ART APPRECIATION – STAINED GLASS
I. CONCRETE EXPERIENCE
I think my interest in the combination of glass, light and color began as a child when I discovered the colorful images created inside a kaleidoscope. Even as an adult, I cannot seem to resist picking up a kaleidoscope and gazing into the viewer as I rotate the tube to change the design of the colored bits of glass. If you walk into my home, it is apparent that I like to decorate with glass. I have glass flowers, marbles, stones, vases, balls, bowls and my favorite, stained glass.
I have stained glass windows, birds, flowers, night-lights, candle holders, picture frames, and a jewelry box. I like to attend the various arts and craft festivals and shows in Tulsa so I can enjoy the stained glass art created by the local artisans. In November 1999, I went to the Stained Glass Guild’s annual sale and purchased my first large piece of stained glass. It was a beautiful blue, yellow, green and red floral piece. I had purchased several smaller floral pieces in 1998 at Tulsa’s Arts and Craft Fall Festival at Tulsa State Fairgrounds and I knew it would look beautiful surrounded by the smaller pieces.
I purchased my stained glass windows at the Haskell Antique Auction in 2000. They were removed from a building in England and I like to think that they survived the bombings during World War II and now they hang inside my home. I would not say an exceptionally talented artisan created the windows but the pattern in the glass is unique. The colors sparkle and bring a certain charm to my kitchen and breakfast nook, especially on cold winter days.
I recently remodeled my kitchen, breakfast nook and formal dining area. I installed new counters, wallpaper, border, artwork and flooring. In my spare time, I have been working with two friends to make a stained glass still life to hang between the doorway to the formal dining area and the kitchen, breakfast nook area. We made the pattern from the wallpaper border, which depicts a wine bottle, cheese, basket of fruit and some flowers sitting on a counter. The piece has over 200 pieces of cut glass and we are about two-thirds finished. Last Saturday, I wrapped many of the pieces in copper foil as my friends cut and ground the glass. I can hardly wait to get the cutting, grinding, wrapping, and soldering completed so I can enjoy it every day when I eat.
One of my favorite places to eat is at TGI Fridays on 61st Street and Memorial in Tulsa. As you might guess, it is not just the food that makes it special, it is the atmosphere. The walls are covered with antiques and memorabilia-type items. The tables have tiffany-style light fixtures and they have stained glass interior windows. Applebee’s Restaurant in Broken Arrow has similar tiffany-style light fixtures and stained glass interior windows depicting hot air balloons. Another favorite place to eat is the Atlas Grill located in downtown Tulsa in the Atlas Life Building on Boston Avenue. Just outside the restaurant, there is hallway to the lobby of the Mid-Continent Building, which has a beautiful 20-panel stained glass design of Tulsa’s skyline. Two hallways in the building have stained glass panels in the ceiling made from antique glass imported from Europe. I love to stroll through the building on my way to eat and admire the artwork. I have a co-worker who likes to go with me because she enjoys the historic photographs of the Tulsa, which are located in the lower level.
I have another friend who loves the old buildings in Tulsa. In 1994 she talked me into going on a walking tour of downtown Tulsa with her and I enjoyed it thoroughly. There are several old churches in the downtown area and many of them have beautiful stained glass windows. The Trinity Episcopal Church has a “Heaven and Hell” window, which was designed after World War II and depicts the holocaust horrors. The window shows the faces of Hitler, Mussolini, and other Nazi leaders. The Holy Family Cathedral seems to have the most stained glass windows. It has various windows with scenes of the life of Christ, which includes Christmas, Easter and dinner with the twelve apostles. The Boston Avenue Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, First Christian Church, and Church of Christ Scientists all have beautiful stained glass windows. I think the churches are widely know for their architecture because they are great examples of Art Deco but they stand out to me because of the stained glass art.
One of my favorite books is about someone that is widely known for his stained glass art, Louis Comport Tiffany. I purchased Masterworks of Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1996. I keep it on my coffee table and I never seem to tire of looking at it and reading about his master works of art. Over half of the photographs in the book are in color so you can enjoy the beautiful range of colors in his art . The book has examples of his beautiful glass designs, paintings, mosaics, ceramics, windows and lamps. His versatility is amazing and each creation seems to contain one or all of the things I love in an art form, color, light and glass.
II OBSERVATIONS AND REFLECTIONS
In stained glass art, the light is refocused and transmitted through the glass making an ordinary material glow and shimmer. I enjoy the fact that the beauty of a piece is not faded by sunlight but enhanced by it and will still be beautiful in a hundred years. Stained glass can be displayed in a window, or on a table in front of a lamp or candle, either way the piece comes to life as only stained glass can.
I find it amazing that a flat piece of glass can be soldered together with copper foil and lead to create a curved lampshade at the hands of an artist. Louis Comfort Tiffany is probably the best know artist for lampshades. His lampshades have stunning color and were made in a variety of patterns ranging from geometric patterns, motifs, animals and floral designs. The shades could show the flowers from the budding stage to the death of the bloom. He created a Russian lamp, daffodil lamp, prairie style lamp, clematis lamp, cherry blossom lamp, dragonfly lamp, waterlilies lamp and my favorite cobweb table lamp.
The cobweb table lamp was made with leaded Favrile glass, mosaics and bronze. Tiffany patented his famous Favrile glass, a molten combination of opalescent white glass and clear, antique colored glass. Other artist had tried to combine the two glasses but they produced a dull and uninteresting material. After much experimentation, Tiffany succeeded in blending as many as five separate colors, changing the look of stained glass.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a famous architect but he also designed stained glass art. The majority of the stained glass windows designed by Wright are abstractions from nature. He designed the windows for the space creating vistas between inside and outside space. His stained glass panels are works of art, enhancing the architect’s design. The decorative windows shaded, balanced, contrasted, and augmented the quality of light. This allowed the window to “become the beautifier of the building.”
I think the stained glass pieces of Wright are beautiful but I like the pieces designed by Tiffany more. It seems to me that Tiffany designed his pieces for the sheer beauty of the piece and Wright designed his pieces to beautify the space. I enjoy the bright colors and the wide variety of designs of the Tiffany pieces. Wright did not use as many bright colors in his pieces and they usually had a geometric design. I have seen many photographs and reproductions of their work but I have never seen an original piece of their work.
III. CONCEPTS AND GENERALIZATIONS
Stained glass is an art, which is produced in many parts of the world. The way in which the artist produces the piece is virtually the same as it was in medieval Europe, design the pattern, cut and grind the glass, wrap the glass with foil and solder with lead. The techniques remain the same, but modern technology, specifically the improved soldering irons and glass cutters, make the process easier and faster.
Glass was known and used approximately five thousand years ago, but it was not used in windows until the third century after Christ. Early windows were small and the pieces of clear or colored glass were set in plaster to form a design. It is said that when they were viewed against the light from the dark interior, the colors sparkled like jewels. In fact, people thought sapphires and rubies were ground up to make the bright blues and reds.
The golden age of stained glass coincided with the flowering of Christian architecture in Europe. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, following the crusades, gothic cathedrals dominated European cities. The magnificent stained glass windows in these cathedrals were used to teach the Bible since the literacy rate was so low and it was the only “books” the people had.
In these windows, colored glass and lead lines told most of the story. Details such as facial features and the simple suggestions of drapery or decorative repeat motifs, were painted on the glass pieces with black or brown lead paints. These were then kiln fired, fusing the paint permanently on to the glass. Many of them remain as beautiful today as they were when they were when the churches was built. In France the Chartes Cathedral has exquisite stained glass art containing no less than one thousand three hundred and fifty subjects, with over three thousand figures.
The art declined during the renaissance but at the turn of the century, a renewed interest in medieval art led artists back to the gothic cathedrals and their windows. Inspired by the timeless beauty of the original windows, American artists such as Tiffany began creating their own masterpieces in glass. Today there is an increasing range of possibilities because of the new areas such as sand blasting, fusing and laminating.
The most important aspect of stained glass remains the glass itself. Glass is composed mainly of sand and silica. It is heated to a temperature of 2,000 degrees, until it is the consistency of taffy. The colors are created by the addition of metallic oxides because the glass does not have a pigment in it like oil paints. Since white light is a combination of all the colors of the rainbow, the metals in the glass cause the glass to act as a “filter”, to remove the entire light spectrum, but the color you see. To get green, you add iron to the sand mixture, causing the entire color spectrum to be absorbed by the glass, but green. To get pink color in glass, you must add pure gold to the mixture and so on. Because there is no pigments in glass, there is nothing to fade like oil paints. The color of glass will be as brilliant 700 years from now as it is today.
IV. IMPLICATIONS FOR NEW SITUATIONS
One day I would love to travel to France to visit the Chartes Cathedral which is also know as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. I would love to see the exquisite stained glass art, which contains no less than one thousand three hundred and fifty subjects, with over three thousand figures. I would like to see the “Beautiful Window”, the Rose Window, and “The Life of Christ Window.” My daughter was in France in the March 1999, and she brought be back some beautiful post-cards. She said the stained glass windows were more beautiful than the pictures on the post-cards could show.
The stained glass piece that I have been working on with two of my friends has been a wonderful learning experience. It has most certainly increased my appreciation of the art form. One day I would like to design and complete a piece without any help. I seem to find ideas for pieces in magazines, posters, art prints, books and from other stained glass pieces. I have seen stepping stones made with a stained glass design on one side. I think they would make great gifts for friends and I would like to give it a try. I have noticed an emphasis placed on outdoor rooms in the decorating magazines recently and I think they would make a lovely addition to a patio area.
My interest in stained glass art has increased my appreciation of blown glass. I particularly like the glass vases that have an iridescence appearance, which sparkles on the surface of the vase. I also like the flower-form vases and vases that have threads of colored glass added to the design process to create abstract designs floating on the surface. I have a vase and a bowl, which are made with the colored threads of glass running through the design. They are two of my favorite glass pieces. I have seen some beautiful hand blown glass bowls at the Mayfest art show located in downtown Tulsa each May. The artisans seem to love their work and enjoy talking about the design process and some of their mistakes.
I have seen programs on the television that has followed an artist through the creative process. They seem to work in less than ideal conditions to create their art. I have noticed that they have apprentices that work with them. As the artist gets older, he or she designs the piece and supervises the apprentice as they work on the piece. I would love to tour an artist’s workshop and watch them as they create a special piece just for me.