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Education And Training

With a learning process that is long and time consuming, it takes much practice and patience to become a skilled stained glass artist. “Most of the training for stained glass comes from being on the job with major studios,” says Richard Gross of the Stained Glass Quarterly, published by the Stained Glass Association of America (SGAA, http://www.stainedglass.org). However, Gross adds that this is especially true in the area of architectural stained glass. Most stained glass is made for religious institutions. “While most studios no longer have official apprenticeship programs,” he says, “they do, of course, train people to do the work of stained glass.”

How a Stained Glass Panel is Made

A design for stained glass windows begins as a full-size cartoon, or preparatory drawing on paper. Sometimes the craftsperson draws the cartoon. Other times the cartoon is supplied by a customer or an outside designer.

Colored glass is selected based on the cartoon and purpose of the window. Then the glass is cut with a glasscutter to fit the shapes depicted in the cartoon. Smooth-jawed pliers are used to cut the glass into shapes that have awkward curves.

To apply a design to glass, an artist uses a mixture of powdered glass and metal oxides that becomes a black or brown paint when water is added. The artist carefully traces the lines from the cartoon onto the glass. To achieve a shaded effect, the stained glassmaker uses a thinner wash, which is left on the glass to dry. When it is ready to be fired, the glass is loaded into the upper part of a kiln. The temperature of the kiln fuses the paint to the glass. Because of the high temperature, the glass becomes strained, so it's necessary to leave the glass in the kiln to cool slowly.

Lead is used to edge each piece of glass because it provides a strong, flexible bond. The lead is cut and bent in order to match the contours of each piece. The glass, surrounded by lead, is fused together.

There are many stained glass studios that employ between five and twenty people. “I would definitely recommend beginning a stained glass career at one of these larger studios,” says Gross. He also suggests taking classes taught in other educational settings, such as craft schools or adult education workshops.

Another way to learn about stained glass is by reading books. Gross points out that “books that approach stained glass as a craft with a long history and cover stained glass in an architectural context are useful.”

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