Universal York

Part of the USA Today Network

York County is blessed by an abundance of Rudy stained and leaded glass

York City seal in stained glass, on display October 2015 in window of Rudy Art Glass Studio, 15 East Philadelphia Street, York
York City seal in stained glass, on display October 2015 in window of Rudy Art Glass Studio, 15 East Philadelphia Street, York

I really enjoyed Saturday’s tour of a dozen sites graced by Rudy stained glass, featuring the work of the studio under the tenure of founder J. Horace Rudy. Thanks, Historic York, Inc. and the Rudy Collective, for putting together a dazzling look at some of York’s treasures. Since there is so much more out there, here’s hoping the public gets more chances in the future to enjoy other fine examples of Rudy’s work.

My recent York Sunday News column on the life of J. Horace Rudy and some of his accomplishments is below:

J. Horace Rudy’s glass masterpieces are some of York County’s treasures

John Horace Rudy (1870-1940) was the son of John and Emma Fillmore Rudy of Norristown. Father John was a carriage and coach painter. Horace attended the Spring Garden Institute (now Spring Garden College) in nearby Philadelphia. He worked with prominent stained glass artist Albert Godwin in Philadelphia and is listed as a designer in 1891 and 1892 Philadelphia city directories. Attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1892-1893, he studied under, or with, famed artists such as Thomas Eakins, John Sloan, William Glackens and Robert Henri.

The family moved to Pittsburgh around 1893 from Norristown. It is said that their first stained glass project was for windows in a H.J. Heinz building, the first of numerous commissions from the Heinz family over the years. The four Rudy sons, along with their father, established the Rudy Brothers Company, designers and fabricators of stained and leaded glass, about 1894. All five Rudy males are listed in the 1900 census as being employed in “stained glass business.” Oldest son Frank was living on Penn Avenue with wife Marie. J. Horace, 29; Jesse, 27 and Isaiah, 24 were with their parents on Emerson Street. Horace married Marian Emig from York County that same year, and they moved into their new brick and half-timbered stucco home on Sheridan Street in 1901. That house, nicely ornamented with Rudy glass, still stands. Rudy windows were sought by community leaders for churches, homes, public buildings, store fronts and mausoleums, including the mausoleum of H. J. Heinz.

The young couple moved to York around 1904, where he established the Rudy Glass Company, remaining active in the Pittsburgh operation. Some sources say Marian missed her York County family, but they would have also known York County industry was flourishing, creating a prosperous market for large architect-designed homes fashionably embellished with stained and leaded glass in rooms, hallways, stair landings, baths and by front doors. Horace is said to have worked with the well-known Dempwolf and Rempp architectural firms on commissions all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

Horace and Marian had four children. Richard died at an early age. Charlotte married James Tweedell and worked in the company office. Marian married Emerson Power and taught school in Spring Grove. Charles, who worked in his father’s business as a young man, also attended PAFA and became a very successful sculptor.

Both the Pittsburgh and York companies flourished until the Great Depression wiped out the fortunes of many who could afford to enhance their homes, places of worship and work and final resting places with high quality stained glass. In addition, accounts state that as Horace’s suppliers were hit by the depression, they demanded payment for the quantities of glass they had shipped to him. With those bills due and new commissions not coming in, Horace filed for bankruptcy in 1931, a blow that family members later related affected him until his death nine years later. The company was sold to former employee, B. Hay Gilbert, after the bankruptcy and is the predecessor of the present Rudy Art Glass in York. Horace did start up again on his own, advertising as the J. Horace Rudy Stained and Leaded Glass, but business was slow all over during the depression, and he passed away early in January, 1940 just as the economy was finally recovering.

The Rudy studios in Pittsburgh and York were very prolific, but the windows were not usually signed. There are some lists of works in the J. Horace Rudy file at York County Heritage Trust, compiled from various sources, but they are only a small sampling. The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania has a small file of papers that came from the family, adding a little documentation. Occasionally windows are attributed in church histories, but many times Rudy work can only be tentatively identified by similarities to known examples, taking in the type of glass used, patterns, motifs and style of painted areas.

Besides his own work, Rudy’s mentorship of other artists left a lasting mark in the world of stained glass. Lawrence Saint, designer of windows at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., got his start in glass during his three-year apprenticeship with Rudy Brothers. When Horace moved to York, Charles J. Connick became the head designer at Pittsburgh. Connick opened his own studio in Boston in 1913 and became well known for many important stained glass windows in New England, New York and beyond. George W. Sotter, now well-known as one of the “Pennsylvania Impressionist” painters, also worked in glass for Rudy in Pittsburgh.

Horace was very active in York community life. He designed the familiar seal of the City of York with the white rose and colonial courthouse surmounted by an eagle, and he was in charge of decorations for the huge 1927 sesqui-centennial celebration of Continental Congress meeting in York. Horace was also a founder of the York Art Association.

Papers by Ginny Harris and Donald Noss, both of York County, were very helpful in compiling this column. Both interviewed surviving Rudy family members some 30 years ago. Articles by Joan Gaul and Albert M. Tannler added information on the work of Rudy Brothers of Pittsburgh. Copies of all these items are in the files of the YCHT Library and Archives.

Glorious examples of Rudy work can be seen all over the region. Take a walk in downtown York, looking up at the stained and leaded glass over many of the store fronts. There are many existing residential examples in area homes, including the Springdale and Avenues sections of the city. Venturing inside numerous local churches, chances are good that the glowing windows are from Rudy. Other nearby commissions include the striking Circular Dining Room at Hotel Hershey. Pittsburgh has the same types of surviving Rudy glass, on an even larger scale. A trip through their older neighborhoods and visits to monumental churches leads to some dazzling Rudy glass.

The great British architect Christopher Wren has a simple marble memorial plaque, in Latin, at his burial place in St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of his greatest creations. It translates: “If you seek his memorial, look about you.” J. Horace Rudy has a rather simple gravestone, created by his sculptor son, Charles, in Prospect Hill. Perhaps his greatest memorial endures in the glass around us.

Undated J. Horace Rudy ad from catalog of York architect Harry Yessler
Undated J. Horace Rudy ad from catalog of York architect Harry Yessler

This link will take you to numerous York Town Square blog posts by Jim McClure on Rudy glass.

Click this link for Stephen Smith’s York’s Past blog post on Rudy mausoleum windows.

Lind to my York Sunday News column on sculptor Charles Rudy.