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A brief history of stained glass

 My interest in stained glass piqued when a few years ago I wrote about a group of Morgantown women renting work space together. It was a treat to see their space, copious amounts of beautiful glass, and learn a bit about the process.

 Little did I know how pivotal that interview would turn out for me. It inspired me to take a stained glass class at MTEC. Then I took another class. Then I limped along trying to work with a few tools and pieces of glass at home.

 This set-up proved difficult, with bits of glass everywhere. Unsurprisingly, it turned out not to be one of those hobbies to set up on my kitchen table for a few hours.

 I had the honor of joining the ladies I’d interviewed in their shared workshop (shoutout, glass gals!). Being surrounded by others working with the same medium is a wonderful experience. A particularly tough Covid related change for me is not going into the workshop, and not seeing everyone else’s work.

 Because I love working with glass, for the interim I set up a designated spot on my back porch to work on small projects. Missing fellow creatives, I started thinking about those who used glass throughout history.

 The earliest glass is probably Egyptian beads made from between 2750 and 2625 BC — a history of stained glass on The Stained Glass Association of America website speculates that the Egyptians might have discovered glass while firing pottery.

 Glass is delicate; there aren’t many early fragments to help archeologists piece together the beginnings of the art form. The Lycurgus Cup indicates that Romans employed stained glass techniques in the forth century.

 This cup is a special specimen — it changes color depending how the light shines through it. The property of glowing red when lit from behind and green when lit from the front is due to nanoparticles of gold and silver.

 During medieval times, stained glass craftsmen formed guilds to support each other and to oversee the quality of the workmanship. Mobile stained glass workshops traveled from church to church, making stained glass windows.

 By the Renaissance, stained glass studios were often attached to cathedrals that commissioned most of their work. Techniques and tools also changed — lead lines became thinner, and diamond cutters allowed for larger and more intricate pieces.

 Some stained glass was set in geometric designs; other windows depicted biblical scenes, made from colorful class pieced to form a picture. Stained glass windows in public buildings also depicted secular subjects. A popular theme in town hall windows was the labors of the seasons.

 With the Reformation, church patronage of stained glass waned, so did general use of the medium.

 From the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s, there was a resurgence of popularity in stained glass around the world, particularly in home décor. In the United State, the architect Frank Lloyd Write used stained glass in his designs, Tiffany lamps were popular, and stained glass panels had a distinct place in the Craftsman/Mission design style.

 There is a lot to love about colored glass, and in addition to wanting to learn even more about the history and individual artists who contributed to it, my favorite part is picking up a finished piece from my work table to see how it is transformed by light.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, exploring possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County.