The Mohawk prisms


I have a lovely project underway at the moment: new 1930’s style signage for the Mohawk Bar in North Adams, Massachusetts, to tie in with their original windows made from ribbed glass tiles. Designed to bring more daylight into the interior of stores and factories, these pressed/cast tiles were widely produced and very fashionable in the days before electric lighting.

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I adapted the classic typeface Broadway, adding ‘etched’ lines (decorative parallels on the wide strokes) to provide positions for leadlines that wouldn’t interfere with reading the text.

Thanks to colleagues David Guarducci in Great Barrington, and to Scott, Fred and Sue Shea at Stained Glass Resources (sometimes it takes a village!) I managed to get ahold of some French Verierre de Saint Gobain ruby-on-white flashed glass. The ruby surface of this two-coloured sheet glass can be etched away to expose a clear or amber underlayer.

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Sandblasting was done by my good friend and neighbor, sculptor Bill LeQuier, who also carves ocean waves in glass.

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I used black masking tape on top of contact paper to mask out the areas to be sandblasted. Next, each pane is painted and fired. My proprietary glasspainting recipe is great for obtaining solid blacks first time over the ruby background.

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Careful measurement and old-fashioned geometry.

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The existing windows are simple grids of 4″ squares. Washed and polished, they sparkle like new.

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Using a portable band saw to cut the zinc profiles.

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I’m seriously enjoying working with a new material… cutting miters, filing to precise dimensions. The zinc behaves quite differently to lead. The first panel is now assembled, ready to be soldered, puttied, patinated and polished.

More about the Mohawk project and project developers Moresi & Associates

June Workshop in Oregon

I’m very happy to be teaching a 5-day glasspainting workshop at Fusion Headquarters in Newburg, Oregon, June 15-19. It’s a long time since I visited the West Coast and I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting some new ones.

Stained glass by Debora Coombs for St Mary's Cathedral, Portland, Oregon 1995-98

“Old Friends” includes 18 Catholic saints and blessed, several of whom have been canonized since I painted their portraits in St Mary’s Cathedral on NW Davis in Portland in 1997. It’ll be curious -and wonderful I hope, to revisit the project that spurred our immigration to the US.

Go to Fusion Headquarters for workshop info or to register.

Watch (a much younger) me painting the saints for St Mary’s Cathedral

More about Stained Glass Tiling

Winter Study 2015 at Williams College: Stained Glass Tiling. Instructor Debora CoombsThe course lasted 19 days (that included a field trip and final exhibition) and there were 10 students. I gave presentations and/or specific instruction each morning. Students were required to put in a minimum of fifteen additional hours per week on their own time.

The assignment was to design a stained glass panel using one or two regular convex polygons that fitted together to form a two or three-dimensional tiling pattern plus a border that could be of various shapes. Each piece of glass was to be fired at least twice and the decoration of the prototile/s should repeat.

Aglaia Ho put together a series of slides that logged her process, from early geometry to sculptural soldering. Watch here

Each student started from scratch with no prior experience. They learned how to cut glass; carve stamps from lino; paint and print on glass with a variety of tools; to copper foil, assemble and solder; and to frame their panels with zinc. Students worked as a team to hang their exhibition, make posters, art cards, and publicize the event.

We took a field trip to MASS MoCA to see Filthy Lucre and All Utopias Fell, then drove up to Vermont to visit my studio and have dinner.


Stained glass by Aglaia Ho made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs

Phenomenal first-timers

Here are my students’ finished stained glass panels.

Photos taken by Ben Hoyle on the last day of Winter Study 2015 at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Stained glass by Aglaia Ho made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs“Nature’s Imperfections” by Aglaia Ho

This piece was inspired by my love for the changing colors of autumn foliage. In my opinion, the fall is the prettiest time, especially in Williamstown. Walking around campus throughout the season has given me the opportunity to watch the leaves gradually transition from greens to shades of yellow, orange, and red. My piece attempts to capture both the imperfection and irregularities of nature’s creations while maintaining some sort of natural pattern and rhythm.

I came into this winter study class with a lack of confidence in my artistic abilities and a perfectionistic mindset. However, throughout this class, I have learned to wrestle these challenges, which has been liberating. The idea of having to paint at least two different layers on glass terrified me. Thankfully, I have learned that there are so many simple ways to print and paint on glass that produces rather aesthetic results, but require very little actual skill. Furthermore, I have gradually shook my perfectionistic mindset by learning to accept “mistakes” as part of the process and embracing imperfections as a part of my artistic vision.

Stained glass by Sarah Jensen made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora CoombsDetail of “Untitled” by Sarah Jensen

This piece was loosely inspired by a quilt that used to hang in my grandparent’s dining room in Kansas. The color scheme and progression of the piece stemmed from that quilt, though the pattern is slightly different.

I took quiltmaking last Winter Study, and it was interesting to investigate the intersection of textile work and glass work. My final piece ended up looking much like a quilt, but stained glass tiling also incorporates painting, giving it another layer of texture that quilts get from their patterns.

Stained glass by Julia Damion made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs “Snowfall” by Julia Damion

Ever since I was little, I have always loved being outside when the snow falls. I love looking up and watching the snowflakes appear out of the dark, separating from each other and become distinct, albeit fuzzy, entities, just before they alight on your face. In my stained glass panel, I wanted to convey the motion of snow fall and also to focus on the snowflakes themselves, magnified in space against a blue sky background, in order to highlight what I love best about them: their intricate, unique patterns.

This class has given me the opportunity to explore an art form that not many people have mastered, one that requires patience, trial-and-error, and the willingness to endure minor blood loss and burns. The end result is worth it, and each of the many steps required, from cutting the glass to painting to soldering the pieces together, felt like a mini victory. I looked at the panel in a new way each time I completed another step. The evolution of the piece took me by surprise in some ways, but if you allow yourself to just go for it and don’t overthink it, you end up with a different but ultimately more interesting work.


Stained glass by Robert Yang made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs“Untitled” by Robert Yang

Since childhood, I have made countless visits to my cultural homeland, China. The architecture and aesthetic of the Chinese people have, therefore, made a significant impact on the way approach my own designs. I gained inspiration for this design from a traditional, Chinese window frame. I have always been intrigued by the use of simple geometry in intricate configurations. Apart from the geometric stamp that represents the window frame design, I designed the bamboo tiles to weave and interlock, creating a departure from the frame concept. In this sense, my panel becomes a series of windows within a larger, all-encompassing window. The rubies and jades are also reminiscent of Traditional Chinese colors, while the subdued pink acts as a pleasant complement to the color scheme.

Stained glass is a medium I thought I’d never work with, but it has turned out to be one of the most rewarding and fascinating. The process of creating this panel was both simple and complex at the same time, which is where the beauty of this art emerges.


Stephanie1Model for “Kolam Light” by Stephanie Caridad

Many cultures utilize geometry in architecture, pottery, and other forms of art. I used this fusion of geometry and aesthetics to drive the lamp’s design. The lamp shape is based off the shape of an Archimedean solid, which is a symmetric polyhedron created by regular polygons. To create visual interest with the strict geometric shapes, I cut the polygons in vibrantly colored glass. The primary tracelines on the tiles are inspired by the lines and semicircles that are created when drawing a perfect regular pentagon with a ruler and compass. The additional designs are influenced by an Indian design called kolam, which creates shapes by doodling around a grid of dots, an example of geometry and aesthetic mixing in culture.

These pieces required countless hours in the studio and a lot of dedication. We all wanted to create a piece we were proud of, and Debora’s encouragement and caring guidance kept us going through all the most frustrating steps. But a lot of our motivation also came from each other. We stayed for hours after class had ended because there were five other people staying to work with us. We perfected and polished our designs because we were inspired by the designs on everyone else’s table. Stained glass is a lot of work, but it isn’t difficult when there are nine of your peers working just as hard right next to you.


Stained glass by Ivy Ciaburri made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs“Winging It” by Ivy Ciaburri

Since the beginning of this class, I was almost positive that birds would somehow play a role in my final stained glass piece. I have a great love of birds artistically, scientifically, and personally (I own racing pigeons!). Nearly all of my art includes birds, yet usually not in flight. I chose to create a piece centered on wings in order to explore this sense of flight that had previously been lacking from most of my artwork. I chose each wing with two requirements: the bird needed to represent a color and it needed to have only black in addition to that color. Most of the other decisions that I made for this piece were made as I arrived to them.

Throughout this course, I discovered that choosing something without dwelling on it for too long and then sticking to it often created my favorite parts of the piece. For example, after a few days of thinking that I wanted to incorporate wings into my piece, Debora gave me a deadline to choose a tiling pattern. I don’t think that I would have liked any other pattern more, had I taken longer to choose one. The entire process of stained glass tiling lends itself to this way of working. The paint rubs off the glass easily, making it very easy to start and restart painting a tile. Once the tiles are fired, however, you cannot change the paint and therefore have to stick to and build off of your original ideas. When I had excess black around the wings, I rubbed away some paint to create swirls in order to make it more interesting and to let in more light. In the end, I used the swirls throughout my piece. These quick, yet deliberate choices let me bring the entire piece together and were the only way that I could have finished within a month.


Stained glass by Ben Hoylemade during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs“Pointy Tree or Pointy Flames” by Ben Hoyle

The main tile in this piece is monomorphic, meaning it can only tile in this one way. That’s unusual, and I also didn’t quite believe it, but now I do. I think if you look at the tiling by itself you can see a lot of different things and get overwhelmed. I decided to emphasize a few particular shapes, and overwhelm the viewer with lots of painting and colors instead.

Repetitive tasks that leave slight room for variation are great, because you feel accomplished about making and learning things but also have half of your brain free throughout the whole process. The more crafts I do the more I think I should spend more of my time doing crafts.


Stained glass by Jordan Jones made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs“Untitled” by Jordan Jones

This window was inspired by the motifs and coloring found in Persian carpets. In my window I hoped to depict the same level of intricate patterning and warmth they contain.

During this winter study I feel I developed an appreciation for the craft process. I have learned to enjoy the way a medium can influence a piece. I have particularly enjoyed the problem-solving thought process that goes into working around the obstacles inherited to a medium.


Stained glass by Jacob Kim made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs“Molecule” by Jacob Kim

I was inspired by the 6-membered carbon ring, which can act as a prototile. I knew I wanted to create something in 3D, and cyclohexane seemed perfect for that. I painted on the piece 3 separate rings that are made up of waves, like electrons in different energy levels. As for the color, I chose shades of blue and green, wanting them to blend with each other.

During every Winter Study, I learned something that I would never learn during the regular semesters. I love working with my hands to build things, but I rarely get the chance to do so. It’s a great feeling to be able to design something in your head and be able to flesh it out, piece by piece.
Stained glass by Katie Westervelt made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs“Wrath of the Onota Gods” by Katie Westervelt
The idea for this piece came as I was examining my interests. Rowing occupies much of my time and many of my thoughts, and given its geometric and rhythmic nature, it soon become the focal point of my ideas. Every aspect of the sport seems to have a rhythmic nature – the physical hulls, the angles of the bodies in the boat, the patterns that the oars make in the water, not to mention the motion of the stroke itself. The aerial view of an eight seemed to capture most of these rhythms: the boat, the bodies, and the water. The interlocking herring bone tiling that I used seemed to capture the forward motion of the boats moving towards the top of the piece. I chose purple as the main tiling color for Williams Women’s Crew.

This winter study has been a huge learning experience! One of the things that struck me early on in the course was both the interest in the material and the autonomy we achieved as a class. From the second week of class, students would go to our makeshift studio outside of class time (which was already scheduled as 13 hours/week) to work independently on projects. I was amazed then, and still am, at the enthusiasm that Debora inspired in us as a classroom, that at the beginning of the course had no experience or knowledge of the craft of stained glass, and because of this we had no grasp of the boundaries of what was possible; we envisioned what in reality turned out to be quite ambitious projects and Debora showed us how to create these ideas.

Detail of stained glass by Katie Westervelt made during Williams College Winter Study 2015 course with Debora Coombs

Reception, 12-1 on Thursday, for Stained Glass Tiling

My Winter Study students will be showing their stained glass tilings at Williams College on Thursday January 29th, from 12 – 1pm. Everyone is welcome. The exhibition will be held in the 3rd floor corridor (overlooking the atrium cafe) between the Chemistry and Physics buildings. Enter the cafe from the Science Quad and look for signs. The best place to park is at the far end of the public lot across from Tunnel City Coffee.

Ten students have created unique and personal works of art. Here’s a taster: details of stained glass windows designed, cut, hand-painted, kiln-fired and assembled by Julia Damion and Ivy Ciaburri.

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Winter Study 2015: stained glass tiling at Williams College

Ten wonderful Williams College students are building stained glass tilings with me during their month-long Winter Study course this month.


Each student has designed a panel made from repeating geometric shapes cut in coloured glass using the Morton PG01B glasscutting system.

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Some of the geometry is fairly straightforward, like a panel inspired by a grandmother’s quilt, and a regular polygon.

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Others tilings were more difficult to draw with compass and straightedge, and complex to set up on the Morton system.


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A couple of students wanted specific imagery – a racing shell, birds, leaves, snowflakes…

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One student is creating a 3D model of a particular type of carbon molecule.

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Every tile will eventually be painted and fired at least twice. This last photo shows four different projects on the light table as students shuffle with colour layout and begin glasspainting.


Thanks to student Ben Hoyle for the better quality photos above.

More soon!

Three days in the belfry..

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Hurrah! I just installed three more windows for Trinity Episcopal in Branford, Connnecticut, to accompany the Archie Hanna Memorial window (2013) and complete the facade that looks out onto the village green.


Above, the design; below, sections of the finished stained glass in the studio.



The rose window was made in pieces to fit into an original wooden window frame with curved tracery. The 162-year-old woodwork is sound and sturdy but the window frame had bowed and distorted somewhat over the years; the individual openings for the glass were far from symmetrical! Richard fabricated a carefully measured steel yoke to hold the old wooden frame securely in place for another few hundred years or so.

I spent three days amongst the dust and pigeon poo in the belfry removing old glass; cleaning, restoring and painting the old wood frame; and installing my new window.

Access to the bell tower was via a cupboard door on the choir loft. From there, all of our tools, materials and the new stained glass window had to be hauled up on a rope. We made the 35ft ascent dozens of times over the three day installation, climbing like monkeys up a succession of 1″ thick wooden battens that had been nailed to the beams of the church. The access shaft was barely 2ft wide (fine for me, but a bit of a squeeze for Richard!).

I took the last photo with my iPhone, looking down over the toe of my shoe before descending through the darkness once again, groping to keep my footing. See our yellow rope fresh from hauling up a broom and some tubes of caulk, and the orange extension cord dangling into the abyss.

The two little arched windows, each about 4ft tall, had their own special challenges to keep us on our toes. One was in a very small cupboard, the other perched over a stairwell, requiring an asymmetric ladder.

Back in the summer we removed the old sashes and created new stops at the window sills. I made cardboard templates of the openings for building the two new windows. As with the rose, nothing was neat or symmetrical. The new stained glass was held in place with pre-cut curved wood trim, sealed against the weather with compressible foam tape. Each has an aluminum H-bar for support that we’d prepped beforehand in the studio.

Why make stained glass for a cupboard? Or for the bell tower where no-one will see it?

These last three windows are intended to be seen from outdoors, to complement and support the Hanna Memorial window. The stained glass will be illuminated from dusk ’til dawn, lighting up the facade of this lovely old New England church.

Hanna Memorial window. Stained glass by Debora Coombs for Trinity Episcopal, Branford CT showing the Holy Family by the Sea.

Last year I posted lots technical information about the Archie Hanna memorial window (above) including cartooning, colour selection, glass cutting, sandblasting, painting and fabrication. There are some real-time videos of glasspainting too. The window shows the Holy Family by the Sea, with Joseph holding baby Jesus beside a salt marsh with, apple blossom, roses, wheeling seagulls and more. Browse through these by clicking ‘ Trinity Branford’ in the word cloud underneath the Search box to the right.


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