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Stained Glass Windows: Selecting the Right Studio

A stained glass studio that creates brilliant new designs is not necessarily the one you want to restore an historic leaded glass window. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the stained glass artisan who's best for your project.

Click here for a list of qualified stained glass studios
Click here for a list of studios that do glass bending

First, let's define what the term "stained glass" means. Technically, it should be restricted to art glass that has an image or pattern that has been painted on the glass and then fused into the glass by firing. However, the term "stained glass" is commonly applied more broadly today to include art glass panels that are made up of colored glass pieces (without any painting on them) that are held together with lead cames to form a pattern. We'll be using this broader definition here.

Here's the critical point: Stained glass creation and stained glass conservation are two very different skills. Sometimes, these two skill sets are combined within the same glass artisan. But frequently they are not. And if you're looking for someone to restore your 100-year-old Tiffany window, just because a studio has a portfolio filled with brilliant new work does not necessarily mean that the studio will do an equally brilliant job restoring your Tiffany panel.

An experienced stained glass conservator has a high level of the basic craft skills that are common to all qualified glass artisans. In addition, however, the stained glass conservator has a firm grounding in the history of stained glass styles and a high degree of sensitivity to the intent of the original artist, while boasting some special additional technical skills. For example, the stained class conservator has to be expert in such things as: (a) Invisibly edge-gluing broken glass pieces; (b) Flattening bowed panels; (c) Inserting additional reinforcing bars when needed; (d) Stabilizing paint that wasn't properly fused to the glass; (e) Executing in-fill painting when needed; (f) Cleaning and re-cementing panels and (g) Disassembling and re-leading entire panels when required.

In addition, when restoring large stained glass windows -- such as those on churches -- there's frequently the additional problem of "protective glazing," a secondary clear panel that is often added to block air infiltration and prevent vandalism. However, when not properly installed and ventilated, this material can actually accelerate deterioration of stained glass windows due to the high temperatures that can build up in the cavity between the two panels. It takes a conservation expert with considerable experience to deal with protective glazing successfully.

On the other hand, if you're looking to commission a new stained glass panel, you may need a studio with a high level of design skill and experience. And it's possible that a studio that specializes in restoration and conservation may not have the design flair you're looking for.

The only sure guideline to selecting the right art glass studio for your specific project is to: (1) Make sure the studio can show examples of recent work that is similar to your job and (2) If the prospective studio has done projects similar to yours, check with the clients involved to determine their level of satisfaction.

Click here for a list of qualified stained glass studios
Click here for a list of studios that do glass bending