News

Stained glass a passion for Bedford crafter

Friday, December 20, 2013

Story and photos by LORETTA JACKSON

Staff Writer

Few expressions of beauty surpass the look of stained glass, illuminated by sunlight, candlelight or electric lighting. Aficionados in Bedford, Merrimack, Hollis, and many other towns rarely refrain from pausing when they encounter a beautiful stained glass window or a residential panel of the glass work.

Some stained glass in Bedford recently was displayed by Carol Davis, president of the Craftworkers’ Guild, an organization of more than 60 juried artists, based at 5 Meetinghouse Road, behind the Bedford Public Library. Davis said works of stained glass have a universal appeal, earned by their color, design and complexity.

Davis began making stained glass designs in 1979. She and her husband, Frank, had moved into a home that had a cook’s island in the middle of the kitchen floor. The island’s interior was handy for storage but Davis envisioned adding some light to its surface by suspending overhead a pool-table-style lighting fixture made of stained glass. The style is an elongated oval or a rectangle made into a lighting fixture and suspended by sturdy chains.

Davis wanted the stained glass fixture to be around three feet long, 15 inches wide and 12 inches high with bright panels and a border of roses. So, she learned how to make one by taking a class. The completed project was beautiful, she said. Soon, she made a matching, stained glass back-splash that is mounted above her stove’s cooktop. The back-splash also features roses and is lit from behind.

Soon, the Davis home showcased numerous stained-glass adornments. Two rooms adjoining her second-floor office area sport stained glass windows that won prizes. One is spring themed and features a bird amid foliage. An autumn themed window shows a hoot owl with outstretched wings perching on some branches. Each is made of dozens of small pieces of stained glass in a variety of colors.

“My level of detail would never be commercially viable,” Davis said. “But friends all over the world have my pieces.”

A series of butterflies, based on real specimens, is in progress. Davis replicates the colors of the living butterfly – iridescent blue, yellow, orange or aqua. Tiny pieces of glass forming the butterflies’ wings were each cut by hand and smoothed on a grinding wheel. Then, each was encased in copper foil or within the grooves of a length of “came,” a lead-based casing. Finally, the foil- or came-wrapped sections are soldered together to unify the piece.

“I’ve made about 10 butterflies, but I have many more to go,” Davis said. “The patterns I’ve made are based on real-life butterflies from all over the world.”

Each of the colors used in her stained glass artworks is cut from a separate pane. A wide range of solid colors, swirled blends, patterned panes and textured stained glass is available from companies specializing in the craft. She prefers obtaining her glass, tools, copper foil, soldering tools and grinders from Detailed Stained Glass, a New Hampshire firm based in Concord.

The Stained Glass Association of America, founded in 1903, notes online the origin of the art. Stained glass is said there to possibly be a discovery of Phoenician sailors whose cooking fires fused the beach’s sand and soda into molten globs of glass. Other attributions go to Egyptians, whose discovery of glass most likely came about as an adjunct to their firing of clay vessels. Egyptian glass beads, handmade by skilled artisans who wound molten glass around an expendable clay core, are dated to 2750 BC.

Davis also credits as a valued resource a fellow artist, Bill McDonald, of Hooksett, whose stained glass and fused glass jewelry is displayed at the Craftworkers’ Guild’s holiday shop, now in progress through Sunday, Dec. 22, at the Craftworkers’ Guild’s shop behind the library. The stained glass, jewelry, folk art, handmade clothing for children, paintings and hundreds of other items are sure to find new homes for the holidays.

“I must take one of Bill’s classes soon,” Davis said. “I have to sharpen up my soldering skills.”

Davis said the craft of making stained glass is not a difficult one to learn. Some tools are needed, including glass cutters, nippers, copper foil in various width, lead came and other implements. Davis urges any practitioner to be safety conscious at all times.

“Always wear safety glasses when cutting glass,” Davis said. “You need safety glasses and also a good ventilation system because sometimes you’re working with chemicals and metals.”

For more information on the stained glass available at the Craftworkers’ Guild, of Bedford, visit www.thecraftworkersguild.org.

Elsewhere in southern New Hampshire, Hollis Town Hall recently had 30 antique stained-glass windows renovated by Alpine Environmental, a Massachusetts company with more than 20 years experience in historical renovation. The panes resided in dilapidated wooden frames original to the building, erected more than 100 years ago. The process was an exacting one, for most of the amber, green and rose-colored windows were six to eight feet high.

Merrimack churchgoers to St. James United Methodist Church on Daniel Webster Highway oftentimes remark about a large, circular design of stained glass that graces an area near the choir loft. Its colors seem to add an ethereal element to the songs issuing forth from the worshipers and the singers.

Elsewhere in Merrimack, residents including the Fleming family, whose home is near Wasserman Park, enjoy examples of stained glass that include a Tiffany-style hanging lamp. They have a decorative sun catcher of red, blue and white. Another work depicts purple Iris amid tall, slender green leaves. Those pieces of stained glass and the glass panels flanking the front door of the home, owned by Ed and Loretta Fleming, were designed and made by one of their daughters, Nancy Fleming, a wedding videographer from Milford.

The Flemings’ son, Edward Thomas Fleming, also of Merrimack, is considered the family’s go-to guy when it comes to questions about the history of a craft such as stained glass. He is an accomplished builder and renovator of violins, violas and instruments of the Revolutionary War – fifes and fiddles. His interest in stained glass, often found in colonial-era churches and other structures, is longstanding.

“Stained glass designs sometimes featured portions of painted glass,” he said. “In the old days, craftsmen would crush colored glass and use it to paint an angel or a saint or a figure’s robes and facial details. Then, the artists would re-fire the piece to melt the painted part onto the background glass.”

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