By Master Stained Glass Artisan Leia Powell
Leia Powell, a 25-year veteran glazier and owner of Wildcat Mountain Artistry in Florence, Alabama, is creating her yearly masterpiece specifically for Chattacon 2023. Our Artist Guest of Honor conceived of “Spirit of the Rails”, a shadowy apparition haunting the rusty railroads of Chattanooga, as a multi-layered or “layover” piece where she takes four separate creations and binds them together to give the viewer a more in-depth experience.
At this point, Leia has fifty hours invested in Spirit of the Rails, and she figures it will take another twenty or so before it’s complete. You may have noticed that she hasn’t done anything with the foreground overlay yet, and you would be very observant in this. As sometimes happens, Leia has changed her mind about her approach. Instead of building 3-D foliage to come out of the window, she’s decided to try her hand at a technique she hasn’t done in twenty-three years. But that will be in the next installment!
Grinding the Glass
Now that the three main layers of the window are cut, just over 300 pieces of glass, the next step is to grind the edges of each individual piece. The reason this is done, is so that the glass can be wrapped in copper foil tape. This is what the solder will adhere to in the end. The edges of the cut glass are incredibly slick, and it’s imperative that the foil stays in place. A grinder is a machine with a water reservoir that has a grid sitting on top surrounding a diamond covered bit that spins around incredibly fast. To keep the glass from getting too hot, a sponge feeds the water up and presses against the bit to keep it wet and to wash off excess glass before it makes another revolution. As you run the edge of the glass pieces over the bit, the glass “frit” falls through the gridwork and down into the water. After grinding a few hundred pieces of glass, it mounds up to a thick paste that’s lovely and oddly satisfying to scrape out later. The bigger the pile of sludge, the better, it just means you’ve worked hard.
Once all the glass pieces have been ground, Leia puts the glass on the pattern one more time to make sure that no adjustments need to be made. Even though she is incredibly good at cutting glass, sometimes a little bumpy edge on one piece can move things out of line and it becomes a domino effect where it moves the next and the next. This is the final “fitting” before foiling, so she pays close attention to the window, making sure everything fits perfectly. She then takes the glass pieces and puts them in different “tubs” (plastic bins) and stacks them on top of each other, goes upstairs and chills on the couch and copper foils the glass.
Copper foil comes in three “backing” colors – copper, silver, and black. It also comes in a variety of widths from 1 all the way to 3/16 of an inch. Leia is using black-backed foil on the transparent pieces of the background window, along with copper-backed foil on the opaque ones. She plans to change the color of her solder lines to black on the background window, so the black-backed foil keeps your eye from being drawn to shiny, out of place interior solder lines, and keeps you focused on the glass. She will use her standard width of 7/32” foil on most pieces, unless they’re very small, then she will use 3/16” foil.
On the spectral train overlay and the detail overlay over that, she will use silver, since it’s all transparent glass, and she plans to leave the solder lines silver on these to better promote the ghostly quality of the train itself. Once the window is assembled, she may decide to make the solder lines black, but the interior silver foil will be more of an enhancement of the ghostly glass if she decides to go that route. You always have to be willing to adapt!
Once all this glass is foiled, the first three layers will be ready to solder!
Stay Tuned for our next installment: Kiln-fired Glass Painting and Soldering Layers!
Master Stained Glass Artisan Leia Powell has been creating glass masterpieces, breaking down barriers, and rejuvenating the old world artistry for over 25 years. The first stained glass artist to be nominated for the coveted Chesley Award, Leia is also the first glass artist in history to be the sole maker of an author’s trademarked characters: Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Her three-dimensional figures and exceptionally intricate stained glass windows have won her multiple art show awards at both LibertyCon and JordanCon. Her fused glass jewelry is a testament to how glorious melting glass at 1200 degrees can be.
Leia keeps apprentices and interns on staff at her studio Wildcat Mountain Artistry in Florence, Alabama, and is determined to teach everyone she can to ensure the flame of stained glass creativity keeps burning.