An introduction: My love of decorative glass and solder as an art medium / by Renata Pugh


From the time I scored my first piece of glass with an oil cutter, I've been hooked on stained glass as an art medium. There was definitely an adjustment period when I created my first designs, (I smile now when I look at my first sketches and note how there's no way the glass would break into some of the shapes I drew) and to this day I curse difficult glass when it just won't break the way I score it. As an artist though, I welcome challenge and don't mind thinking on my feet if it doesn't break the way it does in the design. I'll accommodate the piece I've ended up with so that it will still be in keeping with the vision that I have, even if it's slightly altered. Disappointment doesn't linger because I always remember to work with what I have and be open to new possibilities. In the end, I find this method always pays off in the art-making process and in life as well.

I've dabbled in a variety of artistic pursuits from singing to playing guitar to acting and so forth. But from the time I made my first drawing, visual art has been my main focus. Even within visual art of course, there's so much to choose from; drawing, painting, collage, clay modeling, printmaking, photography, carving, metalworking, are all things I've done. After high school, I attended SVA and graduated with a BFA in illustration, but I became frustrated because my portfolio was too varied and didn't have a specific consistent style that art directors look for. I found myself gravitating more towards just experimenting with different materials and producing abstract works. Sometime in 2010 a friend introduced me to stained glass and the Tiffany copper foiling method and I began making sculptural forms that could be illuminated from within. I also became very fascinated with solder itself and experimented with interesting techniques which made it look like the glass pieces were "stitched" together with shiny metal. Around this time I started taking welding classes at the Art Students League of NY, and made some small scale glass and steel forms. I liked the edgy, industrial look to them, but as the steel corroded over time, it looked more like experimental junk art to me and I lost interest in combining those 2 mediums, so I decided just to focus on stained glass by itself. Aside from devoting about a year to making metal sculptures and a large scale aluminum piece, I haven't really strayed from this medium. I think that part of the appeal is that stained glass is considered "decorative", and since it's generally considered more of a craft, I don't have to go into much explanation about what I'm trying to convey. It's beautiful, it's colorful, and there are patterns which flow and are pleasing to the eye. Technically my work can be labeled as "lamps" or "votive holders" (no one's going to ask me what my votive holder "means").

What's also appealing to me is the broad selection that various glass-making companies such as Bullseye, Kokomo, and Spectrum supply. I feel like a kid in a candy store anytime I step into a stained glass supply store or even shop online (although seeing it in person is obviously preferable). Good luck on trying to get me to think about a color scheme for my apartment, it's not on my radar. Glass however, is a whole different story. It's not only choosing the color palette for a design that's exciting, but the surprise illumination factor as well. I once had a sheet that looked like a light warm opaque gray, but when lit from behind became a very light rosy pink. And of course, the sheer variety of textures to choose from is exciting as well; as soon as a candle is lit or a bulb switched on from within a finished piece, various patterns of light brightly splash on the dark surrounding surfaces. It's always a magical experience.

It's undeniable that there is an unspeakable beauty and warmth in illuminated glass, and the sense of awe and wonder that it inspires never wanes. Using solder as a sculptural element and the juxtaposition of metal and glass is equally satisfying for me. And so, that's why I will continue with this often frustrating, messy, and finger-cut inducing material and challenging work. It is indeed a labor of love.