Stained Glass — Wide-ranging art form captivating all ages

Debra Tobin

I remember the first time I saw a stained glass window. The beauty of the windows captivated me at a young age, and to this day I’m still mesmerized by their magnetic charm and artistic appeal. I was in church with my grandmother the first time I saw the

The Holy City stained glass, by Louis Comfort Tiffany, resides in Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Ma.

The Holy City stained glass, by Louis Comfort Tiffany, resides in Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Ma.

colorful and picturesque windows and realized they were more than just windows. It was as if the window was coming to life and telling a story. I often used my imagination to play out the scenes of the story displayed on each window. Watching the rainbow of colors glisten on the walls and floor of the church and gazing at the beautiful designs is something that amazed me each week. For me it was a treat to see the array of vibrant colors sparkle throughout the church.

The term stained glass refers to two different categories: the material of colored glass and the art or craft of working with stained glass. As a material, the term refers to glass that is colored by adding metallic salts during the manufacturing process. The glass is made into stained glass windows by arranging small pieces of the colored glass to make a pattern or picture. The glass is held together with strips of lead and supported by a frame. Designs vary from Biblical scripture scenes to floral and scenery, depending on the purpose.

Stained glass is colored glass used to make decorative windows and other objects through which light passes. It is often made in large, richly detailed panels that are set together in a framework of lead. Like all colored glass, it gets its color by adding metallic oxides to molten glass. The colors are determined by which oxide is used. For example: copper oxide, under certain conditions, is known to produce ruby, gold, blue or green colors in glass; cobalt is used to produce blue; adding chromium and iron oxide can produce green shades; uranium, cadmium sulfide or titanium for golden colored glass; and ruby colored glass is often made by adding gold.

Stained glass has a long history and dates back to ancient Egypt in the second century B.C. Records indicate stained glass is still made as it was in the Middle Ages, but this has not yet been proven. It is often referred to as “cathedral” glass because it was widely used in many cathedrals throughout Europe during earlier times. Originally cathedral stained glass was clear with a colored stain applied to or painted on it. Once the chemicals were painted on the windows, they were fired in a kiln for a period of time. This process was quite expensive and labor intensive. Eventually the color was incorporated in the glass by

Example of the use of various oxides to create a richly designed stained glass piece (Photo courtesy Debra Tobin)

Example of the use of various oxides to create a richly designed stained glass piece (Photo courtesy Debra Tobin)

adding metals and minerals, giving the glass a tinted color. Initially, stained glass was used primarily in churches or cathedrals in earlier days. Today you will find new homes enhanced with beveled and stained glass entryways, stained glass bathroom windows, Tiffany style lampshades, Christmas ornaments, as well as decorative panels hanging in windows.

Creating stained glass windows was not an easy task for craftsmen in earlier times. There were many steps to follow from the beginning to the finished product. First a template of the window opening was made; the design was determined by the location, theme or whatever the customer desired. Next a full-sized cartoon (pattern or design) was drawn for each “light” or opening of the window. The cartoon was then divided into a patchwork as a template for each small glass piece. The position of the lead holding the glass in place was a very important step and a part of the overall visual effect. The glass was chosen for the color and cut to match the template. Details of faces, hair and hands were then painted on the inner side of the glass with special glass paint made of ground lead or copper filings, ground glass, gum Arabic and wine, vinegar or urine.

The glass pieces were then merged together in what was called H-sectioned lead “cames.” A “came” is a slender grooved lead rod used to hold together panes of glass. (Today, copper foil is often used in place of lead.) Once this was done, the joints were soldered together. This kept the windows from rattling and also helped weatherproof them. Next the windows were placed in the window spaces and iron rods were placed across them at different points to help support the weight of the windows. Lead was used in holding the windows in place as opposed to zinc ,even though zinc was better. It was more costly, but was also an indication of older glass.

Stained Glass Spotlight
While Tiffany may be one of the most prolific producer of stained glass, the fraternity of glass makers is diverse. Here is a sample of additional stained glass pieces sold at auction:
• 10 original stained glass designs made for Coventry Cathedral, England, by John Piper, C.H., sold for $49,108 in 2013.
• Bouquet lamp, measuring 22 inches, from the Studio of Joseph Porcelli, realized $19,837 in 2010.
• “Wisteria” leaded glass and gilt-bronze chandelier, circa 1910, by Duffner & Kimberly fetched $23,750 in 2010.
• Stained glass window, measuring 8-foot by 5-foot, circa 1880, by Henry F. Belcher finished at $41,900 — more than four times its presale estimate — in 2005.
• John Lafarge’s “Moonrise” stained glass with opalescent glass, late 19th century, measuring 27-1/4 inches by 42-3/4 inches, commanded $55,000 in 2004

It wasn’t until the Victorian and Edwardian eras (1800s) that stained glass was used in non-religious windows. During this time, stained glass windows began to appear in many European chateaus. The colors began to change from the normal traditional royal colors used in church windows to softer hues. Soon stained glass took on a whole new meaning and American glass makers began processing a translucent “milky” glass known as opalescent glass. Notable American painter John Lafarge invented the opalescent glass and patented it in 1880. However, Louis Comfort Tiffany received several patents for variations of the same opalescent process. Tiffany also invented the copper foil method that was often used in place of lead.

Although Lafarge invented opalescent glass, it was Tiffany who made it legendary. His name became significant or synonymous with the glass and the American glass movement. Tiffany’s workers would sometimes waste a large piece of glass to get the right color. As an example, a leaf with a brown stem could use several colors from brown to dark green to light green. Both Lafarge and Tiffany used delicate cuts and lavish colored

Tiffany Studios Alamander chandelier

$212,400. Tiffany Studios Alamander chandelier, depicting a profusion of blossoms against a background of mottled confetti glass. Shade is Impressed Tiffany Studios, New York; 28 1/4-inch shade diameter.

glass in great detail with smooth designs like none other, and layered glass to achieve depth and texture. Tiffany is not only well known for manufacturing lampshades, but he is also responsible for more elaborate and lavish window designs such as The Holy City. This is one of the largest stained glass windows made by the Tiffany Studios and is St. John’s vision on the isle of Patmos. It has 58 panels and is one of 11 Tiffany windows in the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

Like Lafarge and Tiffany, Mike Messner of Andersonville, Ga., is also a great admirer of stained glass and recalls his first interest in the beautiful windows came when his parents bought an 1893 Victorian home with stained glass windows. Messner remembers one of the windows was broken and after two years of night classes at an Atlanta stained glass studio, he restored the damaged window. Messner first started collecting and refinishing pieces to resell during his senior year in high school. While attending North Georgia Trade School, after graduation, he worked part-time for an antique shop and learned the ropes of the trade.

Messner said stained glass can vary in construction greatly. “The most common construction methods are copper foil, leaded H-channel, Dalle glass and epoxy,” he stated. “Artists can use multiple methods to create a window panel or art pieces,” he continued.

Messner generally purchases English stained glass windows, which are reasonably priced, but also buys American windows.

According to Messner, stained glass makes great gifts and can be passed down from generation to generation. “Stained glass as an art form adds beauty and enjoyment to any

The panes in this diamonds-standing-on-point panel feature botanical motifs. (Photo courtesy Debra Tobin)

The panes in this diamonds-standing-on-point panel feature botanical motifs. (Photo courtesy Debra Tobin)

home, old or new,” he said. Messner has been a loyal vendor of Scott Antique Markets in Atlanta for over a year and sells a variety of stained glass windows in a wide range of designs.

Many say stained glass windows are the “Poor Man’s Bible” because they tell the Biblical story. Messner added, “The purpose of the cathedral stained glass windows was to tell the stories of the Bible when there were no written Bibles available and people were not educated nor needed to be in order to live and prosper. Since the church or cathedral was the center of community culture, this was a source of spreading God’s word.”

You can see Messner and many other vendors with a wide variety of antiques at the next Scott Antique Market event, Sept. 12-15 at the Atlanta Expo Center. For more information on Scott Antique Markets, visit or call 740-569-4912.

If You Go:
Atlanta Expo Center 3650 Jonesboro Rd. SE, Atlanta, GA 30354
The Scott Antique Market is officially open Thursday from 12:45-6 p.m. (Not open to the public before 12:45 p.m.)
Friday and Saturday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission is $5. Parking is free.