Working with Stained Glass

I remember my first class in the art glazier workshop during my time at the Glass School in Hadamar, Germany. The smell of lead and solder, the big tables, my eagerness to find out how is it done. We each had bought our own set of tools, knives, soldering iron, glass cutter and pliers…

Our first piece was squares in a rectangular glass panel. Only clear glass during our first year, but we could see all those coloured glass sheets on the shelves in the workshop. And so we went from the first piece to ever more difficult leaded panels until in our second year we were starting with our own designs and using coloured glass. The joy!

And glass painting in a different workshop, tricky, getting the paint right, mixed out of powder and gum arabic and vinegar or just water. Learning the same techniques pretty much used the same way since the middle ages.

And then using all this knowledge to make my own designs and panels. I particularly love leading a panel, the rythm of putting a glass piece down, measuring, cutting the lead came, preparing the edges, fitting it in around the glass piece and another and another until all is one and that moment, after soldering, when I can see the panel with light shining through for the first time. What must it have been like for those craftsmen and artists making the huge cathedral windows, that moment when they were put into the wall of that holy edifice?

Every time I work with coloured glass, glass paint and lead I feel that connection over time back to the people who found out how to make this amazing material glass from molten sand and to later glass blowers keeping it a secret, as if it was witchcraft, how to colour the glass, recipes handed down from master to most valued apprentice. A painted and leaded glass panel or window is still made pretty much the same way as in the middle ages, steel for glass cutters and electricity for irons and kilns make it easier and allow for more intricate designs today.

This magic of coloured glass windows in times without modern technology, must have been so special, today we have much artificial colour and light in our lives all around us. This magic of natural and always changing light through a coloured glass window still works for me every time.