The earliest documented stained glass windows in Kazakhstan were those at Almaty's first Palace of Pioneers, a youth center that was built in 1962. Sadly, these landmark works of art haven't survived to the present day, and frustratingly little is known about them. A second Palace of Pioneers was built in 1983 and the old palace was destroyed in 2006 to make way for a luxury hotel, the Rixos. Yet from a few archival images I've been able to gather, I think it's possible to suggest a tentative authorship for the lost windows, and surprisingly, the answer comes from the distant Baltic land of Latvia.
The original Palace was designed by the architect Kim Do Sen and modeled after the popular Palace of Pioneers in Moscow. Moscow's Palace had large sheet glass windows and a "winter garden" with large indoor plants, and in old photographs, it's visible that the Almaty design also included two-story glass pavilions on either side of the main building. In exterior shots, one can make out a series of stained glass panels on the second floor of each pavilion. Our only close-up look at the panels themselves comes via a vintage postcard, where we see young pioneers, with their red neck scarves, surrounded by potted plants and three stained glass windows.
Several months after first finding these photographs and adding them to the Monumental Almaty catalog, I came across another intriguing piece of evidence. Kazakhstan's State Photo and Video Archive provided me with a 1979 documentary film, "Kazakhstan's Monumental Art," and in two brief shots a stained glass window is shown, looking strangely familiar. Was this another stained glass from the Palace of Pioneers? It seemed possible. Most of the film was shot in Almaty, the window is of a similar size, and the composition clearly shows two pioneers in red scarves. On the other hand, the lighting of the window in the film seems dark, as if the window was facing a stairwell or interior space rather than outside, and the style of the figures is different: The stained glass from the Palace shows figures with rounded faces, for example, whereas the children in the window from the film have distinctly almond-shaped faces. I couldn't make a conclusion with any confidence, so I filed the film stills away.
Then, just recently, I was doing some research on the history of stained glass in the Soviet Union, and was reading up on some Latvian artists. It turns out that the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were at the vanguard of artistic and architectural glass making, even pioneering the dalle de verre windows that would become popular in Kazakhstan. I was on the website of a Latvian art gallery, Antonija, looking through their collection from the artist Tenis Grasis Sr., when I found two sketches with an exciting caption: "Vitrāžas skice Pionieru pilij Alma-Atā" - "Sketch for a stained glass for the Palace of Pioneers in Alma-Ata." In handwriting on the back of one of the sketches was a date, 1962. Immediately I remembered the film stills, and I put the images side by side for comparison. The resemblance was remarkable. Both compositions are divided vertically into three panels, with larger panels in the center and smaller panels above and below. Both have backgrounds of geometric lines and cosmic bodies. Most intriguingly, both have figures with pointy chins and the same eyes, a dark dot and a crease. The building and the year matched up - yet the style was so different from the windows seen in the postcard. Maybe multiple artists worked on the building?
The journalist Andrei Mikhailov, writing on the history of the old Pioneer Palace for Informburo, suggests that five monumental artists participated, including Tulegen Dosmamgambetov, Khaidar Rakhimov, Shot-Aman Valikhanov, and a V. Sheptanov and A. Tischenko. Dosmamgambetov and Valikhanov were sculptors, and it's unlikely they would have been involved in the windows; Rakhimov was known as an easel painter, and I can't find any information about Sheptanov and Tischenko. It seems possible that the Latvian artist Tenis Grasis Sr., an expert in stained glass, was invited to contribute designs along with other artists, which would explain the discrepancy in styles. He could have then fabricated the windows in Latvia (there were not any facilities in Kazakhstan, that I know of, capable of producing these colored panes), and brought them to Almaty for installation.
For now, this is just a hypothesis. I've written to the Antonija gallery that owns Grasis Sr.'s original sketches to see if they have any more information, but I have yet to hear back. What do you think is the likely story?