Stained Glass as an Art Form

Techniques of Today

Today, glass sheets used for “stained glass” art are machine-rolled yet retain a unique color spread and texture similar to hand-mixed and rolled glass of the past. Glass sheets are then cut and pieces fitted together using two methods: lead came and copper foil. The results of the two methods are very different looks. The Cavaliere Glass Studio produces using both techniques but focuses on the Lead Came method.

Lead Came:

Came is a slender, grooved lead channel strip used to hold together pieces of glass which are then soldered at the joints.  The thick came makes it a sturdier choice for large panels and windows but also requires additional effort. Glass pieces typically have to be more precise and fit together closely.

Copper foil:

Copper foiling was first developed and produced from 1878 to 1933 by Louis Comfort Tiffany at the Tiffany Studios in New York. Glass piece edges are wrapped in thin strips of copper foil then soldered together.  The flexibility of foil is primarily used for 3-dimensional, intricate, and detailed designs. The method of copper foil stained glass soldering is considered easier to master and quicker to learn.

Stained Glass in History

Working with glass can be traced to 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia and Egypt where glass beads were produced. These originally were possibly the by-product of metal-working slags or during the crafting of faience, an early form of pottery glazing.

By 500 B.C. the Romans were shaping glass into containers for a variety of uses. There were limited advancements in glass production until 50 A.D. when the glass industry went from very basic practical uses to an advanced art form when glassblowing was perfected. With the influx of skilled craftsmen from the eastern Roman borders, glass tableware replaced pottery. Flat, cast, and rolled glass was used for windows and insulation in the Roman bath houses to prevent drafts.

Cast glass as an art medium in the Medieval period reached its peak with the cutting of glass fitted with lead came for cathedral windows.

Why is it called Stained Glass?

During the Renaissance (1100 to 1500), painters in Europe used glass as a “canvas” to depict religious, civic, and personal experiences. A wide variety of dark colors ranging from brown tones to black were used. A silver stain was applied to the external side of the glass and then fired. The vitreous paint, derived from powdered glass, iron oxide, and ground copper, was mixed with wine, urine, or vinegar. This was applied to the glass then separate pieces of glass were fired in a wood oven or kiln, permanently fusing the paint to the glass. Today glass paint is available without firing.

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