Fingers – stained glass is a sensory craft

This is a sensory craft I practice.

My eyes not only watch and guide the technical processes required to build a stained glass anything, but immerse me in the flowing colour of the glass as light swims through it, and the bizarre way that solder turns from solid to liquid to solid once more.

Stained glass - a sensory art

The scritch of the cutter as it pulls across the glass to make a score, the crack of a good, clean break, the sizzle of hot solder as it meets flux to make a joint – music.

I wear a respirator while soldering to protect my lungs from inhaling noxious fumes, but there’s a smell to my studio I get to live in when the respirator is off – the smell of dusty slabs of glass, packing paper, clean rags, lead, cutting oil – ambrosia.

But, it’s my fingers that pull the story of glasswork into me. My poor fingers, scarred by glass cuts and solder burns, bruised by the edges of lead came as putty gets pushed under it, made dry and flaky by chemical exposure. I used to slather my hands with lotion before bedtime to get rid of the effects of working in the studio, but I found that I liked my “war wounds”. I’d catch myself touching my dry fingertips together, and caressing the healing cuts – revelling in the memory of being in the studio.

Many years ago, in my pre-glass studio years, I stopped into a glass shop to take a wander through and see what was what. The artist, John, happened to be in the shop that day. He’d just finished a piece and was polishing it – a process that requires a liquid wax/polish/sealer to be spread onto the work, left to “dry to a haze” as the label instructs, then wiped off with a rag or two or three until the whole work shines.

I was in the shop for about 45 minutes, and for that whole time, John polished that glass. At the time, I thought that was a little bit of overkill. “I could have had that little piece polished in ten minutes,” I remember thinking.

Ah, but I was a newbie glass worker then and what I didn’t know at the time, was that this man was doing more than just shining up his work.

He’d pass the rag over it here and there, worrying certain spots, looking at the piece as if it were a newborn he was trying to memorize. He’d put the rag down from time to time and touch the piece, caress the piece, with his fingertips then his flat hands – a blind man memorizing that same newborn before its adoptive parents came to take it home. He was connecting, marvelling, finishing, praising, touching it as deeply as he could. It’s how I polish glass now too. With something more than just my fingers.

This is a sensory craft I practice. I touch the glass and the glass touches me.