Glass for 
Glass’ Sake

The Art of Ann Wolff

Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.

Colleen Smith
Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.
Stained glass master craftsman Ann Wolff is keeping this medieval artform alive, through expertise developed over 40 years and a love and respect for her materials.

Stained glass master craftsman Ann Wolff is keeping this medieval artform alive, through expertise developed over 40 years and a love and respect for her materials.

Colleen Smith

Austrian stained glass from Ann Wolff's workshop.

“Glass painting is extremely difficult. Glass painters were the most valuable members of any studio, and the face painter was the most valuable.“

Ann Wolff

The deciding factor elevating stained glass from a hobby craft to an art form is not only technique, but also materials. Ann Wolff’s glass art is especially brilliant not only because she trained with European masters and honed her skills over more than 40 years, but because she goes to great pains to get the very best glass.

Along with the highest quality hand-blown and hand-painted glass, her designs incorporate unusual minerals: custom beveled quartz and amethyst.

“My work is about upping the ante from ordinary stained glass by using more advanced and unusual glass and techniques, a lot from the liturgical tradition,” said Wolff.

Wolff brings to her workbench a degree in medieval history and an extensive knowledge of the history of art glass.

“The medieval glass was the apotheosis,” she said. “Antique glass, hand-blown glass—the basic way it’s made today hasn’t changed much since the Middle Ages.”

Yet the glass art industry has changed. Dramatically.

“Stained glass is, in a way, dying,” said Wolff. “Many of the skills are barely known anymore and many of the big art glass manufacturers have closed. There are not many sheet glass blowers left. There are far, far fewer choices in glass than there were 30 years ago.”

Wolff sources most of her glass from Europe.

“The French made beautiful glass, the most beautiful reds and blues. Now Germany provides most of it,” said Wolff. “It’s hard to even get materials. I had to wait two months to get glass usually turned around in 10 days.”

Fortunately, Wolff keeps her studio chock full of cherry-picked glass, both modern and vintage.

“Antique glass is a living glass, the only one that will cast its colors on the floor or wall,” she said.

Wolff’s designs incorporate a variety of glasses. To add privacy and decoration, she uses German roundels—glass discs, blown on the end of a pipe, and spun.

“Roundels are an old, old form of glass. They’ve been used in windows since there were windows,” she said.

To create the effect of fabric or flowers, she uses pleated drapery glass she cuts with her diamond saw won in a glass art competition. “You have to decide where the folds go,” she said. “Tiffany used it a lot, and John LaFarge.”

She uses German seedy glass filled with tiny bubbles: “It adds color and texture,” Wolff said.

She incorporates streaky glass and flash glass, which combines two layers of color in one piece of glass. And she works with hand-painted glass.

“Glass painting is extremely difficult,” said Wolff. “Glass painters were the most valuable members of any studio, and the face painter was the most valuable. In 19th century studios, the face painter came by carriage. Everybody else got to work some other way.”

Ann Wolff's delicately crafted birds show all that can be achieved in the mastery of this rare artform.
Colleen Smith

Ann Wolff's delicately crafted birds show all that can be achieved in the mastery of this rare artform.

Ann Wolff's delicately crafted birds show all that can be achieved in the mastery of this rare artform.
Colleen Smith

Ann Wolff's delicately crafted birds show all that can be achieved in the mastery of this rare artform.

Stained glass painted by Indre McCraw beautifully accents Wolff's work.
Colleen Smith

Stained glass painted by Indre McCraw beautifully accents Wolff's work.

Roundels in custom stained glass doors by Ann Wolff.
Courtesy Ann Wolff

Roundels and bevel cuts in custom stained glass doors by Ann Wolff.

Without the use of color, Wolff is able to add intrigue and dimension to a window through her intricate designs.
Courtesy Ann Wolff

Without the use of color, Wolff is able to add intrigue and dimension to a window through her intricate designs.

Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.
Courtesy Ann Wolff

Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.

Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.
Courtesy Ann Wolff

Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.

Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.
Courtesy Ann Wolff

Ann Wolff's custom stained glass work makes a beautiful home accent.

For the past 15 years or so, Wolff has worked with painter Indre McCraw, whose artistic credentials are sterling. The head glass painter at Judson Studios in Los Angeles since 2016, McCraw previously worked at Venturella Studio in New York City, and also for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration and Art Education from Parsons School of Design.

Wolff and McCraw met through their mutual glass art mentor Helmut Schart. For Wolff’s original designs, McCraw has painted many birds and foliate patterns.

“And tricky things on bevels I wasn't sure could even be done,” McCraw said. “I paint in a very specific way for Ann, because she has an exquisite sense of how to celebrate the beauty of glass. Many people can choose glass—which is such a magical material—and paint on it for illustrative purposes, and the glass itself can at times become secondary,” said McCraw.

“Ann never loses sight of the glass. She has an eye for the glass that only an artist who has devoted herself to stained-glass can truly develop in all its nuance and deep understanding of quality and color relationships.”

Wolff started making glass in 1972. The demanding art form combines visual prowess with engineering. She apprenticed with an Austrian master craftsman, Michael Ohnmacht, and also worked with Benoit Gilsoul, renowned for chunky dal de verre designs and glass painting. Specializing in high-end residential works and historic restorations, Wolff won the 2015 Robert and Judi Newman Award for Excellence in Classical and Traditional Design from the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art (ICAA).

She said, “It was a rare win for a woman and for glass.”

Wolff’s studio in a 1910 carriage house at her home in central Denver displays glass everywhere: finished windows and works-in-progress, piles of glass jewels, bins of sheet glass. Rows of glass competition award ribbons testify to the status of her work.

In Wolff’s bungalow, glass adorns practically every window. In the small backyard between her house and studio, two gentleman ducks roam. Flowers bloom. And a table holds a collection of vintage glass grape clusters popular for home décor in the 70s.

“Glass will last forever. The lead won’t. Lead fatigues over time,” Wolff said. “I’m always called for repairs. Germans made all glass the same way, so I know exactly what to do. But restoration is harder than making a new window. “

Wolff has both restorations and new windows underway in her studio.

“Glass is an architectural art form and should be compatible with the building it’s intended for,” she said. “People use glass for privacy or color statement or to add an artistic element or just because glass is so beautiful. The reaction to glass is emotional, not intellectual, as with paintings. I let the glass talk.”

About the Author

Colleen Smith

Colleen Smith is a longtime arts writer based in Denver.