When a synagogue or other organization contacts us, the first step is for us to gain an understanding of the scope of the work. That is, we need to 1) visit the site or 2) review architects drawings or 3) receive digital photos and dimensions. With this information, we can broadly discuss budgets and timelines.
The next step is for us to listen. We want to hear the context for the project. Is there a timeline, related to construction or to the liturgical calendar. Will the funds need to be raised. Is there a donor whose input will be critical. Is there a committee. What is the goal of the work. Is it to generate funds, beautify the facility, honor a memorial. Are there historical imperatives having to do with the congregation.
The third step is the dialogue. We share ideas for the concept or the theme with each other and generally discuss style, texts, preferences, as a group, in person, by Skype or conference call.
At this point we submit a contract for the work, delineating the costs and schedules.Upon receipt of the signed contract and a deposit, the amount based on a percentage of the whole job, we begin to put pencil to paper to work on the design.
Do we want to use stained glass in our sanctuary?
Collaborating on the design is easy.
All of our designs are original and site-specific. The first intent of stained glass in a religous setting is to teach. We like to integrate content and symbolism in our designs, often getting inspiration from Jewish texts and Rabbinical insights. We think of our designs as visual Midrash. The Rabbi or the committee may suggest a theme and then we go to work, drawing upon our own interpretation as well traditional ideas and associations.
In addition to teaching, we are thinking about the intuitive impact of the project in a sacred space. It is necessary for the work to create in the viewer a state of mind conducive to worship.
We will prepare an initial design for the committee and then submit it to a process of collaboration, during which we revise, rethink and re-frame until we arrive at a concept and drawing which satisfies everyone.
Michelle in the Willits studio glass cutting room
Michelle confers with master furniture maker, Mike Deegan on a project
Where do our ideas come from?
Making the Pattern
Once the design has been completed and approved by the committee for fabrication, the next step is to make the full size pattern or cartoon. Since our designs are digital files, we easily generate blueprints. Michelle's job is to create the pattern from these blueprints by painstakingly redrawing the design over the blueprint, making sure that every piece is going to be able to be cut out of glass. Each space on the pattern is given a number.
At this time, we also determine what decorative techniques, such as painting or etching may be employed and incorporate these tasks into the pattern.
Inking in the full-size pattern
Michelle transfers the full-size cartoon from the blueprint.
Michelle climbs up onto the table in order to work on the cartoon for a large panel.
Choosing the Glass
We choose a palette of colors for the project to most accurately render the design. Generally, we use European "antique" and mouth-blown opal glass whenever possible, although American made opalescent glass is sometimes the best choice. Considerations of lighting often plays an important part in the choice of glass. The degree of transparency of the glass is a key factor. Sometimes, it is necessary to have specific colors blown for us in order to achieve special effects. Michelle chooses all the glass and assigns each space on the cartoon a color.
The glass room in the Sherwood Ranch Studio.
Michelle examines custom-blown sheets newly arrived from the factory in Waldsassen.
Cutting the Glass
Michelle cuts each piece of glass for the cartoon, using the English method of cutting, without pattern pieces. Every space, no matter how small, on the pattern needs a piece of glass cut exactly to size. As she cuts the pieces, one at a time, Michelle lays out the glass on a duplicate copy of the pattern, carefully numbering each and making sure each piece fits precisely within the lines of its designated space.
Cutting glass by the English method.
Michelle using the light table for cutting the dense colors.
Scoring the glass.
A panel fully cut out and laid on the pattern ready for assembly.
In the glass cutting room at the Sherwood Ranch Studio.
After the entire panel has been cut out and laid on the duplicate pattern, it is ready for assembly. David assembles the windows using the traditional method of assembly by lead caming, almost exclusively. We assemble the window on the original cutting pattern for accuracy. A piece of glass is laid on its space and then a segment of lead channel or caming is wrapped to the edge of the glass and held in place by glazing nails. Next, the adjacent piece of glass is placed into the channel, held with nails and then wrapped with lead. Pieces of glass are adjusted with grinder and grozing pliers, continually making sure that the window does not expand.This process is repeated for each piece of the panel until all the glass pieces are held in the lead matrix. A specialized border channel is added to the edges of the window to allow for some small adjustment to the overall size during installation, if necessary.
Leading the window together by the traditional method.
David pauses over a partially completed assembly.
David in the assembly room at the Sherwood Ranch Studio.
Assembly proceeds one piece at a time.
Assembling Stained Glass Windows by David and Michelle Plachte-Zuieback
Soldering is a type of low temperature welding appropriate for connecting the pieces of lead into one continuous network. In this step of the process each intersection of lead segments receives a small joint of solder which attaches the pieces permanently. Before soldering begins, the entire surface of all the lead is rubbed with steel wool to remove any oxidation which has occurred during the process of assembly. Then a small amount of flux, a chemical cleaning agent, is brushed onto each joint. A hot soldering iron and a clean lead joint are the keys to successful soldering. Upon completion of soldering on the front side, the window is turned over and the process is repeated for the backside. When soldering is finished, all the joints should have a uniform and minimal appearance.
A large panel is soldered.
Glazing is dirty work that falls to David. Glazing is the process of pushing glazing putty into the lead channel to fill all the additional space surrounding the glass piece in the came. This is done for water-proofing and to make the window rigid. Prior to glazing, the surface of the lead is rubbed, again, with steel wool to remove any excess flux and oxidation that might interfere with achieving an even black patina. First, the putty is pushed under the channel edge. Then the excess is removed with a fid or other tool. Finally, the entire surface of the panel is scrubbed vigorously with dry plaster of Paris to remove oily residue from the putty, polish the glass and patina the lead to a deep black color. Upon completion of one side of the panel, the entire panel is flipped over and the process is repeated on the back side of the window.
Pushing glazing putty under the came.
Glazing with putty for water-proofing and regidity.
Nico works on glazing a panel destined for an ark door.
Danza scrubs off the putty residue with plaster of Paris.
Cleaning up a panel with plaster of Paris.
Removing excess putty with a fid.
Each panel needs reinforcement by rigid members in order to stabilize it in the vertical position. Moreover, in order to resist gravity for the minimum of 50 or so years of a panel's intended life, this reinforcement has to be extremely durable. For this reason, we employ solder-coated steel bars welded to the surface of the lead and bent to conform to existing lines in the design.
Bending and welding the steel bars is David's job. Depending upon the intricacy of the design, bending the bars needs to be accomplished by an exacting and painstaking process of successive approximations by hand and eye.
After all the steel bars are welded to the lead, the window is masked off completely so that the bars may be spray-painted black to further minimize their appearance.
Fitting the bent steel bar to the lines of the design.
Steel bar laid on the panel shows the bending points marked with a Sharpie marker.
The steel bars are masked off with tape in preparation for painting.
David fits a re-bar to a panel in the assembly room at the Sherwood Ranch Studio.
Re-bars laid on a panel prior to soldering.
The re-bars are masked off for painting.
Reinforcing Stained Glass Windows with Steel Bars
After glazing, the panel is relatively clean. However small amounts of putty or other residues musts be removed so that the panel is perfectly clean. Sometimes a few numbers remain of the pieces and need to be washed off. Cleaning, to be effective is done while the window is standing and receiving transmitted light. A final, final cleaning is done at the time of installation to remove any errant fingerprints, dust or other residues. Frequently, everyone in the studio pitches in on the cleaning, because it is so easy to miss small spots, especially on intricate windows.
Final cleaning is done while the panel is in the upright position.
Each piece needs to be examined and cleaned.
Nathan performs a final cleaning on a finished panel.
Sometimes, gold leaf adds a special touch to a project. Applied selectively the gold leaf reflects light in low light conditions adding contrast and emphasis. Michelle is our specialist in gold leaf.
Gold leafing is the process of applying a very thin layer of gold foil to a surface, in this case, glass, using a specialized adhesive. First, the piece of glass to be gold-leafed is covered with a resist and the exact shape of what will be gold leafed is cut out of the resist. After cutting the resist away, Michelle applies black low fire enamel paint to the exposed glass and lets in dry thoroughly. The remaining resist is removed and the glass is fired in the kiln to a1285 degrees F
After cooling, the glass is covered with resist again and cut away to reveal the painted surfaces. Adhesive is applied to the exposed glass and the gold foil is burnished onto the adhesive, smoothly. Finally, after drying, the remaining resist is removed and the gold leaf touched-up.
The gold leaf being burnished onto the glass.
The finished gold leaf stands out on the surface of an ark door panel.
Michelle trims the gold leaf.
Finished gold leaf.
The gold leaf on a pair of completed ark doors.
Painting on Glass
How to create a custom mask for painting on glass
Crating and Transport
Each panel is crated in an individual custom box and packed with extreme care for transport. If we are going to participate and/or supervise the installation, we will drive the completed project to the job site in our own truck or a rented box truck, whatever is necessary. Rarely, we ship the crates by common carrier to the job site. Generally, it is part of and necessary to our process to see the whole project safely to its final destination.
The installation of the work is almost always in our contract. We use a team of professional installers to help us, depending upon the scope of the job. Travel and accommodations for installers is included in our contract total. We plan the installation and arrange, locally, for whatever specialized lifts or scaffolding may be necessary. We bring all necessary tools and equipment for the job. We install to all types of fenestrations and to new construction. Every installation is an exercise in problem solving and we are prepared to adapt to existing conditions in order to deliver a full and complete job.