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Stained Glass Is Still Relevant in the Christian Church
By: Andrew Cary Young

Glass has always been an innovative material in step with the changes in architectural design and engineering. New technologies allow for glass to continue to adapt to these changes.

Glass art has been relevant for the last thousand years in the Christian church worship experience because human perception responds to God's gift of light in a profound way. In the hand of glass artists for centuries, this filtered light, when combined with imagery and symbolism, has engaged the imagination of the viewer. These walls of colored light have served the church honorably and righteously.

America has contributed to the tradition of glass as an innovative architectural component. A century and a half ago, the American glass artists John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany began an American revolution in glass. 

The invention of opalescent glass by LaFarge and the adoption of this material by Tiffany and others created an American style of stained glass wholly different than their European counterparts.

John LaFarge and Tiffany were artists and painters. Their innovations allowed their work to be more like painting. If the latest innovations in art glass were available to them in the late 1800s, they would have certainly used it.

After WWII, the Studio Glass Movement began in America. Artists wanted to work with glass as an art form. The problem for them was that the technology for handling glass was mostly industrialized and not easily accessible to the individual creator. 

Harvey Littleton, teaching ceramist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1958, found a way to create glass on a small scale in a studio setting. Glass research scientist Dominic Labino invented a small furnace for glass artists. One of Harvey’s early students was Dale Chihuly.    

This trend was running parallel with advancements in materials science. Ceramic fibers began to be spun into highly lightweight refractory insulating materials of boards, blankets, all materials that unleased the creative demand for using glass in new and innovative forms of expression.  

The revolution that allows you to carry a computer in your hand represents the final part of the puzzle to be fit into place. To create glass in a creative way is one thing, but to control all of the demanding technical physical properties is quite another.

When Pearl River Glass studio first began to experiment with kiln formed glass almost 40 years ago, we used a pottery kiln made with fire brick and manual control of the heating elements. Over the next two decades, three things happened.

1. The personal computer revolution downsized a computer that filled a room to a device that would fit onto a desktop. The computer chip and small computer technology allowed automatic controls to be developed that would run a kiln in a very precise firing schedule.

2. Glass manufacturers on the west coast in Washington and Oregon began to produce colored glass that was not only in a wide range of colors and types but was compatible with each other at melting temperatures. All materials expand and contract at their own rate. With glass, this is called the COE or Coefficient Of Expansion.The glass that they brought to market allowed the studio artist to melt glass together that does not disintegrate when it returns to room temperature.  The computer controls the kiln firing schedule, allowing the studio artist to bring the glass to melting temperature and then back down to room temperature through a very specific controlled firing schedule.

3. Manufacturers now use the advancement in material science, the ceramic fiber blanket, to make a range of electric kilns that provide the glass artist a wide range of sizes and functions.  Computer based digital controllers allow for very precise firing schedules to be achieved. 

“The Oasis at Elim” 2014
Fair Park Baptist Church, West Monroe, Louisiana
In the fall of 2013, our studio was contacted by Rev. Waymond Waren of Fair Park Baptist church about a vision that he had for the focal point in their new sanctuary under construction. 

With an Easter 2014 deadline, we worked closely with Rev. Warren to interpret his ideas of telling the story and theology based on Exodus 15: 22-27. This window uses all of the innovations we have perfected.

Our glass artist Joy Abedikichi interpreted the design rendering created by Andrew Cary Young.  She used compatible glass colors that made the large glass sections in the window using the kiln forming process. The glass is installed into a custom designed steel armature to support the weight in time for their Easter opening services. Color balanced LED lighting with light level control are used in a narrow enclosure behind the window. 

Our special installation procedure eliminates the bright hot spots of the light fixtures. In the window that followed this for the baptistery at First Baptist Church in Madison, we were able to reduce the visual impact of the division bars. 

“Jesus the Good Shepherd” 2015
First Baptist Church Madison, Mississippi
The theme was to bring the image of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd into a landscape familiar to the Madison county community. Because the facility is in a modern style the kiln formed art glass was done to be in keeping with the new architecture. 

The architect Bruce Wood of JHH, architect of JH&H Architects Planners Interiors, Pennsylvania, said, “The use of this type glass in today’s technology-driven worship centers is very appropriate. We added the back lighted stained glass so that the video projections screens were not the only thing glowing in the room, which disperses the focus of attention from the multiple video screens and balances the room. The glass art that Pearl River Glass Studio did is   wonderful and looks just like the rendering, which is amazing to me that PRG can control the firing of the glass that precisely.”

Andrew Cary Young is the CEO of Pearl River Glass Studio, Inc., www.pearlriverglass.com.

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