Seriously secular…

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Stained glass lamps for Darren Waterston (prototype)

I’ve been working on stained glass lamps for the past several months, for artist Darren Waterston. They’re part of his installation Uncertain Beauty, that opens March 8th at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA)

This hugely ambitious and extravagant work of art, a massive 20ft x 33ft room, is a contemporary re-imagining of James McNeill Whistler’s 1876 decorative masterpiece Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room. It’s being fabricated at MASS MoCA and will be shown there for almost a year before traveling to the Smithsonian to be exhibited alongside Whistler’s original. The lamps are the only light source for the installation, and a key player in Darren’s overall vision of decaying splendor.

Debora Coombs working on model for glass lamps, Darren Waterston's Peacock Room

Mock-up in glass with pieces of cardboard model in the background.

It took me a while to figure out the geometry of the lamps, which are faceted to resemble the proportions of those in the original Peacock Room. I started with a ruler and compasses on paper, then cardboard and foamcore, and finally a full-size mock-up in scrap glass (orange and yellow Kokomo!) stuck together with masking tape. Darren loved it, so out came my trusty Morton System (a wonderful tool for cutting multiples of precisely the same shape) and I started chopping into some big sheets of 3/16 float glass.

Darren is painting every surface of Uncertain Beauty, including the floor, 13ft coffered ceiling, and hundreds of objects – including the lamps (it’s a wonderful project -see photos on his  blog and Pinterest).

After a brief introduction to my glasspainting methods and a little experimentation he settled on  decalcomania, a technique used by Max Ernst and other surrealist painters during the 1930’s. The effect is created by squeezing two smooth surfaces together and then pulling or peeling them apart. The printed surfaces of the glass, laid side by side, look a bit like irregular Rorschach tests.


I mixed and slaked a new batch of white Reusche enamel with propylene glycol a week before Darren turned up at my studio to paint.  He used this, plus some of my usual tracing black and bistre brown grisaille, adding drops of water and/or prop. glycol to guide the flow and blend colours.

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Darren painted all 297 pieces of glass in one long day at the studio – and was cheerful throughout!

Darren Waterston in Debora Coombs stained glass studio painting

The glass panes will be fixed together into brass with oozing seams, looking somewhat precariously attached. More photos to come…

One thought on “Seriously secular…

  1. Pingback: Uncertain Beauty | Inside the stained glass studio

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