She’s Got Glass

I joke once in a while when asked about my childhood, mostly to get a rise out of people because it is fun to do. I tell them that I grew up walking on glass. Faces usually twist or a nervous laugh ensues. Priceless. The truth of the matter is that my mother was a leaded glass artist. Leaded glass is glass panels made by combining multiple small pieces of glass, which may be stained, textured, or beveled, with cames or copper foil. The first floor of our row house was a doctor’s office. He was evicted for being a real a-hole to our family and my folx knocked a couple of walls down to make a glass studio to support her work. Once in a blue moon, I would walk through with bare feet and get the very smallest glass splinter. Not too painful but surely hard to find to pull out.

Leaded glass, the process

The glass of various colors, hues, sometimes with a marbled effect of multiple colors or hues is chosen to be cut into pieces to create the composition. This is just like how I mix paint to do a painting but, of course, much more laborious. The different colors of glass are cut into the desired shapes to make the composition. This is like cutting out puzzle pieces to make a puzzle. There are limitations since it IS glass, to how wide a piece can be, limits to the curvature of a cut, etc. Some limitations can be overcome, e.g. curvature, by using tools like a diamond band saw to cut the glass. There is still a risk to the strength and integrity of such details which is part of the creative gamble. Copper foil is kind of like a thin roll of tape but made of copper. The copper strip is applied to the edge of each piece of glass and then folded over around the edge. The fold is usually one-eighth of an inch.

leaded glass

Once a piece has the perimeter wrapped in the copper foil, flux is spread onto the copper strip with a stiff brush. The purpose of flux is to clean the outer layer of copper foil or lead so that solder will stick to it. Pieces are then soldered together, kind of like gluing puzzle pieces together. Solder is a tin/lead alloy with the exception of lead-free solder which is a tin-copper alloy. The solder comes like wire in a coil and is melted to the fluxed copper. I would liken it to welding on a delicate scale. Unfortunately, my mom used the lead-based which she found out later actually gave her a 3 on a scale of 1-5 for lead content in her blood. She is okay but that explains why some artisans, e.g. glass blowers or old school printers of etchings do have a shorter life span. Once all of the glass pieces are soldered together into the totality of the desired composition the flux has to be cleaned off of the glass. The classic way is to use a powder called “whiting” and brush it with an old toothbrush. there are modern flux cleaning liquids now.

Stained glass

Stained glass is what most people refer to as any colored glass window joined in pieces (leaded glass). But stained glass is actually the painterly quality used to mimic painting onto the leaded glass, e.g. the face of Christ on a face-shaped piece of glass that you might find in some places of worship. The colors are “stained,” or colored by the addition of various metallic oxides while it is in a molten state. You can paint on glass with what would be the equivalent of “glass paint” and then heat it at an extreme temperature to bake it into the glass. My mom did a little bit of this well into her creative life but really preferred to explore composition in the “puzzle” way of thinking.

stained glass

Am I talkin’ smack?

Not at all and why this boring explanation? I think it is nice to have things explained to share an understanding. That is what I love about my psych. It is not just about prescribing meds. He takes the time to explain the chemical reasons and how the brain responds or does not respond and why. Over time terminology might change, be simplified, or just be forgotten. I am not one to cling to the past as the only truth but do like to know how things started and how and why they changed over time. Heck, nowadays you can bake colored pieces of acrylic in your oven for a similar leaded glass effect in a very small fraction of the time, but it is not that hundreds of years of glass history and should not be misinterpreted as such.


6 thoughts on “She’s Got Glass

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