Archive for category Medium: Stained glass

Stained Glass || Sophie D’Souza

So, the year of surprises continues. This is not really my area, so it’s entirely possible I’ve missed something. However, this is the first book on the practical aspects of stained glass that I’ve seen in a very long time and the first to be fully illustrated in colour.

The first thing to say is that this isn’t really a subject you can dabble in and also probably not something you can learn exclusively from books. The amount of equipment needed is considerable and very specialist. There are also processes involved for which safety is a major consideration. That said, if you’re working with a tutor, to have something you can go to between lessons for extension, revision and clarification would be useful and this should fit the brief well.

I’m not in a position to judge the quality of the instruction here, but it looks sound and the resulting work that’s illustrated is both varied and competent. Above all, it’s thorough and well-structured and moves from basic techniques and establishing a workshop right through to quoting for professional work. There’s a lot to read, of course, but the illustrations are nicely integrated with the text so that you can see what is being described as you go along. Although this is very much not a visual book with extended captions, such visual notes add considerably to the comprehensibility of the text and the balance is well thought-out.

Normally, I like to work from a printed copy but, this being peripheral to what I write about, I’ve decided to accept a digital edition. Here, the reproduction looks fine and, although I can’t comment on the paper (which makes a considerable difference to how well images show up), the pictures are sharp and the colour looks right.

Allowing for the constraints I’ve already mentioned, I’d say this is an excellent introduction and companion to work in stained glass that will be fully satisfying and not one to leave you wanting more.

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Contemporary Stained Glass Artists || Kate Baden Fuller

Stained glass as an art form is unique. For a start, the layman may well not think of it initially as art at all, but rather as part of the building process, just the coloured glazing you get in church windows. But, as well as this, it exists on two planes: the piece itself set, usually as a window and viewed from inside a building, but also as a complement, an augmentation to, perhaps even a commentary on, the building itself.

In its best-known historical form, stained glass is seen in churches and cathedrals and is usually the only surviving part of what were once highly decorated interiors. Much of it did not survive the iconoclasm of the Commonwealth and is of more recent date, not uncommonly Victorian. The original purpose was to illustrate stories from the Bible that were often also seen in wall paintings and on carvings both inside and outside the church itself. These buildings were often story books made flesh, so to speak.

The impressive thing about the art of stained glass is that it has never really had a revival because it has never really gone away. It’s not something that draws the casual craftsperson, but yet there has been a solid body of practitioners all over the world who have kept the craft alive not for sentimental or historic reasons but simply because it works as well today as it ever did. Just as much as any mediaeval cathedral, Basil Spence’s Coventry or le Corbusier’s Notre Dame de Haut are immeasurably raised to a higher plane by the use of glass and would not possess anything like their sense of calm spirituality without it.

This book is a well-conceived survey of what’s going on today. The author is herself a well-known stained-glass artist. Her motivation for writing the book was to interpret what for a moment we’ll call “coloured windows” as pieces of art and also to relate them to their location and explain their relevance to their particular site. In doing so, she has surveyed the work of over 60 practitioners in more than 10 countries right across the world and, in an utterly inspired moment, got them to explain for themselves what it is they do and why. It is, of course, dangerous to ask artists to explain their own work because, so often, what they want to say is in the piece itself, but the complex way in which stained glass acts and reacts prompts what, for want of a better word, we can call a philosophy and the approach does produce worthwhile results.

A quick glance at the price will reveal that this is not as book for the casual browser but, in a mass-produced age of pile-it-high and sell-it-cheap, Black’s have once again eschew anything but the highest quality. Stained glass will not put up with less than perfect photography and nowhere in this rather sumptuous book does it have to.

First published 2006

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