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.
As we saw in Part Two, the cutting patterns have been prepared, so the next step is the fun part, choosing glass. One of the perks of having done stained glass for over 25 years, Leia has quite the stash of glass to choose from, much of which is no longer manufactured, so digging through her many glass cases is a band-aid applying WONDERFUL experience, especially on a piece like “Spirit of the Rails.”
First order of business, the gradient cloudy sunset. This can be incredibly difficult to pull off, simply because the wrong use of color in one area can throw the whole thing off, so she started with this step at the very beginning. The gradual decline in color from deep blue purpose to bright yellow will evolve as she patterns glass, but this was her initial set of colors simply for the sky. Also, can we just talk about how gorgeous this fiery pink and blue wispy glass is?
Next was a blend of textures and colors for the rails and tracks themselves, including this incredible textured brown, along with the bronze transparent wispy glass for the train itself and its ghostly details. Once she was satisfied with her choices, and all the glass was safely stashed in one location, it was off to the light box.
There are a lot of opinions and methods out there for patterning glass, but Leia chooses to use a lightbox and trace the individual pieces of the window by hand. This way, she can see what the glass is going to look like with light coming through it, as well as how it will look without light at the click of a switch. Because “Spirit of the Rails” is her 2022 Masterpiece, Leia pulled some of these color variations from her “private stash”, a collection of glass she’s put aside simply for projects like this one, where she really wants that glass to show out in what she’s making.
Patterning the glass isn’t just slapping the glass down and drawing a shape, the texture, the color variations of the grain, the transition from one color to the next, all that has to be taken into account. It takes hours to pattern all the glass in a piece of this caliber, but it goes by quickly when you’re buried in all that color.
One part in particular that she was extremely careful about is how the sun hit the horizon. The green she is using for the hillside has a brilliant stripe of transparent amber running through it. She is trying to grasp that one section of glass, so that it will look as if the light from the sun is illuminating the landscape. This is what she calls “a one-shot deal”, she will have to rely upon her considerable cutting skills to be able to capture that line. There is no second chance.
Leia uses a pistol-grip glass cutter with a tungsten carbine wheel, a brass straight cutter with a solid breaking ball on the end, and a few sets of special pliers to cut glass. She’ll elaborate more on that in Part Four. For now, she decided to start with the train itself, its details, and its ghostly engineer whom she has affectionately named “Ryan” for her dear friend Ryan Szesny, her best friend Maggie’s husband and a signal engineer for the railroad in Jacksonville, FL. He was kind enough to look over her design and give her pointers on the anatomy of the train itself during the design process, even sending her some photos of some of the older train artwork hanging around his office for reference. (Thanks so much Ryan).
It took about three hours to cut out the 180+ pieces of the train, but here is the result of all that hard work. She’s incredibly happy with how it’s going so far. The brilliant sunset behind this bronze wispy glass will truly highlight its spectral beauty.
Also, if you’ll look under the light table, you’ll see the Glass Shop Supervisor, Lucy, being ever supportive as her Momma cuts glass. < 3
Stay tuned for Part Four – Cutting the Sky
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.