Giannini & Hilgart
Giannini and Hilgart were among the many studios producing stained art glass windows and related decorative services in Chicago. However, regardless of which of the many fields of specialty they provided, their contributions are often overshadowed and seldom celebrated.
The company was formed in 1899 by two individuals, Orlando Giannini, and Frederick (Fritz) Hilgart. Born in Ohio of Swiss / Italian parents, Giannini was an accomplished artist and sculptor. Prior to his move to Chicago, he worked at a number of pottery and tile companies in Ohio, most were short lived engagements. These included spells at Rookwood and lastly at the Cincinnati Pottery Company.
Fritz Hilgart, a German national born in 1867 was a Glazier whose working relationship as a partner to Giannini is far less clear and merits further research. However, his role(s) would likely have been critical to the success of the company.
While well known for their residential, commercial and ecclesiastical art glass windows, they also produced extraordinary mosaics, fireplace surrounds, mantels, tiles and lighting. Giannini was also a gifted muralist and it is through this medium that an important relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright developed. The G&H partnership was one of only a few that Wright entrusted to engineer his designs including Wright's ground breaking prairie style windows. Commissions from other noted Chicago architects including G.W. Maher, kept the company at the forefront of decorative art in the Chicago area and in high demand. Collaborations with American Terra-cotta Tile and Ceramic Company (TECO) are hardly surprising considering Giannini's early career in the Ohio pottery industry. G&H provided leaded shades for their distinctive pottery bases and have become highly sought after. Their interior decorations can still be seen in many of the finest homes and churches.
The success of the company included the contributions of many skilled crafts people including Albert Gerlach, and lighting designer Willy Lau. Gerlach moved to Portland, joining Povey Brothers in 1925. It appears that Lau conducted his own retail lighting business concurrently with his G&H engagements, and in the mid 1920s moved to Dayton Ohio, still pursuing retail lighting. Giannini left the company in 1907 and moved to San Diego California but so far little is known about what work he undertook there or roles he performed. Giannini died in 1928.
Fritz Hilgart's career continued to be unclear. However, by the 1920s he was father to 3 sons and 2 daughters and working at his own mosaic business. One son, Fred Hilgart was working at the business as an apprentice mosaic artist. Fritz Hilgart died in 1943.
I'd like to express my thanks to Ted Ellison of Theodore Ellison Designs for sending many of the images and much encouragement. As more information comes to light, these pages will be updated.