A Brief History of Stained Glass

Stained glass is a hand craft, practiced in many parts of the world today in a manner virtually unchanged since its beginnings in medieval Europe. Techniques remain the same, but modern technology – notably improved soldering irons and glass cutters – make the process easier and faster.

Glass was known and used approximately five thousand years ago, but not until the third century after Christ was it used in windows.

Early windows were small. Pieces of clear or colored glass were set in plaster to form a design. Viewed against the light from the dark interior, the colors sparkled like jewels.

The golden age of stained glass coincided with the flowering of Christian architecture in Europe, following the crusades. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, gothic cathedrals dominated European cities, and the lives of their inhabitants. The magnificent stained glass windows in these cathedrals were the only “books” the people had, teaching the Bible with awe inspiring pictures.

In these windows, colored glass and lead lines told most of the story. Details such as facial features and the simple suggestions of drapery or decorative repeat motifs, were painted on the glass pieces with black or brown lead paints. These were then kiln fired, fusing the paint permanently on to the glass.

Later, during the renaissance, the painting grew more elaborate. Windows became mainly clear glass, which the artist considered a “canvas” to be painted on. The windows rapidly lost their charm and integrity, and the craft went into decline.

At the turn of the century, a renewed interest in medieval art led artists back to the gothic cathedrals and their windows. Inspired by the timeless beauty of the original windows, American artists began creating their own masterpieces in glass.

During the hand craft revival in the seventies, stained glass became established as a hobby. Today, professional expertise has taken the craft into new areas such as sand blasting, fusing and laminating, giving rise to an increasing range of design possibilities.

Today, Tulsa Stained Glass is engaged in exercising many of these options, and in teaching the ancient skills of stained glass craftsmanship to another generation.
Reference:: The Story of Stained Glass. Published by The Stained Glass Association of America.