October 31, 2007

Step-by-step: working with lead

What holds all the glass pieces together in a stained glass window is extruded lead came, which is available in various sizes. Lead is a very soft metal, and to strengthen it, each came is placed in a lead vice like this, and then slightly stretched to harden it. This process is called "tempering" in the metal trades.

Here the artist pulls back on the lead, while bracing himself with the back foot in case the lead came disengages from the vice. More than a few apprentices have take a spill during this part of the glass project. It might be considered the second greatest occupational hazard of the industry, the first being bleeding fingers.

October 30, 2007

Step-by-step building part 2

We start building at this perfectly square corner, fanning out toward the opposite corner as we progress in fitting the many glass pieces into the lead channels.

At the top arch of the window, horseshoe nails must hold the pieces in place, and in fact, these nails are used throughout the building process to keep the glass and lead secure until the entire window is built.

No soldering is done until the entire window is built.

October 29, 2007

Step-by-step: Building a window

Eventually, after much cutting and painting of glass, enough pieces are completed to actually begin assembling a stained glass window. The same pattern that was used as a guide for painting the glass pieces, is again used as the pattern for building. The window must be constructed on top of the pattern and precisely matched in size, so that it later fits into the church window opening. Here's the pattern with the wooden stops bracing the top right corner where the building begins. You'll notice that the painted borders are identical in all the windows.

And here is a collection of tools used to assist in that process, which requires precise fitting of the glass into the lead channels that hold the glass pieces together. Lead nippers, various stopping knives, and horseshoe nails are included in the line-up.
More later as we proceed through the step-by-step.

October 28, 2007

Be sure to vote

Only a couple more days to vote in the poll at left. Tell us what your favorite church window is.

October 27, 2007

Our Lady of Guadalupe

You'll find Our Lady of Guadalupe in most Catholic churches in the region, and St. Catharine's is no exception. You can also find her in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.
This sculpture is yet another by Norbert Ohnmacht, who also created the crucifix over the altar. You can read more about Norbert here.

Piece by piece

And so the process of cutting, painting, and firing continues for each window, always making sure to keep the pieces properly numbered and sorted in separate boxes, so that when it comes time to build the windows, all the glass will be accounted for and ready.

October 26, 2007

It's hot in there

Here's a quick peek inside the kiln just as it reached peak temperature and shut off:

October 25, 2007

Into the kiln

Another batch of painted glass goes into the kiln for firing. The temperature will rise to about 1300 degrees in four hours, at which point the kiln will automatically shut off. This process fuses the glass paint into the glass and makes it virtually impermeable. The pieces will be painted and fired at least twice more with additional layers of paint for detailing.

October 24, 2007

More on Tiffany

Mosaics aren't the only good use of scrap glass. When Tiffany Studios was in its height of production, their scrap heaps became enormous, so one of the many Tiffany designers (though probably not Tiffany himself) had the brilliant idea to design floral lampshades held together by the new technique of copperfoil. The designs are as popular today as ever, and almost every store with a lighting department sells China-made knock-offs for a reasonable price. Many of the original lamps are pictured and discussed in any of Alistair Duncan's numerous books about Lewis Comfort Tiffany, along with glowing treatises of the many church and institutional windows produced by the studio. I hesitate to mention Duncan's name due to the curiously bizarre turn his career and life took a few years ago. You can read more about it at the Museum Security website. As I write this, one can even go to the local post office and obtain postage stamps with this lovely Tiffany window depicted, part of the American Treasures postage stamp series. Tiffany's popularity lives on.

October 22, 2007

More about books

Old and rare books are also included in our personal library, and these sometimes provide the best information about the old craft of stained glass. These are long out-of-print, but well worth the effort to acquire, especially for young stained glass artists with an eye to a career in glass.

The Art and Craft of Stained Glass by E.W. Twining

Windows by Lewis F. Day

Church Symbolism by F.R. Webber

October 21, 2007

How to read a blog

Don't forget how blogs work when exploring this site. The most recent post is first, so to read these posts in the order of the stained glass completion, scroll downward and to the oldest post, and to previous pages until you get to the first post. You'll see a picture of the church steeple. From there scroll back up to read each post back to here.

October 20, 2007

Research and books

The painting continues and we don't have quite a kiln-load yet, so more about that later.

In the meanwhile, going through books we use for research, I thought I'd check availability of various titles in our own library. Many of them are out-of-print and are selling for up to $250, so hard are they to find.

One of the best stained glass books ever written is called simply Stained Glass edited by Lawrence Lee et al.

There are others, and the bible of glass painting is by Albinas Elskus whose excellent how-to has taught many a modern glass artist the finer points of the art. It was a day of mourning for many when Elskus recently passed away. You can read about him by clicking the link at the left.

October 19, 2007

Glass painting continued

Now that the glass has a thin matte of paint and has dried, the glass piece is placed back upon the drawing, and then modeling of the features begins. Here some of the dried matte is removed from the glass to create highlights.

More painting being removed.

And more highlights created.

Now a dark black paint is added with a thin brush in a procedure called "tracery".

Around the perimeter of the head.

And yet more detail being added. At this point, the glass will probably be placed in a kiln and fired to over 1300 degrees to make the paint permanent.

After firing for about four hours, and then cooling, another layer of painting is added depending upon the effects desired. This procedure might be repeated from 3-6 firings, depending upon the details and colors desired in the glass piece. It is a good idea not to fire the same piece of glass more than a half dozen times. A good glass painter can ordinarily achieve fine results within these parameters. More firing can result in destabilization of the glass itself.

October 18, 2007

Glass painting step-by-step

In figurative glass work, at least the faces, hands, and feet should be painted. This requires not only knowledge of archival painting techniques, but also a good degree of drawing skill. Here are several areas in the Feeding the Multitudes window which will be painted.

This glass painting corresponds with the head of Jesus above right.

First, the paint on the glass palette is mulled for smoothness with a special glass muller.

The paint is quickly applied ....

....and then smoothed in all directions with a special brush called a badger blender. This must happen very quickly as the paint completely dries in only a couple of minutes. The last step in application as the paint is drying, is to stipple with a pouncing motion to create a pin-hole effect in the paint. The paint used here is a high-fire Hancock gray-green in water with gum arabic.

This step will be repeated with all cut glass pieces requiring this color. Now the paint is left to dry completely after which the modeling and tracery occurs. We'll show that next.

October 17, 2007

Loaves & Fishes Step-by-Step

It starts with the cartoon. Doesn't hurt to look at it upside down.
Sometimes you see errors that the brain overlooks right side up.

Here the numbered tracing. There are lots of little pieces to cut.

Then glass is chosen. Here's why handpicking variegated glass becomes so important. This piece has a section marked for possible landscape inclusion.

Pattern pieces traced onto the various glasses.

The glass is cut with this special tool.

Then broken off and smoothed with special grozing pliers.
Next we'll go through the glass painting steps on the glass you've just seen cut.

October 16, 2007

Patron Saints

Who amongst us doesn't like the idea of a patron saint? Each profession has one. St. Luke is often acknowledged as patron saint of artists, glaziers, and stained glass workers, amongst a host of other careers including physicians and policemen. But, some sources cite St. Mark as the patron saint of the arts. Today, I found a source that acknowledged St. Michael the Archangel as the patron saint of artists. We knew he was patron saint of armies in various religions. I suppose that's the main job. Well, it's fitting. Any job including one in the arts can be an uphill battle some days. Here's a mural section of St. Michael being completed for an iconography commission at Ss. Constantine & Helen in Colorado Springs. He's life-size. The halo is 23K gold leaf.

October 15, 2007

Installing windows

Whether new or old, the final step in any process is installing the windows. In new buildings, the windows are generally glazed with double-pane clear glass, and the stained glass itself is stopped in from the inside. Here the artist nails in the pre-bent custom-laminated trim, formed to fit the window arches.

In old restorations, however, the stained glass itself may be the only glazing, and was usually installed from the outside. Here, Greer removes a panel at St. Charles, a process made much more interesting by a good, stiff High Plains wind.

October 14, 2007

More on repairs

After carefully removing the buckled glass from the church door, a trace is made of the door-light to create a new pattern.

The lead of the old window is cut at the edge and systematically disassembled, attempting to keep from breaking the glass as the pieces are pulled out. This can be difficult depending on the hardness of the original improper cementing.

Replacement glass is obtained and re-cut if necessary, but an attempt is always made to salvage as much original glass as possible. Then the glass is placed on the new pattern.

Finally, it is re-leaded, a relatively simple procedure with straight lines like these. In this case, a bracing bar was also added to the completed window after cementing and cleaning to support the stained glass. We could see from prior experience that the swinging door in which it resides created damage and bowing over time. So now the door-light is better supported by the wooden frame of the door itself, and should prevent future stress and buckling.

October 13, 2007


Repairs are almost inevitable with stained glass windows. It isn't necessarily the glass that causes the problem. Glass has surprising strength and resilience and most often stands the test of time far longer than the metal in the window. It's often the lead came that takes the brunt of damage, whether from a blow, sagging caused by weight and lack of bracing, or even just weakening and crumbling from exposure to elements.
In the past century, it became practice to include hardeners in the cementing formula used to stiffen and strengthen the channels of the lead cames, and it was a practice embraced by almost all professional stained glass studios. Unfortunately, decades later, when it came time for windows to be re-leaded as is normal about every 75-100 years, restorers discovered that the inclusion of the hardening portland cement, made it virtually impossible to disassemble the window without breaking the glass. Good intentions had created an enormous dilemma, compounded by the fact that many glasses used early in the past century were no longer available. So matching and replacing broken glass becomes a nightmare for the modern artist.

Just such a situation occurred at St. Charles and here is a picture of an interior door panel that has buckled:

Sometimes the bow in the panel can be gently flattened without damaging the window, but that is not the case in this situation. More to come on how this restoration proceeds.

October 12, 2007

The baptism

This is the final window in the completed sets so far. The lovely sky glass nearest the top border is an opalescent multi-color cut from the middle of the sheet. This variegated type of glass was developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge with the intent of creating very painterly and naturalistic windows, and often the artist will buy a large sheet of glass to get that perfect small cut out of the center:

Next we'll show a series of repairs at St. Charles nearby, and share some of the challenges of matching and replacing old stained glass, as well as removing windows from old moldings.

October 11, 2007

Jesus in the Temple

This window is particularly effective due to the atmospheric background and shadowy figures created with glass painting. The method harks back to European cathedral windows - using a mixture of ground pigments and glass - that is applied with special techniques, and then fired in a kiln to temperatures ranging from 1050-1350 degrees. When the glass itself just begins to soften and slump, the paint fuses into the surface, guaranteeing permanence against all but the most aggressive abrasion.

Indeed, it is the metal - the lead came - that is the most fragile part of a stained glass window, and most subject to the deterioration wrought by time and improper cleaning methods. We always advise our clients that "benign neglect" is the best upkeep of their stained glass, and most certainly to never clean the stained glass with modern cleansers like Windex spray.

October 10, 2007

The Pieta

The most famous rendition of The Pieta is by Michelangelo, and resides at St. Peter's in Vatican City. Viewed by millions of worshippers through the centuries, it was damaged by a hammer-wielding vandal in 1972. After restoration, the marble statue was enclosed in a shatter-proof glass enclosure that could only be viewed from a distance. Most good images today come in the form of professional photographs available in printed documentaries.

One such black and white photo became the inspiration for the stained glass Pieta at St. Catharine of Siena. This is a good example of what artists refer to as "derivative work" in which one artwork inspires and informs another, many times in a different medium.