Classical glass: It's not just for churches anymore

Intricate stained-glass designs that tell a story adorn churches all over the world. Now, the 1,000-year-old art form is making its way into more and more homes.

Tiffany lampshades, beveled glass around doorways, and windows that double as art have become increasingly popular in the last 20 years. Much of the new work is in older houses, where stained glass made its residential debut a century ago.

The introduction of machine-made glass in the early 20th century made stained glass affordable for homeowners, said Cleveland artist Jim Whitney, a past president of the Stained Glass Association.

"It added color, light and obscured a view, too," he said. "Those are all of the things people like about it now - light, color, decorative art, blocking a particularly unfavorable view, especially when homes are side-by-side in the cities as they tend to be."

Verdeane and Ross Farro enlisted Whitney to create several stained-glass works for their Northeast Ohio home. Whitney created custom stained glass for the Farros' wine cellar, a bay window in the kitchen and garden room, and kitchen cabinetry in a buffet area.

The four panes in the wine cellar tell the story of winemaking. Two of the doors into the wine cellar and wine-tasting area feature a family crest, bottles of wine and grape leaves.

Verdeane Farro, who is fascinated by stained-glass windows in churches, said Whitney tied his works in with other stained-glass pieces already in the home, including antique panels in the front door and dining room that depict several nursery rhymes.

"The effect, the beauty when the light shines through, the art of the craft itself" is what she loves about stained glass. "It's a work of art."

But it's functional art, said Marcus Bales, owner of Designer Glass in Cleveland, a franchise of Stained Glass Overlay Inc. He said adding art glass to a home is like putting up drapes.

"The appeal is first that it makes a good curtain," Bales said. "It diffuses light, changes the character of the light in the room. It's pretty. Sometimes it's more than pretty - it's really elegant."

The most common areas where homeowners install stained glass are around the front door, in cabinet doors, on tables and over bathroom windows.

"We look around the house. If there are half-round sconces and rounded chairs and rugs, we put some half rounds in the window," Bales said. "We can do Frank Lloyd Wright, cats, lilies, what they already like. You can tell what they like when you go to their house."

The biggest misconception about stained glass is that a window would have to be replaced. The only time a window is replaced is if there is something wrong with it.

"We make another pane of glass and add it to the existing door or window," Bales said.

The price of stained glass is driven by its complexity. Bales said installed stained-glass windows can range from $100 to $10,000. A recent residential project that included six windows cost about $4,500, according to Whitney.

Whitney discovered his passion for stained glass while working a college job at an antique shop near Miami University in Ohio. He considers stained glass a form of decorative art, but because windows serve a practical purpose as well, many do double duty.

He said the popularity of art glass is increasing with the desire to restore older homes.

"People are saving what's there, salvaging older homes, and they want the stained glass originally part of those homes restored," said Whitney, whose primary business and passion is in restoring stained-glass windows in churches.

The images seen on most church windows are painted with special glass paints that have a low melting point. The pigment is mixed in with the glass, brushed on and fired in a kiln to fuse the paint onto the glass.

The most significant change in the creation of stained glass occurred in the late 1700s and early 1800s, when two American artists created opalescent glass, a type of translucent glass.

"This was a type of glass that is not transparent," said Whitney. "You can't see anything behind it. It almost looks as though the light is coming out of the glass itself, rather than coming through the glass."

Whitney said opalescent glass allowed artists and craftsmen to get back to manipulating the glass to create an image.

"The only painted parts in an opalescent window were the head, hands and feet," he said. "The folds in the garments, the feathers in angels' wings were made by manipulating the glass itself."

600450 Classical glass: It's not just for churches anymore
Date: 1 September 2003

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