Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Discovering Slab Glass (Dalles de Verre)

Some years back when I was living in Montana, I had started a small stained glass studio (Bear Canyon Studios) in a shop I had renovated next to my home. I designed and built leaded glass panels, and was selling them to residents of Bozeman, Helena and to some farmer/ranchers in the area. I also caried out repairs to some existing leaded glass windows in various churches in the area. A friend of mine told me about a new glass studio just begun in Philipsburg, an old silver mining ghost town. Phillipsburg is up in the mountains around Helena and is fairly remote. The studio was started by a Roman Catholic priest, who was better suited to designing and fabricating glass panels, than to more social priestly duties. The Church had asked him to design and build stained glass panels for many of the Roman Churches in Montana. And build them he did! I drove up into the mountains one Saturday, to Philipsburg, to visit  his studio. He worked exclusively with slab glass (dalles de verre) bound in a two-part thermoset epoxy polymer matrix. He faceted the glass pieces around the edges to give the light extra intensity as it passed through the glass. After a very enlightening afternoon in his studio (he had purchased the old town hall, for literally two or three dollars, renovated it) he suggested that I stop on my way back to Bozeman, to see a panel he had recently installed in a small chapel in Three Forks (or Trident as it is sometimes called). I found the chapel alongside the road and walked into an unlocked, tiny vestibule. As the door swung shut behind me, I realized there were no lights in the vestibule. I was in the dark except for the light coming through my friend's newly installed panel. The panel was about 6 ft. by 5 ft. and comprised of a fairly tight palette of lively, vibrating blues. These varying blues, literally "bouncing around" within the field added immensely to its energy. The total effect was stunning! It felt to me that I was actually being physically touched by the color! I had never had that intense an experience with stained glass before. My body immediately understood how light and color could actually have a physical effect! This was and is a life-changing experience. I was hooked!! Since then I have designed and built slab glass panels, with the expectation of re-experiencing that wonderful first moment when I literally FELT the color. And the expectation has been realized, time and again.

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