AISG: Do we still encourage the development of stained glass as a contemporary art form?

Email by Elizabeth Steinebach on April 10, 2007
Categories Filed Under: MUSINGS

I find myself in a unique situation. About twenty-five years ago, I was a bright naive stained glass artist. I was pretty much self taught and so expanded my skills by working in stained glass shops and free lancing for professional studios. I remember being a member of AISG during the late 1980's and early 1990's. I recollect the some of the walking tours, presentations, the opening of the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery. And I also recollect how distinctly separate I felt, from the AISG elite, despite their friendly and encouraging gestures. That creative ability of "originality" seemed too big to relate to. And yet, here I am, still doing stained glass and taking on the additional role, of the new web manager, years later.

As I sift through the box, handed over by the previous web master, I am struck by the amazing achievements that AISG forged. Issues of the Leadline, AISG bulletins, Flat glass Journal, minutes, by-laws, codes of conduct, guidelines for commissions, correspondence from France and Switzerland, exhibit outlines, membership lists and so much more, all of this contributes to a very specific sliver of our stained glass history. And it all started with the idea "to encourage the development of stained glass as a contemporary art form, in Ontario and throughout Canada".

As I sit at the arduous task of scanning all these documents onto CD, before the originals decay and fade any further, I mull the word "contemporary". What did the original membership intend with that statement?

My intellectual gears turning, I use my own point of reference, and ask what does the word contemporary mean to me? Realizing that this was frightfully too limiting, I dig out my thesaurus and am quite surprised at how encompassing "contemporary" is.

We may have better glass cutters, an arsenal of new tool choices, incredible glass selection, everything at our fingertips to be faster and more efficient, however the methods of stained glass construction are relatively unchanged. There is nothing really new here. However if stained glass was to step away from the large professional studio, away from the predictable installation sites of church, cathedral or town hall and really try to do something new with the material and the treatments we can apply to it, well that would be contemporary.

If you were to look at the material that is the AISG library, you would notice that the membership was ready to break free of the traditional constraints. Gone was what was expected or what was the norm. If a church window were the commission, the usual figurative style was replaced with organic shapes, beautiful colors or perhaps calming repetitions of line and form, the creation of a worshipful environment became the goal rather than specific content, unless specified.

Stained glass started showing up as autonomous art panels, as spectacular entryways, as windows in private homes, as lighting, as decoration in Malls, restaurants, stadiums and other public spaces. Breaking out of the traditional paint/enamel/acid etching, glass treatments were the next to be challenged. Sandblasting, stage carving, slumping, free hand painting, dry enameling, plating, free form acid etching or silver staining and fusing stretched the envelope of glass itself and the tools and equipment required to take it, to the next level.

Back in its early years, the AISG membership, were true pioneers. In 2007, we can take it for granted that stained glass, as in artists, supply stores and classes, are likely found in most large city centers, anywhere in the country. Most of us started in a small class taught in a small shop or studio and fewer of us have Art credentials and formal training. Regardless of how we got here, AISG helped get stained glass main stream, at least here in Ontario. For those of you further afield, have you looked to see whom your stained glass associations and mentors are?

So, is AISG still relevant? Is it still "to encourage the development of stained glass as a contemporary art form"? Did AISG fulfill its intentions and is it still doing it today? How does AISG benefit you? And do you recommend it to others?

This is the first article/essay in our AISG News section. It can be this informal. If you would like to respond, you can post in the AISG Message Board and if you would like to have an article/essay posted here please contact the web manager.