Artist / StudioStudio
Frei (Emil), Inc.
St. Louis, Missouri
Birth Year: 1869
Death Year: 1942
Biography: Following is a brief history of the Emil Frei Stained Glass company written by Martha Ramsey Clevenger of the Missouri Historical Sociaty. (Jefferson Memorial Building, Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri 63112). This appears as the introduction to the book "EMIL FREI, JR., COLLECTION REGISTER". The firm of Emil Frei, Inc., founded in St. Louis in 1898 and still operating today, has been one of the leading companies in the field of stained glass and mosaics in the United States. Founded by Bavarian-born artist, Emil Frei, Sr., (1869-1942), Emil Frei, Inc., has remained a traditional-style association of craftsmen and artists under the leadership of three generations of Freis, each of whom has made and overseen major artistic contributions to the field of stained glass and / or mosaic design, especially in the realm of the liturgical arts.
Emil Frei, Sr., was born in Bavaria in 1869 and studied at the Munich Academy of art. Upon Completion of his studies he emigrated to New York to escape the universal military service then required in Germany. There he was joined by his fiance, Emma Mueller of Heidelberg, whom he soon married. Shortly thereafter the Freis moved to San Francisco, where Emil, Sr., worked as a mural painter. In 1898, Emil Frei was invited to come to St. Louis to undertake the design and execution of stained glass for a large new church then under construction. This project, the stained glass windows for the St. Frances Xavier (College) Church at 239 N. Grand, did not, however, come to fruition until a generation later when it was undertaken by Frei’s son and successor, Emil Frei, Jr.
Emil Frei, Sr., was initially employed in St. Louis as an artist for A.H. Wallis. In 1900 he opened his own stained glass company, Emil Frei Art Glass, Co., at 19 S. Broadway. In 1903 the business moved to 3715 California Avenue, and then in 1907 to 3934 S. Grand, where it remained until 1972. From there, it moved to 1017 West Adams, where the company currently resides. Emil Frei was assisted in these early years by his wife Emma, who served at varying times as vice-president, treasurer, and secretary of Emil Frei Art Glass, Co., until her retirement in 1930.
The Emil Frei Art Glass, Co., specializing in Munich antique glass figured style windows, grew quickly, By 1909 the company employed fifteen artists and nine glass workers in studios in Munich and St. Louis. Windows designed for the Holy Family Church in Watertown, New York, won grand prize at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
It was in the field of mosaic design, however, where Emil Frei, Sr., made his best remembered contribution to liturgical art. In the 1920s he was commissioned to design the mosaics to the new St. Louis Cathedral on Lindell Boulevard. To undertake this project, Emil Frei, in conjunction with the Berlin art glass and mosaic firm of Puhl U. Wagner, founded Ravenna Mosaics, Inc. (later known as The Ravenna Company), in 1924. Until 1929 there was little distinction between Ravenna Mosaics and Emil Frei Art Glass. The companies shared quarters at the latter’s South Grand location, and Emil Frei and his wife Emma occupied the respective offices of president and vice-president in both firms. In 1929 Ravenna Mosaics separated from Emil Frei Art Glass and moved to New York for a period of ten years. Upon its return to St. Louis in 1939, the Ravenna Company, now under the leadership of Paul Heudeck, again shared quarters with Emil Frei, Inc., until the end of World War II when it moved to its own location at 5205-09 South Grand.
In 1930, after the departure of Ravenna Mosaics, Inc., for New York, the Emil Frei Art Glass, Co., reorganized as Emil Frei, Inc. Emil Frei, Sr., remained president, Emma Frei retired as vice-president in favor of her son, Emil Frei, Jr., and Julius
Gewinner became treasurer. Both Julius Gewinner and Emil Frei, Jr., had joined Emil Frei Art Glass as artists in 1917. Gewinner moved into the business end of the operation, becoming a department manager in 1926 and production manager in 1927. From 1930 until his retirement in 1968, he served as treasurer, and after the death of Emil Frei, Sr., in 1942, he also assumed the duties of vice-president. Gewinner’s extended tenure as treasurer and later vice-president, helped give Emil Frei, Inc., a remarkable degree of continuity.
Emil Frei, Jr., was the other pillar of the firm between 1930 and his death in 1967. Born on 1896, he studied art at Washington University before joining his father’s firm in 1917. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he exerted a significant artistic influence within Emil Frei, Inc., as he worked to recreate the vivid and colorful 13th century medallion style stained glass windows like those at the Cathedral of Chartres. It fell to him to design the windows at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church in St. Louis, a project that did much to build his reputation as one of the foremost designers of stained glass in the United States. After his father’s death in 1942, Emil Frei, Jr., assumed the presidency of Emil Frei, Inc., retaining that office until 1963, when he became chairman of the board until his death in 1967.
Under the leadership of Emil Frei, Jr., Emil Frei, Inc. rose to even greater heights as a new generation of artists associated with the firm and brought new techniques and different artistic perspectives to the stained glass medium. Due in part to the disruption of World War II and the subsequent liquidation of Emil Frei, Inc’s., assets in Germany, the focus shifted from the German figure style windows to the modernistic and often abstract stained glass windows designed by the company’s St. Louis based artists. The first modern windows were designed by Robert Harmon, who joined Emil Frei, Inc., in 1938, and remained with the company until his retirement in 1968. Harmon was responsible for some of the most innovative and creative windows and mosaics that came out of Emil Frei, Inc., during the post World War II years. From the end of World War II through the 1960s, the work of artists Francis Deck, Milton Frenzel, William Schickel, Joan Velligan, Rodney Winfield and Siegfried Reinhardt stood along side that of Harmon as pioneering efforts in the stained glass medium and in the realm of mosaic, mural and sculpture design as well. In addition, Emil Frei, Jr’s., son, Robert Frei, who joined the company as an artist in 1946, exerted comparable influence.
In 1963 Robert Frei assumed the presidency of Emil Frei, Inc., and ran the company under the tutelage of his father. During the beginning of Robert Frei’s presidency, the firm began to seek new and more varied outlets for the stained glass medium, experimenting with more new techniques and the use of stained glass in secular as well as religious contexts. After the death of Emil Frei, Jr., in 1967, and following the retirement of Julius Gewinner and Robert Harmon shortly thereafter, an era came to an end. Nevertheless, Robert Frei, with the assistance of his new vice-president, artist Francis Deck, continued to lead the company that his grandfather had founded. In 1972, the company moved to 1017 W. Adams in Kirkwood and is today still in operation.
Frei, Emil Sr.
Frei, Emil Jr.
Window Name: Main Window
Window Name: St. Francis de Sales
Window Name: St. Steven
Window Name: St. Paul
Window Name: St. Stanislaus Kostka
Window Name: St. Aloysius
Window Name: St. John Vianney, Cure of Ars
Window Name: St. Thomas Aquinas
Window Name: St. Vincent de Paul
Window Name: The Sacred Heart of Jesus
Window Name: Christ the King
Window Name: The Joyful Mysteries
Window Name: Emblems of the Eucharist
Window Name: Christ the Teacher
Window Name: Window of Love
Window Name: St. John Berchmans, S.J.
Window Name: Window of the Parables
Window Name: Passion of Christ
Window Name: Resurrection and Glorification of Christ
Window Name: The Foundation of the Church
Window Name: St. Peter
Window Name: St. Joseph Holding the Infant Christ
Window Name: The Immaculate Conception
Window Name: St. Michael the Archangel
Window Name: St. Charles Borromeo
Window Name: St. Ambrose of Milan
Window Name: Pope St. Gregory the Great
Window Name: Cross and other symbols
Window Name: St. John the Baptist
Window Name: St. John the Evangelist
Window Name: Christ the Miracle Worker