Monday, December 28, 2015

Reflections on My Past in Glass

Forgive an aging artist and historian, affected by the nostalgia of the holiday season... Over the past few years, it seems, while I was studying history so intently, I tended to forget about my past career in stained glass arts. I guess Blackbeard the Pirate can really take you captive, even in the literary sense! Many have asked me about this and were surprised and overjoyed that I once worked in such a colorful artistic field. Being in a post-Christmas holiday reflective mood, I feel the desire to brag on myself. So, please allow me this contemplative indulgence to tell you the story... 

In the spring of 1999, while returning to Florida from North Carolina, I happened upon a stained glass shop near where I lived. Looking for employment, I inquired there. The shop owner discovered that I was an artist and asked me if I knew how to cut glass. Having recently worked at a North Carolina commercial glass company, I happily responded "yes!"

Then, he asked me if I had ever painted on glass, to which I had to admit, "No."

After some test of my glass cutting ability, it was decided that, if nothing else, I would at least be capable of helping cut glass. It was a small town and this occupational feat was a rarity.

It did not take long before I tried glass painting and found it a wholly satisfying effort! We were working on a rather large church window with a glass medallion in center that required a painted dove. 

The most interesting part of stained glass painting is the reverse-painting method. Your put the color over the whole piece of glass and then remove the areas where you do not wish this color to be. Then, you fire this "paint" into the glass in a kiln at 1250-1400 degrees. [By the way, I'm selling my old shop kiln on Ebay for anyone who needs a large Skutt kiln for glass or ceramics.]

Also, I have written a book on the construction of a large, almost all-painted piece called "Jesus Knocking" window, showing these details.

Yes, each color is applied and fired separately, so you have to be careful how you plan these pieces. Well, the final result was more than acceptable and the customer was pleased. I was now onto a career as a stained glass artist. 

Over the next two years, we constructed many new church windows and focused our sales on painted pieces. It was quite rewarding and desired, even gaining some recognition from local residents as providers of a unique form of art for their homes. 

Note the lack of grey hair on my head... ;)
One of those residential jobs required a four-paneled depiction of a Florida spring in an aluminum frame so the customer could open his window when he desired. This presented unique challenges indeed. Some of the pieces were painted to provide shadows from the trees/leaves/ground on the ground and water at the spring. The effect was subtle.

By April of 2001, my employers had decided to close up shop and I started my own independent stained glass shop not far away. There, I continued the church work and explored other areas of glass art like melting glass, oozing (pun) with pleasure. The kiln that I'm selling now became my favorite toy as well. 

The final window that I constructed at the end of my career and before the stroke that sent me into my present career as an historian was the one that you see above and the one for which I wrote the book based on its construction. This window combined every technique that I had learned: Tiffany-style, came-style, glass painting on a large scale and alternating use of opals and clears to achieve glittering effects while you moved past the window. It literally appeared to be alive. My friend and sometimes helper told me that it was worthy of the Renaissance! lol

I did say he was my friend. No, I didn't pay him to say that...

Each piece of the door was painted on amber Spectrum wavy glass, first with a quill pen using black paint in Clove oil, then different shades of brown to provide the appearance of wood grain. The grapes were completely painted on white opal glass. The iron on the door was black paint on blue clear glass, borrowing from comic book artists who used blue to represent black objects, especially shiny ones. I probably didn't invent this idea on glass, but I like to think I did. lol

On interesting sidenote. My mother called me one day while I was firing Jesus' head piece... I had just broken the first attempt in the kiln across the forehead and had to redo it. I told her about this. Her response? Of course... "Well, you've been giving him a headache for awhile now!" See where I get it? 

I even did some glass etching work:

As I said, thanks for allowing an aging, slightly modified maritime historian his reminiscing indulgence. I hope you perceived it as a sharing of my love for art and color! I will always miss these days... 


As always, visit me at:

Blackbeard's family records discovered - press release:

The journal copies are limited and running out, but NC Publications has re-released my article as a separate pamphlet titled Blackbeard Reconsidered: Mist's Piracy, Thache's Genealogy and it is available online as well as in various NC museums and historic sites. 

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