had immigrated to St. Louis at the turn of the century, the city became the primary center for stained glass in the United States.  The German population was so overwhelming that English was taught essentially as a foreign language in the city in 1900.

It is generally acknowledged that both the best in art work and the most volume was produced in St. Louis.  There is probably not a city in the country that does not have stained glass from at least one of the six large stained glass studios that were located there for more than sixty years.

Emil Frei, Inc., and Jacoby Art Glass Company were two of the largest studios.  Other studios were Davis, Ojesky, Unique, and Century (in order of size).  Emil Frei had approximately eighty employees working in their studio, with about 35 more working in their Munich, Germany studio.

The beginnings of the Jacoby Art Glass Company, as it was known for more than fifty years, are obscure, as most of the records have been lost or destroyed. It appears that a G. A. Spies started a small art glass shop in 1896. Being in need of more capital, Spies and H. H. Jacoby became partners. The firm was then called the Jacoby-Spies Manufacturing Company. G. A. Spies was described as “Artist-Manager.”

H. H. (Herman) Jacoby was the son of Ludwig S. Jacoby, who founded the first German Methodist Church west of the Mississippi River in 1841 and who died in 1874. His tomb in Valhalla Cemetery, St. Louis, is a national Methodist shrine. Perhaps that influenced H. H. to enter the church window business at that time. It is not known whether he had any artistic talent, but he was involved in the selling and business matters of the company.

By the turn of the century, Spies’ name no longer appears in the records that do exist, and the firm was relocated to 1197 Pine Street, where it was known as the Jacoby Art Glass Company, incorporated in 1907 with H. H. as President and C.C. (Charles), his son, as treasurer. Alfred (Frank) Oppliger was a minor shareholder and shop superintendent.

H. H. was active in trade association affairs and was among the founders of the National Ornamental Glass Manufacturers Association in 1903, at Columbus, Ohio. From 1911 to 1912, he served as President. Charles served as Treasurer from 1908 to 1910 and as Secretary from 1917 to 1921.

The business outgrew the facilities on Pine Street and moved to a new location on the near Southside in St. Louis in a building that resembled the Alamo (see picture at left) at  2700 St. Vincent Avenue (at Ohio Street), where the business remained until 1945. This is where the windows in the nave of Christ Church were made. A 1909 payroll record indicates that 20 men were employed in the shop.

In 1919 H.H. died, and his son Charles, who was in his 3Os, succeeded him as president  of the firm. However, in 1922, Charles died unexpectedly after a supposedly routine operation. Frank Oppliger also died that year from a sudden heart attack while riding the streetcar on the way home from the studio. The two Jacoby widows and the bank executor then turned to the 31-year-old Fred Oppliger, who arranged to buy the majority interest.

Lee Cook, who studied at the Chicago Art Institute, joined the studio around the time of World War I and designed, cartooned and painted hundreds of windows until the studio closed in December 1970.  Cook designed innumerable individual windows, but several more noteworthy major installations that he designed include:
 

St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral (Episcopal)
Missouri United Methodist Church
St. Mary’s on the Highland Episcopal Church
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
Grace Episcopal Church
Samuel E & R
Broadway Presbyterian Church
The Hofbrau Mayfair Hotel
Hastings, Nebraska
Columbia, Missouri
Birmingham, Alabama
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Monroe, Louisiana
Clayton, Missouri
Rock Island, Illinois
St. Louis, Missouri


Cook’s work at St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral (Episcopal) in Hastings, Nebraska, can be viewed on the internet (see link above).  The artistry on these windows at St. Marks is almost identical to that of the Christ Church windows purchased from Jacoby and installed in 1921, as well as the windows later purchased and installed in 1958.  It is therefore a logical assumption that Cook designed the windows at Christ Episcopal Church in Bluefield.  Perhaps the best example of similarity of works at both churches is found in the comparison of "Christ Teaching the Elders in the Temple" shown below (Christ Church Bluefield on the left and St. Mark's Hastings on the right).  The Nativity Window, "Mary and the Christ Child and the Three Wise Men, also shown below, strongly reinforces the theory that the Christ Church windows were done by Lee Cook.  
 

Christ Teaching in the Temple (1921), found at Christ Episcopal Church, Bluefield, West Virginia.Christ Teaching the Elders in the Temple (c.1935), St. Mark's Pro-Cathedral, Hastings, NebraskaAs Fred Oppliger became active in the Stained Glass Association of America, he never missed a meeting from 1922 until 1959. He served as President in 1927-1928 and then was Genera1 Secretary from 1930 until 1959. He guided the studio away from the opalescent into the painted, European-style work. Cook excelled in this “Munich” style, while other, later artists worked more decoratively.

During the Depression years Fred struggled to keep afloat. The total billings in 1933 amounted to the grand sum of $10,000. The World War II years weren’t much better, but Fred was an optimist and foresaw a backlog of memorial windows and new buildings ahead.

In anticipation, and because of a fire at 2700 St. Vincent, after many political meetings, he succeeded in purchasing a former telephone building in a residential area near his home, at 822 Wilmington Avenue in St. Louis, under a special-use permit. The firm moved there in 1945, and in 1946 things began to boom. The studio could not keep up with the demand. Fred’s long-time foreman, Joseph Mees, returned from war, as did several other craftsmen. New apprentices and others were hired. Harold Rams of Kansas City had joined the firm as a representative and moved to St. Louis. However, he was mainly “on the road.” This can be taken quite literally, as he drove thousands of miles through the southwest, mostly in Texas.

The Nativity window  (1921) at Christ Episcopal Church in Bluefield, West Virginia, "Mary and the Christ Child and the Three Wise Men"The Nativity of Our Lord (c.1935), St. Mark's Pro-Cathedral, Hastings, Nebraska.

The window shown above left is at Christ Episcopal Church in Bluefield, West Virginia (1921).  The window shown above right is at St. Mark's Pro-Cathedral (Episcopal) in Hastings, Nebraska (c.1935). There are other Lee Cook windows at St. Mark's that are also close copies of the Christ Church windows.

In the early 195Os, James Blackford and Tom Dixon came to the studio from England. Blackford designed and cartooned his own work, as well as Andrews’, while Dixon painted Blackford’s and others’ work, including Charles Plessard’s, a Frenchman, who sent his cartoons from Paris. The latter’s work consists mainly of the windows in All Saints Episcopal Cathedral, Ft. Worth, Texas. Notable Blackford windows are those for St. John’s Episcopal, Ft. Worth, Texas; Emmanuel Baptist, Alexandria, Louisiana; and St. James Episcopal, Wichita, Kansas.

In the early 1950s, Fred Oppliger and Harold Rams formed another studio in San Antonio and called it ORCO for Oppliger-Rams. It was intended to handle the increasingly popular unpainted work, which St. Louis could not produce in a timely fashion. After a while, however, Rams devoted all of his time to ORCO and became associated with Cecil Casebier and other local artists. Fred was a silent and inactive partner, and later sold his interest to Rams, after his son Bill Oppliger joined the firm in 1957. This is about the time that the Christ Church windows in Bluefield were created, probably by Lee Cook.

Mention should be made of some of the craftsmen whose skills contributed to the success of the studio. Note that Jacoby not only designed and created stained glass, but also installed them. It is assumed that they performed the installation of their creations for Christ Church in 1921. Unfortunately, the names of the early ones are lost, but those from World War II on include: Joseph Mees, the foreman and drafts-man/pattern maker who kept things moving; Art Strub, the master cutter; Jim Forthaus, cutter; Emil Hovorka, Hugo Dieckmann, Nick Schmidt, Paul Schreber, Lou Ladd, Dale Horton, Dave Siues, and John Reiter, glaziers; Paul Seele and Dick Selby, installers; Frank Fleischmann, David Oppliger, Donald Dornhof: Charles Mager, Leo Woemer, John Kohlmann, Felix Martinex, Art Himmelsbach, C. Floyd Mack, James Patterson, John Huls and Norman Puff were glass painters. Fred Oppliger, Jr. was a cutter, and later, shop superintendent when Joseph Mees retired in 1957. Fred also was secretary-treasurer of the firm. Oliver “Odge” Oppliger was a glazier/installer, and later a sales representative and vice-president.

In October 1956, Fred Oppliger suffered his first heart attack, and in February 1957, William H. “Bill” Oppliger joined the firm. Shortly thereafter, he became president, and the last of the Jacoby's interest was purchased.

Christ Teaching the Little Children (1958), found at Christ Episcopal Church, Bluefield, West Virginia.The Gothic style was out of favor, and churches and windows were now “contemporary.” However, Lee Cook was still committed to “Munich” style work.

Faceted glass was coming in.  After first rejecting it as too cumbersome because it required steel reinforcement for the concrete, Jacoby Art Glass Company was introduced to epoxy compounds by Bob Benes. He was a chemist with Jacoby's putty supplier. He was starting his Benesco Company, and they made a number of samples to learn the technique. Now all they had to do was convince a client to utilize this new material. Their first such installation was in a small Methodist Church in Chillicothe, Missouri. Not long thereafter, in 1961, they furnished the 23-foot diameter faceted glass skylight in the St. Louis Chancery Office, designed by Koch.

The post suburban building boom after the World War II was over and not a lot of new churches were being built.  As a result, many of the older line studios did not survive.

The 1960s were turbulent times for the country; however, business was good, and Jacoby Art Glass furnished some major installations during that decade.  The studio created a number of projects that had 2000 square feet or more of leaded glass during the 1960s.

Fred Oppliger’s wife, Irene, died in October 1961, and he had several more heart attacks. He was the “glue” that held everyone in check, and after he died in November 1968, it was only three years before the three brothers split and went their own ways. By the end of 1970, the honorable name, inventory and existing contracts were sold to the T.C. Esser Company of Milwaukee, where Bill moved to manage the Jacoby Division. After one year and the completion of the Jacoby projects, he left to join the Conrad Schmitt Studios as a sales representative and project manager. The Jacoby building was first rented and later sold to a silkscreen printing firm.

Other studios, such as Emil Frei, Inc., became smaller, and of the older line studios, only Frei and Century remained. 

Oliver Oppliger later moved to Austin, where he died in the early 1990s.  Fred, Jr. still lives in St. Louis, and Bill moved to Palm Springs, California, in 1999, after 18 years with the Conrad Schmitt Studios.  He still does occasional consulting for windows and church renovations.  Fred Oppliger is described as a "quiet, gentle and considerate man" by Stephen Frei in a letter to Don Williams of Christ Church dated October 19, 2002.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler (1921), found at Christ Episcopal Church, Bluefield, West Virginia.Notes:

1. Lee Cook is thought to have designed, cartooned and painted the windows at Christ Episcopal Church in Bluefield, West Virginia, because he did the windows at St Mark’s Pro-Cathedral in Hastings, Nebraska, and he was at Jacoby Art Glass Company from World War I until they closed in 1970. The Christ Church windows were made in 1920-21 and 1957-58.

2. St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral website windows address is http://www.stmarkcathedral.org/ptr-wins.htm

The Christ Church Bluefield website windows address (found on this website) is http://cecblf.org/windows.html. All of our windows are pictured here. Fourteen Jacoby windows were installed in the nave and sanctuary in 1921 (including four on each side of the church plus the transept windows), and those at the back of the nave. Then another five (one now replaced by the Saint Luke window designed by J.H. Hankinson) were installed in the narthex and one in the children’s chapel in 1958. The St. Cecelia window behind the organ and the St. Chrysostom window near the priest’s vesting room were done by J. Wippell Company. The St. Luke’s window in the narthex was created by J. H. Hankinson with assistance from our own Dr. E. Lyle Gage, Jr. (now deceased), son of the well-known physician for whom the window was dedicated.

Information for this article was extracted from the Fall 1999 issue of The Stained Glass Quarterly, a publication of the Stained Glass Society of America, and edited for this website.  Other information was provided by Stephen Frei of Emil Frei & Associates, Inc.

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This page was last updated April 02, 2013
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