True Colors

By Karen Baxter, Contributing Writer

Late Summer Pansies

If you’re looking to add color and visual interest to your home, think beyond furniture, paint, and fabric. Stained glass is a contemporary art form that can add elegance and drama to virtually any room of your house.

Stained glass is experiencing resurgence with more and more people incorporating it into their home décor, says Janet Parker, owner of Paned Expressions studio, in Edgewood, Maryland.

There are many applications of stained glass. New homes are embellished with beveled glass entryways, stained glass bathroom windows, transoms, room dividers, hanging window panels, cabinet doors, lamps, tables, night lights, door knobs, drawer pulls, mosaics, stepping stones and three-dimensional objects like jewelry boxes and sculptures.

Some people simply enjoy the added color stained glass brings to their homes, while others like the privacy afforded by colored or beveled glass when used in doors, windows and room dividers.

“It’s a living art,” Parker says. “It’s fascinating to have a piece of art that changes at different times of the day. It has a life to it because the effect changes with the changes in light.”

The origins of stained glass trace back to medieval times when cathedrals throughout Europe were built with colorful windows depicting biblical scenes. But churches are not the only place appropriate for stained glass, as clearly demonstrated when the art once again gained popularity in the mid-1800’s. During this time, stained glass crept into homes and the famous Louis Comfort Tiffany created a distinct American style. Tiffany lamps have been a treasured favorite with Americans ever since.

Baltimore has a particular affection for stained glass.

“I think Baltimore is a city that loves stained glass even more so than other cities in the United States,” Parker says. “They just seem to have a certain awareness of it and openness to it.”

Driving through the streets of neighborhoods like Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, Charles Village and Roland Park, you’ll notice how many homes have colorful stained glass transoms above their doors. Often these are marked with the house’s street number. Many of the older pieces contain browns, pinks and light blue glass, while newer ones lean more toward the jewel tones. In Fells Point, Many people are adding matching glass in their large picture windows.

Ironically, one reason the gothic art form may be becoming more popular throughout the country today is the dawn of the information age, according to Barbara Quinn, owner of Stained Glass Classes and Supply in Frederick, MD. Until a few decades ago, knowledge about making stained glass wasn’t widespread and even held secret by some artists, she says. She only learned stained glass making because she happened to work at a publishing house in New York, which was located next to a stained glass studio. There she befriended one of the workers who taught her.

The free flow of information over the Internet has helped educate many people throughout the world about the art and given them access to supplies they previously couldn’t find as easily, making stained glass a popular hobby.

The basic process for making stained glass begins with designing a pattern, Quinn explains. Next the pattern is cut. Glass is selected and cut to fit the pattern. Finally, the glass is wrapped with copper foil, soldered and cleaned.

You don’t need to know how to make stained glass to enjoy its’ beauty, however. There are a number of studios throughout Maryland that will custom make stained glass pieces to suit your own particular taste, and at a reasonable price.

In Havre de Grace, Rita Ragan, owner of The Avenue Stained Glass Studio, works hard to make sure no two of her customers have the exact same piece. “You can walk in and buy something off the shelf or you can come in and bring your colors, fabric, decorator and custom design something,” she says.

When custom designing, you might choose a simple geometric pattern or something that has more personal meaning to you, like an image of your favorite flower, animal or place. Floral patterns and mythical themes like dragons, wizards and fairies, are currently popular, says Parker. In one project she worked on, the client requested a scene depicting her backyard for a window in her bathroom. Other artists said clients request scenes resembling pictures from vacations, and Maryland themes such as boats and crabs.