Stained glassJan Stalony-Dobrzański
A paper roll is lying on a table with a 4-meter-long and 1.5-meter-wide chipboard top. It’s two upper corners are pressed with heavy lead weights. The paper, just unwound from the roll, is forcibly trying to wind back into it. Only under the table it manages to return to its original condition, flows down to the floor and rolls freely there. That's better, it doesn't get underfoot.
The table stands in the middle of a large room, supported on two old, sturdy trestles. There is a chest and several cardboard boxes under the table. Next to the entrance to the room, at the wall, another chest with bed linen piled on it and covered with a woollen bedspread with Hutsul ethnic patterns. On the opposite side, there are glazed cabinets with hundreds of books, albums and file folders. On the walls icons and paintings, some set in raw wood, others in old, richly carved and gilded frames. Lots of paintings, landscapes, horses, portraits. Underneath the window a vertical box made of plywood, opened from above. There are dozens of paper board and tracing paper rolls more or less protruding from the box, some still white and others covered with a multicoloured mosaic of geometrical patches, out of which here and there an eye is looking or somebody’s hand is reaching out.
On the table, another hand is covering a sheet of paper, blank and white a while ago, with a dense grid of lines. As if following an invisible sketch, it quickly and surely draws lines with light touches of a thin stick of painter's charcoal. The drawing is clear, though very delicate, so that the charcoal line can be wiped out at any time and drawn elsewhere. But it happens very rarely, and once the work is done, it doesn't look like a sketch, but rather like an already finished drawing. But it's not finished yet, now the paper roll shall be moved forward, and again the next four meters of the white paper board web are filled with a dense grid of lines, perfectly harmonized with those that have disappeared behind the tabletop edge. And again, and again, five times altogether, because the paper board is about 15 meters long, so it will have to be five times moved on the table.
Finally, the sketch is ready, but it is only the first chapter of this long, painterly tale. Now the paper is returning to its original place, and again the weights are standing on its corners. A small, almost completely worn out brush, first dipped in a black ink jar, then is wandering along the charcoal-mapped paths. Some lines are drawn along a two-meter-long ruler; some with soft touches of hand, some others form perfect circles traced with the brush hooked to a loop of a thin string held with the other hand's thumb in the oval's centre. Every once in a while the brush gets dipped in the ink, each time to take just a little bit of it, so the brush builds clean, flawless lines, never dripping anywhere and not spilling the blacking outside the necessary mark. There is yet another brush, a little wider but also quite balded. Its thicker touches will create the main outlines of the figures, the ovals of their faces and hands, and the folds of their robes. They will later point out where the strips of lead with wider feet should be set, when the stained-glass window's final form is built.
Only now the first element of the finished work is emerging. Hundreds of lines forming a complex but extremely balanced composition, in which soft elements are suspended on a stable grid of straight lines. And all this tangle is commended — like an army by its generals — by the strong circles of halo deployed in the image's nodal points. So, this is an evangelical or biblical scene. And if a form of the cross is seen in a halo, it means that this is a New Testament scene, because it pictures Jesus Christ — the Saviour himself. Our eyes focus on the leading elements of the image — the faces and hands of the saints. Eyes, mouths, fingers — strange, alive, yet built of glass-sharp crystals. Only now we notice that everything here, from head to toe, has been erected of crystals, as if the glass itself broke and made a monumental image. As if it was not the artist, who mastered his material, but the material had hired the artist to serve it with his vision, talent and work. And the glass itself wanted to tell the story of salvation, the biblical story of God and His Sacred image — a human. Because, as sand crystals, it was here long before us. From the third day of Creation, and it remembers everything that was then done with the right hand of the Creator. It remembers when in the Garden of Eden our material bodies were made just of it. But it knew them being different, it recalls their original, pure, crystalline perfection. That knew no sin, falling, suffering. And today it again asks its God for His perfect brush. And such an ardent request cannot remain unanswered.
It would seem that the graphic work was over, but nothing could be further from the truth. And again, the paper comes back where it was, and the composition background is pasted in the panes divided by ink-lead lines of the stained-glass window to be. The image's background, in some works of secondary relevance, in others, contrarily, in the foreground. And how is it here? Contrarily, and very much so. The image background adds a third, or rather fourth, dimension to the paper board. Well, why the fourth dimension — even the third one would've been too much for a flat picture. We will come back to it, but now about the fourth dimension. The fourth dimension has already appeared in the Church's art, but then the third one was missing — there were the two dimensions of a piece of paper and the fourth dimension — of the Word. This was a Gospel Book illuminated with dozens of miniatures, where the glory of God's Word was enriched with the beauty of miniature paintings and the letter itself, the splendid handwriting and multicoloured initials.
Also, now the Word of Scripture appears here, line after line filling the image plane with a perfect lettering ornament. In its substantial message it's not so much a valuable addition, but rather the foundation of the whole work. Here, in front of us, a paradoxical book of miniatures gets raised to the monumental architecture format. The Book of the Holy, in which the Word and the Picture form the fullness of the Universe — two twin universes — spiritual and material, visible and invisible.
The Scripture's letters are annotated with yet another tool — a sharp-edged stick, or, in fact, a whole bunch of sticks with varying blade widths. With them the appropriate letter sizes may be selected to match the stained-glass window's format and the composition's requirements. The text written with such a stick is shimmering, flowing in the dialogue of stronger and gentler touches. Because with a stick like this one can get the most out of a letter. The brush is always wet, always full of ink, the stick at first carries too much of it, and then quickly gets rid of its load. Barely damp, it almost dries, and may lay down letters ''deeper'' or shallower. Unexpectedly, a fantastic relief effect appears on the cartoon. The heavier monumental verticals not only break into delicate arches and circles, but they also wave as are descending into the deep black, and then rising to the paper board's bright plane. Line after line, the multi-layered harmony formulas are flowing — carried in equal, hieratic ranks. Like monastic songs, like the sound of sea waves that soothe every bitterness of heart.
And again, the roll of the paper board, which has slightly straightened up in the meantime, is laid from the top of the composition on the table. Now the black charcoal and ink will give way to a palette of colours. It is not too rich, and only in the process of glass selection the three or four red colours on the cartoon will turn into dozens of shades. So far, we have reds, oranges and roses, and perhaps a fourth colour — amaranth. Each shade is laid separately, each as many as four times fills the paper web section moved up and down. Because such work requires returns and refills. It starts with a few leading colour spots, followed by further ones, filling smaller and lateral panes. The first colour is followed by others, greens after reds, then yellows, and finally the blues — azure, ultramarine, and violet. Only white is not there, as in contact with sun rays it would become too intense, much stronger than on the cartoon, with its glow extinguishing and eclipsing all the other colours.
The colours laid out in this way create a perfect harmony between them. Perfect, because broken, not quite ... harmonious. Here and there appear, as in an exquisite cuisine, surprising combinations of flavours, fascinating disharmonies, which add dynamics to this, seemingly dignified, colour procession. But that is not all, besides the colours' inner dialogue we see here their dance with forms uncovered by an ink line. The colours follow it like sheep follow the shepherd leading them to the best pastures. And one more surprise. After all, we can see people like us on the paper — we can see faces, eyes, hands of the saints, so much like our faces, our hands, and our eyes. But we suddenly realize how different they are. Violet, amaranth, turquoise faces, burning purple pupils — pure graphic fiction, absolute artistic avant-garde. Avant-garde, or perhaps a mystical vision of another, now resurrected human body painted with all the colours of the divine rainbow, the colours of clouds in the rising and setting sun. And in the burning pupils the fire of the Holy Spirit relentlessly filling the souls of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and saints.
Finally, the work is over. What's left is blackening with a broad brush the massive stripes of future iron bars that separate the stained-glass window's individual sections and keep them in their places within it. Because black is a stained-glass' most important colour. Like the light which shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it (John 1.5), so the stained-glass emerges from the darkness, and the darkness must give way to it. If an ignorant of the stained-glass matter artist had created too bright compositions, then burning on opposite sides of the temple they'd illuminate themselves from the inside, losing all the power and beauty of their sun-lit glass substance.
For temple interior, the stained-glass' paper cartoon is only the first stage, the overture to the whole many week, if not month, long work, but for art lovers and experts it's already a masterpiece in its own rights. In its own rights, because a stained-glass procured on its basis may sometime differ from its prototype. When working with glass, the master may suddenly change something, add, or complement. Not much, but enough to leave behind two, not one, masterpieces of his creative vision.
After many days of developing the original paper template, the future stained-glass will go, with a set of a few or a dozen other cartoons prepared for the windows of the entire temple, to a stained-glass workshop. There is the real laboratory of a medieval alchemists waiting for it — with jars of multicoloured powders, presses for squeezing lead cames, diamond cutters for glass panes, and stoves for firing tiny glasses covered with a drawing and patina, which will make up the future monumental stained-glass window.
And glass panes all over the place — hundreds and thousands of colours, nobody can count them, no eye can recognize their subtle differences. If at the glassworks just one kilogram or one shovel more or less of a dye has been added to the molten sand tub, it's enough to produce a new colour, hitherto even unknown by name. Large shelves of thick planks along the workshop's all walls accommodate crowds of glass panes with colours shining with thousands of rainbows. And near the windows there are assembly tables, some of wood, some of glass, where the stained-glass matter is finally integrated.
Stained-glass, that is ... what? Stained-glass is a glass, but it is not the most important here, the glass only filters the floods of light falling on us. Floods that are alive, waving to the rhythm of the shadows of floating clouds, fading at dusk, shining at dawn. What's more, floods waving to the rhythm of colour, because different colours differently interfere with sun rays. So once a darker figure of a saint is seen against a light background, and another time, in another sunlight, the other way around, although still in the same stained-glass window. Stained-glass is an aperture, on which the matter of the sun, the Tabor Light is composed. Because in the interior of a temple the sun rays speak of the other, higher light. Here the Light of the World, the Light of the Son of Man, is revealed, poured out onto the transformed world, onto the transformed man.
In a stained-glass workshop rule the stained-glass masters, craftsmen who refine their skills over years, and decades. That's why most artists, even professional painters, stop at the doorstep of the workshop and leave their cartoons to the mastery and expertise of the craftsmen. And only a very few decide to enter this ''glass alchemy'' house, which is off-limits for the laymen who haven't graduated from yet another ''academy of stained-glass art''. This was the case of our artist who, being a master of form and colour, also had become a ruler of glass and shine.
First, the cartoon is spread out on a table — even larger than the one in the studio — it can be as long as eight meters, but even that it's not enough to accomplish the first of the labours of Hercules ahead of us. Again, the monumental composition will have to be moved to plot all the templates necessary to make the final stained-glass window. Two rolls of white paper have been laid under the cartoon, one thinner, the other slightly thicker, and two layers of black tracing paper between the papers and the cartoon. Now the artist's hand armed with a hard, thin sharpened pencil is wandering in the middle of every black line of the stained-glass drawing. Very precisely, because it cannot stray away from its central path even by a millimetre. Centimetre by centimetre he's copying the drawing to the scrolls under the tracing paper. It takes hours, the hand travels hundreds of meters, or kilometres perhaps, before reaching the end of its path. After all, these will be ones of the most expensive stained-glass windows manufactured in this workshop, with exceptionally small glass panes and a very thick grid of lead lines.
Finally, the work is over and now's the time for the second Hercules job. The cartoon is removed and allowed to roll again, in this condition it will wait for further tasks in the creation of the final work, and the black tracing paper is folded to be used again to copy another cartoon. On the two rolls of paper the two twin copies have appeared of the drawing transferred from the cartoon. Delicate and fleeting, they resemble a bit of the original charcoal sketch, but they are much more precise and plot the future stained-glass' tiny pieces with millimetre accuracy. Now each of the hundreds of pairs of paper planes is assigned a number. At the end, the thinner paper is rolled up — it will then serve as a map to assembly the glass pieces into the stained-glass window.
The third job is to precisely cut the drawing on the thicker paper into separate templates. There is a special two-blade knife for this. With it a strip of paper may be discarded, which in a stained-glass window corresponds to the thickness of the lead came binding together individual glass panes into the final workpiece. Its thickness is always the same, only the came foot width may change. Now every numbered template specifies down to the nearest millimetre the shape of each of the future glass stained window's panes.
The fourth task — and it belongs to the artist only — is to select the colour of the glass for each template based on the palette of colours laid out on the cartoon. It's a creative work when finally one orange and one rose colour from the cartoon template can be broken into dozens of oranges and roses of the glass with barely discernible shades of hue. The fifth task will be to precisely cut each piece of glass from the artist-selected glass pane. Any millimetre inaccuracy here may render the stained-glass' final assembly impossible. Two or three errors will overlap and prevent the mating of hundreds of glass fragments into one composition. That's why this work is always done by a stained-glass specialist who has been perfecting his hand for years in the art of diamond cutter glass cutting.
Finally, after many days of this jewellery-like work, a thin paper map is spread on the table, and its every square centimetre is covered by the corresponding crystal of coloured glass, it takes hundreds if not thousands of them to cover up the whole 15-meter composition. And they are even bigger ones. This jigsaw puzzle is the sixth work of Hercules, made feasible only through the prior numbering of all paper templates now laying underneath each of the coloured glass fragments.
Some other, even more difficult, creative tasks will follow. The artist will take in his hand hundreds and thousands of glass pieces, one after another, and will plot on them, from the first to the last, the form of drawing and letter with a black, thick patina designed for drawing only. Several hundred glass pieces a day, a few thousand a week, several thousand a month. Every day the painted-over panes will go to a stove where the drawing will melt into the glass forever.
Although the seventh work of Hercules lasts for long weeks or months, it does not end with the last piece's baking. A small portion of glass pieces will crack during firing, the colour of the glass will have to be selected again, the drawing will have to be plotted again, and again melted into the glass in the stained-glass firing stove. Only then the seventh Hercules work will be over. And the eighth work is the seventh one's repetition, now with the patina being applied and fired. Different for every stained-glass pane's colour, as ruled by the artist's creative vision and talent. On the red panes, an amaranth or pink patina may be applied for a dialogue of colours, just like ultramarine on the blue ones, but the colours may as well be broken and paired with those from the opposite sides of the rainbow. Again, weeks of work, until thousands of glasses are ready to make up the final work. And since cutting it out from the pane, each of them has been at least ten times held in the artist's hands.
The ninth work is the tedious process of setting and adjusting all the baked glass pieces in the stained-glass window's separate sections. This is done on an easel of thick matte glass, usually placed opposite a window. The sunshine allows to backlit the stained-glass in the same way as in the temple interior. The whole colourful composition appears there, section after section, so far without the lead lines' graphics. The glass pieces alone are stuck to the glass pane with small plasticine balls. Now comes the final step of checking the glass pieces and replacing them where needed. It's the best moment to correct a drawing, a patina, or a shade of glass. Again, it takes a few days, as the glass pieces must be cut again, painted and patinated.
The tenth job is to carefully transfer the entire stained-glass sections, one glass piece at a time, to wooden counters, where they all are hung on a spider web of lead cames with different thickness. This is done by a craftsman under the supervision of the artist who decides on the appropriate lead foot width. Then each lead junction is soldered with a tin droplet, and then the almost finished stained-glass sections are passed to the hands of the youngest apprentice in the workshop. Now he fills out with minium all, even the smallest, gaps between the lead and the glass. After a few days, when the minium has dried, its surplus is thoroughly cleaned off from the stained-glass surface, and the window is packed in sturdy wooden, straw-lined chests. Its glass matter must be delivered intact to the temple, sometimes tens if not hundreds of kilometres away.
Heracles' eleventh task is to assembly the ready-made stained-glass sections in the temple's windows. Masters of stained-glass craft can set up a large stained-glass window in a single day, but even so, the trip takes as much as a whole week. The sections must be set into iron bars and walled into the temple's window traceries and walls, and their larger areas must be divided into smaller parts with thin iron rods of wind braces. They have always been used to protect stained-glass from wind bending. After all, stained-glass is a huge sail made up of tiny glass fragments joined with the softest of all metals — lead. It must be protected from gusts of wind, and settlement under its own weight. And actually, this is where we should end up counting Heracles' work, so where is the twelfth one?
The twelfth work is when the artist first sees his whole work in its full beauty. Standing in front of the stained-glass' grandeur, he first looks at the final fruit of the many months, and sometimes many years, of his work. He's suddenly turning to the priest — look over there, over that saint' eye, I must replace the pane with another, by a tone or two darker, and there the colour of the glass should be changed. We will come in three days, and by the end of the week we'll fix what's needed. Please do not dismantle the scaffolds yet.
- You do not need to do it, Master — the priest responds — no one, neither me nor my parishioners will see such trifles.
- How is it, nobody! And the angels in Heaven — how will I excuse such a fudge to them?