Stained Glass and Tiffany Glass

Stained Glass

Most people automatically think of windows when you mention stained glass to them.
That’s a natural response – Europe’s greatest cathedrals and churches offer some outstanding examples of the art of glass – York Minster’s huge 16th century Rose Window, through to Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral’s 20th century John Piper Lantern glass.

And on a more domestic scale, renewed interest in the period features that distinguish British homes from the Victorian and Edwardian eras has served as a reminder of the pleasure that stained glass can bring to our personal environments.

Even 21st century public spaces are exploiting the combination of glass and light to enhance environments and lift spirits – like Underhill Circus in Oxford.

But these are examples of stained glass used in an architectural context.
What about stained glass art for the home?

Stained glass art can have an impact in a domestic setting unlike that of 2d art.
The way the glass interacts with the light in a space, the way the combination of glass and light changes as the light in a room varies throughout the day provides a changing backdrop.
Leaving aside the way the eyes of a portrait appear to follow one around a room, this is a quality unique to glass art!

And these days, many glass artists are experimenting with lighting techniques, especially low-voltage LEDs, to add extra fascination and beautiful effects after dark. Stained glass today has become a centre of innovation and creativity in the UK art scene.

Indeed, as modern stained glass creators, Vitreus Art’s ‘trademark’ is Glass Art Light – reflecting our interest in those qualities stained glass offers the art lover – on a scale suited to modern homes and public spaces, and with a contemporary and often abstract feel.

And a further attraction of stained glass art for many art lovers is the uniqueness inherent  – each piece is hand-made, and always original. There are no limited edition prints or mass-produced series with stained glass – you’ll own a piece created individually – whether you commissioned it yourself or spotted it in a local gallery.

We at Vitreus Art hope you get to enjoy the combination of Glass, Art & Light in your home, as well as admiring the contribution stained glass has made to our great churches and public buildings through the ages.

Author : Mike Caddy of Vitreus Art

Tiffany Glass

The Tiffany jewellery company we all think of (as well as the sparkling and pricey store on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue) was founded by LC Tiffany’s father, but it’s the son who’ll be remembered for his art – and as the inventor of the stained glass method that has come to bear his name.

Early in his career, the younger Tiffany began to imagine highly pictorial stained glass windows – windows with a level of detail and delicacy he knew couldn’t be achieved in the traditional leading method of constructing stained glass windows.

Instead, he developed the copper-foil method of stained glass construction, allowing much finer designs, a lighter appearance, and the ability to build 3-d objects. This, some years later, gave rise to the wisteria lampshades which became known as Tiffany lampshades. Genuine Tiffany shades sell for many thousands, reflecting the astonishing detail, beautiful colours and huge investment in time required for each piece.

Traditional windows are still made with the leading method – lead cames and solder – as this gives the window sufficient strength and weatherproofing to be usable as glazing.

For decorative work however, there’s no question that the copper foil or Tiffany method allows the artist greater freedom and gives a finer ‘artier’ result – allowing the full expression of the artist’s imagination. The technique involves cutting the glass very accurately as the pieces need to fit together much more closely than for the leading method.

Far from the crude ‘score and crack’ techniques often seen on TV or in a glazier’s workshop, cutting glass for stained glass designs is a delicate process, requiring a very steady hand, a high-quality oil-filled cutter and years of experience!  The pieces are then wrapped tightly in copper foil, usually bought on a roll.  The foil is ‘burnished’ or smoothed on to the glass to eliminate air bubbles and unevenness.

Since Tiffany’s day, the foil has gained a self-adhesive reverse, making this process much easier. Once all the pieces of glass have been foiled, the whole design is laid out, with pins to keep all the sections together. Then the piece is soldered – at temperatures up to 350 degrees C using a special high-powered soldering iron and a lead/tin solder, similar to that used in plumbing.

The talent of the stained glass artist is reflected both in the mechanical skills used in making the piece as well as in the design flair – a great design poorly executed is no more acceptable than a great job done on a poor design!

When soldering, the stained glass artist aims to achieve a smooth, consistent ‘bead’ along all the lines where the foil-wrapped glass meet – on both sides. On a complex piece with hundreds of individual sections, this stage alone can take some hours!
Once soldered, the piece will need to be thoroughly cleaned, and framed, mounted or made ready to be enjoyed in some other way.

Although it takes only a few minutes to describe the stages of Tiffany glass creation, because each piece is completely hand-made and original, many hours of work will have gone in to the piece you see in your local gallery. And don’t forget – it may take hours to make a piece, but it takes years to learn how to!

Author : Mike Caddy of Vitreus Art

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