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.
The next steps of Spirit of the Rails will take several weeks to complete, each being critical to the final piece. Each layer must be soldered, but the new process of the foreground will be kiln-fired glass paint, which may take quite a few weeks to get perfect.
Leia started off with soldering the locomotive itself. After the copper-foiling is done, she puts all the pieces on top of the pattern, uses an acid called “Flux” where every three pieces meet, and “Tacks” it together with one blob of solder on each joint. She then fluxes all of the copper and begins soldering each line to the same height and smoothness.
Once the top side is soldered, she will flip the piece over and solder the whole of the other side in the same manner. She then holds the soldered piece carefully with a soft towel and smoothly solders the very edges, being careful that she drops excess solder in the towel, and not her hand. She’s about 97% successful, the other 3% we won’t talk about.
Once the piece is soldered, she uses a mixture of flux remover and liquid Dawn with 0000 steel wool to scrub away not only the acid, and marker, but also uses the wool to polish up the solder lines. She then rinses a few times with water and allows it to air dry on a soft towel.
Now you can see the transparency of the spectral train that will allow the brilliant background sunset to shine through, but before she solders the background, she must finish the foreground.
Kiln-fired Glass Painting
Most people, when they think of stained glass, they think of church windows, and when they think of church windows, they think of the faces of apostles, angels, and Jesus. You don’t have to be religious for this to happen in your brain, it’s just what the populous parallels this art with most of the time. Well, those faces are actually fired in a kiln at about 1200 degrees through multiple stages in order to get the effect you think of, and Leia does know how to do this. It’s just been a while. So, naturally she wanted to do this on Spirit of the Rails, it’s just going to be yet another overlay for this project.
The bottom right-hand corner of the window is a large green and amber piece of glass denoting the foreground in front of the train. At first Leia was going to make actual three-dimensional foliage to come out of the window, but she changed her mind and is now going to paint it.
She begins by tracing around the amber/green piece of glass in the background and sketches out a loose design of cattails and bleeding heartland brush flowers. Then she cuts a clear piece of glass the size of the amber/green in the background window, and due to the “foot” of her kiln being rather small, she separates it into seven smaller pieces of glass she will eventually solder together.
Then she mixes the “paint” with a fusing medium and crushes it over and over with a palette knife until it’s a fine paste. She spreads it over each piece of glass and uses a “haike” brush or “blender” brush to smooth out the paint over the glass in one solid layer. She then allows the paint to dry over several hours.
Once the layer is dry, she begins scratching away the design, removing the paint where she wants the glass to shine through until all seven pieces are seamless and she’s satisfied. Note that due to the temperamental nature of kilns in general, she may have to perform this step multiple times before she decides those seven pieces are prepared the way she’d like, but she won’t bore you with a lot of that. She will, however, send over some pics of the red hot molten glass in the next installment, so stick around!
Stay Tuned for our next installment: Firing the Foreground and Soldering the Background
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.