Evolving Stained Glass

Volume 49, Issue 2 :: by Amy DiGregorio

Example of lamination panel; left image shows a Mark Khaisman design as a model for a lamination fabrication (on right) that contains no lead, only lamination materials and paint.

Example of lamination panel; left image shows a Mark Khaisman design as a model for a lamination fabrication (on right) that contains no lead, only lamination materials and paint.

Trends in religious architecture have made a significant shift away from the aesthetics we associate with the sanctuaries of the 19th and 20th centuries. Many new houses of worship are foregoing ornate design and traditional liturgical architecture. This shift can be credited to a number of factors, including limited budgets for liturgical art, ornamental motifs, and decoration, as well as the necessity for modern sound and lighting technologies used in worship services. Unfortunately, all of this has contributed to what some suggest as the demise of stained glass.

The stained glass industry must now adapt to such an aesthetic shift by focusing on new ways to handle the materials and viewing stained glass in a different light. According to stained-glass studio Willet Hauser’s director of art development, Kathy Jordan, and Melissa Janda, senior glass painter and the studio’s art department director, glass artists are re-thinking design and how glass is held together by the constraints that traditional lead lines pose.

Studios are discovering new ways to fabricate panels that don’t involve lead, such as lamination and fused glass or a combination of the two. Glass lamination is a form of bonded art glass. This method allows for the creation of stained glass on a large scale without the use of lead. The advanced process uses Verifix 2K silicone to bond art glass to modern architectural substrates such as safety glass, float glass, insulated units, or more art glass. The art glass is carefully laid onto the silicone layer following the approved design. The silicone sets solid in 12 hours and is fully cured in 72 hours. The Verifix 2K silicone technique has been proven for 20 years to be structurally permanent, UV and weather resistant, and non-yellowing. Design possibilities utilizing this method of art glass range from glass etching and enameling to glass edges lit with fiber optics or LED lights.

‘Painting with Light’ technique positions glass pieces in a clam-shell kiln to be fired to create a ‘slider.’

‘Painting with Light’ technique positions glass pieces in a clam-shell kiln to be fired to create a ‘slider.’

International painter and glass artist Narcissus Quagliata is known for his innovative commissions of painted and large-scale fused glass. According to Janda, Quagliata “…has been pushing the boundaries of traditional glass work since the 1970s and early 1980s, doing exciting things with leading and plate glass, pushing the limits of glass shapes within the lines.” She sees this as a natural progression to do away with lead altogether.

Quagliata continues to explore two techniques he developed: “Painting with Light” and enamels. In the “Painting with Light” process, developed in 1993, kiln-fused glass panels are positioned in a clam-shell kiln and fired to create what Quagliata refers to as “sliders.” The pieces are positioned on an 11-degree slope, a detail specific to this technique. Firing at an angle allows the glass to slowly slide and fuse together. The end result is a unified sheet of glass that is thicker at one end, similar to a Norman Slab. At this point the artist can continue to develop the glass, either by painting with a high-fire enamel that will withstand fusing temperatures, adding more slider layers, or a combination of the two. Quagliata also uses enamels on industrial glass, achieving a 3D holographic image by layering painted glass panels in front of one another.

Another technique marries the familiar world of glass painting to the technique of glass fusing. The process of glass fusing involves fusing multiple layers of glass together by melting them at a high temperature in a glass kiln. Commercial glass grinding machines grind glass to a variety of grades, ranging from large chunks to fine powders, which are used in vitreous powder painting in advanced glass fusing.

The result of the ‘Painting with Light’ firing, which can be used as one large piece or cut into smaller ‘selected’ glass pieces.

The result of the ‘Painting with Light’ firing, which can be used as one large piece or cut into smaller ‘selected’ glass pieces.

A future direction is to bridge between the flat glass (stained glass) community and the hot glass (fusing) community. The result can be work that isn’t hindered or weighed down by lead or the heavy epoxy of faceted glass, while remaining economical and efficient. Advanced glass fusing utilizing vitreous painting has been done well in the world of small gallery work. Large-scale work exists within the industry of liturgical architectural glass but for the most part is devoid of highly skilled vitreous painting.

According to Jordan, “Rather than viewing stained glass as a sanctuary adornment it should be viewed as an architectural element of the building. Architects and stained glass artists aren’t in dialogue early enough in a project. Often stained glass is viewed as an afterthought when it should be viewed as the fabric of the building.” Jordan adds that it’s necessary to understand the appropriate technique for the space as well as building and construction codes, such as seismic codes and hurricane-resistant measures, all of which play a large role in planning and fabrication of stained glass.

The author is the art collection manager and senior research librarian for Willet Hauser Architectural Glass.

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