Glass Artistry

Posted June 1st, 2012 by Alan Stein and filed in General, Stained Glass
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Glass artistry is becoming increasingly popular with our clients, and so we decided to share a bit of the history of leaded glass, stained glass and painted glass windows with you.

Stained glass, most commonly used in churches and cathedrals, has been in existence for about one thousand years.  Both the Romans and Egyptians are known to have manufactured small, colored glass objects. Some churches and monasteries in England, dating to the 7th century, show evidence of stained glass windows. Hundreds of pieces of stained glass and lead have been discovered at St. Peter’s Church, part of the Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey, located in northeastern England. Benedict Biscop introduced glass-making to Great Britain in the 670s by bringing French glaziers to the site to make windows for the priory. The National Glass Centre of England, a popular visitor attraction, is now located near this site. Glass-making exploded in this area in the 1800s and, in fact, Pyrex glass (known for its use as measuring cups and baking dishes) was manufactured here until 2007.

Front facia of the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, England.

The National Glass Centre was made with glass and steel; each glass panel is 6 centimeters thick and was designed so that visitors can walk around on top of the roof and look down into the center of the building! The 3,250 square meters of glass can hold 4,600 people at one time! Visitors to the museum can watch glass being made by artisans on-site and visit galleries and exhibitions dedicated to the history of glass-making.

In the Middle East, Syria had a glass industry during the Islamic period (beginning in the 7th century). However, their glass products tended to be transparent and gilded (gold leaf applied to the glass) instead of colored.

The Luck of Edenhall, 13th century V&A Museum no. C.1 to B-1959

Stained glass artistry exploded in the Middle Ages because it was used to illustrate Bible stories to a population that was mostly illiterate. From 950 AD to 1240 AD strong iron frames that allowed the windows to become very ornate and large supported these glass windows. Unfortunately, during the French Revolution and the Reformation in England, large numbers of these Medieval and Renaissance windows were neglected and even destroyed. Because of this, the traditional methods of making stained glass were lost for many years. Thankfully, in the early 19th century, English heraldic stained glass by Thomas Willement showing his own arms and motto. Thomas Willement (“the Father of Victorian Stained Glass”) created a window with a coat of arms. His creation led to the revival of stained glass windows for parish churches.

To make stained glass, the glass is colored by using metallic salts that are added to the glass while it is being manufactured. After the glass is colored, small pieces of the glass are put together to form pictures or patterns. The glass was traditionally held together by strips of lead and placed in a strong, rigid frame but copper foil is now sometimes used instead. Stained glass is sometimes made from glass that has been painted and then placed in a kiln and heated so that the paint fuses to the glass.

Today, most stained glass products are manufactured in glass factories located in the US, Germany, Russia, France, England and Poland. One of the best-known types of stained glass in modern times is Tiffany glass, developed and created by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1878 after his visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Blown favrile glass, 1896-1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany V&A Museum no. 1447-1902

Tiffany was a trained interior designer who could not find the type of glass he wanted for his interior design projects. He developed Favrile, a type of iridescent glass that has the color ingrained into the glass itself, which he patented in 1894. To make Favrile, the colors are poured into the molten glass, thus becoming embedded or infused into the glass as it cools.

The Stained Glass Association of America was formed 100 years ago to “advance the awareness, understanding, appreciation, and potentialities of its craft and its organization; to enact programs for the benefit of its craft; to assure survival of its craft by offering proper guidelines, instruction and training to craftspersons…” In addition to the SGAA efforts to re-establish the art-form of stained glass making, educational programs have been created to teach traditional stained glass-making skills.

Most notably is the Master Craftsman Program at Florida State University. Robert Bishchoff (a Florida State artist), along with his wife and 12 students, created a three-story stained glass window that depicts Bobby Bowden (the head football coach from 1976 – 2009) looking over the football field. This 30-by20-foot window is one of the five largest stained glass windows in the United States and is located over the entrance of the Florida State Moore Athletic Center.

Bobby Bowden Field Stained Glass

Tanglewood Conservatories honors the centuries old tradition of stained glass artistry in our custom conservatory projects. We’d love to hear your ideas and incorporate them into your very own project. Please use our contact form to share and discuss your ideas with us.

Below are some samples of stained glass in our conservatory projects…


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