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Robert Sowers Papers

Identifier: MS-0144

Scope and Contents

The Robert Sowers Papers comprise a set of professional papers documenting Sowers's career as a stained glass artist and scholar. The papers are divided into four series:

1. Artist Files, 1951-1991

2. Correspondence and Subject Files, 1938-1990

3. Design Drawings, Models, and Paintings, 1953-1984

4. Publications and Scholarly Works, 1954-1991


  • 1938-1991


Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for public research. Researchers must make an appointment to view this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

The Copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement. The user agrees to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rakow Research Library against all claims, demands, costs and expenses incurred by copyright infringement or any other legal or regulatory cause of action arising from the use of Library materials.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Sowers (1923-1990) was an influential contemporary stained glass artist in America during the mid-20th century. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sowers was raised in Florida and then moved to New York City for college. After receiving a B.A. (1948) from the New School for Social Research and an M.A. (1950) from Columbia University, he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 1950. This grant enabled him to study at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts from 1950-1953. Initially, Sowers’s studies at the Central School focused on oil painting, but his interests soon changed to the art of stained glass. While in London he researched medieval stained glass, and then traveled throughout Europe to study both medieval and contemporary stained glass windows. He was particularly impressed by the work of postwar German reconstruction and the windows being created by contemporary German artists. At the Central School he also met his first wife, Theresa Obermayr, who was an artist and stained glass enthusiast as well. She passed away in 1976.

Inspired by his extensive research and travel, Sowers developed a “vision of stained glass as a full-blown architectural art form” (Stained Glass Quarterly, 1990, p. 89). Once back in the United States he began to write about and implement his innovative ideas and principles on the structural approach to stained glass design. Over three decades, Sowers published four books that influenced the transformation of contemporary stained glass in America, and he executed numerous architectural glass commissions. His abstract designs for churches and synagogues, as well as secular institutions, garnered him considerable attention. In 1955, he was awarded a silver medal from the Architectural League of New York for his work on the windows at St. George’s Church in Durham, New Hampshire. Other significant commissions include: Temple Beth Emeth, Albany, NY; All Saints Episcopal Church, Palo Alto, CA; and Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, NYC, NY.

Sowers’ most notable work was for the façade of the American Airlines Terminal at John F. Kennedy International airport in New York. Begun in 1957, the window was unveiled at the opening of the Terminal in 1960. It measured 317 feet by 22 1/2 feet and was one of the largest stained glass windows ever commissioned. His bold, graphic statement helped to “singularly set the stage for contemporary stained glass in the United States” (Westfeldt, 2008). In 2008, the window was dismantled and the Terminal torn down in order to make room for additional American Airlines buildings.

Sowers died of cancer on March 20, 1990. He was survived by his second wife, Judi Jordan Sowers.


Erikson, Erik. "In Memoriam: Robert Sowers, 1923-1990." _Neues Glas_ 2 (1991). 31-37.

"In Memoriam." _Stained Glass Quarterly_ 85 (Summer 1990). 89.

Westfeldt, Amy. "JFK Airport Dismantles Famed Stained Glass Window." _USA Today_.February 20, 2008.


42.3 Linear Feet (5 Hollinger boxes, 2 half Hollinger boxes, 12 flat boxes,1 card file box, 1 model box, and 7 oversized folders)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Received from Judi Jordan Sowers in 1992.

Accession 2018.008, 2018.013

Related Materials

The Corning Museum of Glass holds a number of stained glass panels by Robert Sowers. For several, there are accompanying design drawings and models: "Turkish Delight" (84.4.18), "Ginger" (92.4.137), "In-Tense" (92.4.138), and glass pieces from the American Airlines Terminal Window (92.4.136).

Processing Information

Processed by Rebecca Hatcher in 2002. Finding aid revised by Sandra Glascock in 2016. Finding aid revised by Colleen McFarland Rademaker and Amanda LaLomia in 2019.

Robert Sowers Papers, 1938-1991
A Guide to the Collection
Rebecca Hatcher. Revisions by Sandra Glascock, Amanda LaLomia, and Colleen McFarland Rademaker.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Rakow Research Library Manuscript Collection Repository

The Rakow Research Library
The Corning Museum of Glass
Five Museum Way
Corning NY 14830 USA