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Robert Sowers Papers

Identifier: MS-0144
The Robert Sowers Papers is comprised of materials dated from 1938 to 1991 that Sowers created, received or collected during his lifetime. These materials are primarily professional, documenting Sowers’ interests and works as a stained glass artist and scholar. Included are the manuscripts for four published books; articles written for various publications; lectures and notes; correspondence with artistic colleagues; research files on a variety of topics; and ephemera items such as a scrapbook, sketchbooks, reviews and award certificates. This collection also contains a large quantity of artwork created by Sowers which consists of design drawings for commissioned works, as well as design drawings for individual stained glass panels and a series of abstract paintings.

The Robert Sowers Papers is arranged into 6 series. Series I. Writings, 1954-1991; Series II. Contemporary Artists and Critics, 1947-1990; Series III. Research, 1938-1989; Series IV. Publishing Material, 1963-1988; Series V. Ephemera, 1951-1982; and Series VI. Original Artwork, 1953-1984.


  • 1938-1991
  • Majority of material found within 1950-1990


Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

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.


47 Linear Feet (18 Boxes)

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’ 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, E. (1991). In memoriam: Robert Sowers, 1923-1990. Neues Glas, no. 2, 31-37.

In Memoriam. (Summer 1990). Stained Glass Quarterly, 85, 89.

Westfeldt, A. (2008, February 20). JFK airport dismantles famed stained glass window. USA Today.

Custodial History

Gift of Judi Jordan Sowers, 1992

Related Materials

Robert Kehlmann Collection

Processing Information

Original order within the collection was mostly preserved. Series were arranged in order to be more conducive to research. There are no folders numbered 5, 11, 25, 31, 35.
Robert Sowers Papers, 1938-1991
A Guide to the Collection
Rebecca Hatcher, 2002, and Sandra Glascock, 2016
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rakow Manuscript Collections Repository

Rakow Research Library
Corning Museum of Glass
5 Museum Way
Corning NY 14830 USA