Art of Stained Glass

The art of stained glass is one which is steeped in history. However one local artist has honed her craft creating modern day pieces from this ancient art form.

Nancy Davey has been creating stunning stained glass works of art for some 20 years.

With a passion for art from a young age, Nancy says she has always had a fascination with stained glass in particular. However, it wasn’t until Nancy met her husband that she had an opportunity to learn this ancient craft.
“One Christmas he bought me some stained glass art classes and ever since then I have been hooked,” she says.

Nancy completed a couple of courses where she learnt the basics, from cutting the glass to soldering; the rest she says is self-taught over the years.

In 2006 she moved to Cayman and stopped working full time. It was then, Nancy says, that she was really able to dedicate herself fully, allowing her to truly perfect her craft.

“Stained glass is not itself difficult, but it is hard to become proficient at it and to make a more detailed, polished piece,” she says.

“Creating stained glass requires patience and attention to detail. I don’t think the average person has much idea of how much time goes into a piece. It really is a labour of love.”

Indeed, a large window-sized piece can take Nancy up to 90 hours to complete, while just a small A4-sized wall hanging can take anything up to 20 hours.

Nancy takes on various commissions, including stained glass windows, wall hangings and ornaments. Her stained glass windows can be designed to hang over an existing window, so as the artwork can be removed in the event of a hurricane.

Blue iguanas, tropical fish, cat boats, turtles and colourful flowers are typical examples of the stained glass pieces Nancy creates, although she says that almost anything is possible, design-wise.

How it’s done

Nancy first creates a design, often working from her own drawings and sketches. The design has to be translated into a piece that will work as a stained glass artwork, since the glass can only be cut in various ways.

Once the design is finalised, a template is created to work from. Nancy then selects the right pieces of glass, for the project in hand. Using the artwork as her guide, each piece of glass is numbered – much like a paint-by-number picture. The shapes are cut with glass cutters, and then ground, using a diamond grinder, to create a smooth finish, ensuring each piece fits together perfectly, much like a puzzle.

The edge of each piece of glass is then wrapped with copper foil and the individual pieces are pieced back together by running a bead of molten solder over the length of the seams, essentially “gluing” each piece of glass together.

Finally, a chemical patina is carefully applied to the solder, turning it from its natural silver colour to traditional black, and then washed to remove any remaining residue.

“One of the hardest elements is cutting the glass, while wrapping each piece with copper foil can be time consuming as it has to be exact to ensure a neat finish and clean lines,” Nancy explains. “If you are a detailed orientated person then you will love stained glass.”

History

Glass work has a long history. The art of stained glass goes back at least 1,300 years. References to stained glass in England date from the 7th century and by the 12th century it had become an art form, where it was typically found in churches up and down the country. During the Victorian era, stained glass started to become mainstream and could be seen in the home.

American artists such as Louis Comfort Tiffany are considered pioneering in this field, developing modern day techniques such as copper foil at the end of the 19th century, opening up a whole new window of possibility and intricacy. In 1893, Tiffany built his New York factory, which went on to produce a complete range of interior stained glass decorations, including his famed Tiffany lamps. Other stained glass artists include John Le Farge, who in 1880 received a US patent on opalescent glass, a term used to describe glass where more than one colour is present.

The making of stained glass windows has hardly changed since the 12th century. Lead came, and the more modern copper foil method, are two techniques which are both used to hold the various pieces of glass in place – effectively gluing them together, giving stained glass artwork its distinctive lead-lined look.

Lead came technique is the traditional stained glass technique and is still used in large scale architectural windows as it offers greater strength than the modern day copper foil technique. The lead came method gives an appearance of appealing, uniform lines and an antique look.

Copper foil–the method which Nancy uses for the majority of her works–is the most popular technique. It is the tool of choice for the average hobbyist, since it is easier to work with, both in terms of finishing and speed.

The copper foil technique also offers far greater flexibility in terms of design.  

 

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Stephen Clarke