Putting the Art back into Stained Glass

Email by Elizabeth Steinebach etal on April 10, 2010
Categories Filed Under: ESSAYS

Putting the Art back into Stained Glass.

Why we need to educate:

Recently having a dreadful experience with my local arts and crafts group, I wondered if this was a common occurrence for stained glass artists.

The spring show, for the second year in a row, completely disrespected the medium of stained glass, underutilized the space and downplayed the very existence of work, by hiding pieces in corners, behind other large displays, and on plinths so low, I watched people stumble into them. I won't go into any more detail and say in all fairness that, the pottery, the textiles, the jewelry, the wood, the multi-media – essentially everything that was not painted and simply hung on a wall, in my opinion, was sorely disrespected, as well. So perhaps not a specific slight to stained glass, but an equal opportunity discrimination for anything other than wall art.

Such local groups with their various committees, partially funded by public money or not, are not exempt from acting on a hierarchy of art mediums. Just like our bias is to promote stained glass, each art group can have it's own favoritism of medium. I would venture that many committees do not appreciate nor understand any other medium other than paint, so do not know what to do with three dimensional objects or how to hang stained glass well.

Plainly, stained glass requires light, where light passes through the art, illuminating it from within, rather than being merely reflected from it. Unfortunately most of these kind of art committees are made up of painters or whatever the majority within the group is, so the lot stained glass is given, will likely not change. Thus it is imperative we must educate the very art organizations that we join.

So with this in mind, I'm putting together these articles for many of us in stained glass. Whether you print them out for your local art association or direct them to find these articles here at AISG, know that you are not alone. Share your stories, here. If all of us, in our respective corners of the world, start educating each other and these groups, that we need to help grow our businesses, change will occur.

Know too, that our memberships fees, show fees and any other fees help these associations survive and thrive. So when there is so much evidence to suggest that they are doing very little for stained glass, well then, we do have some financial power to influence change. These groups need us in a symbiotic relationship, to support them - through membership and sales commissions, so the relationship needs to be mutually beneficial, with support, dialogue, sales and trust for stained glass. If not, stop being a member of that group.

I sent out a private email to the membership to see if I was the only unfortunate stained glass artist. Over 25% of you gave me feed back – that's well over one in four, having experienced some kind of difficulty with their local art organization. And I'm getting more responses everyday.

These stories should concern all of us. If recognized art groups are treating their own stained glass members, albeit unconsciously, so poorly, not only does it diminish stained glass in general, but also the buying public sees this at the shows. This invisible message being, that this ignorance/trivializing behavior towards stained glass, is acceptable. Is it any wonder that the perceived value of stained glass is what it is? That indeed, stained glass is not art and not really worth buying.

Here are some of the worst behaviors experienced by AISG members:

Stained glass is being broken by well meaning, but unskilled nor trained, art association volunteers.

Stained glass work, now damaged, is rejected for admittance into the show.

The art association refuses to pay for the repair or purchase of the damaged stained glass.

Understandably, stained glass is fragile by nature. However carrying it incorrectly, storing it incorrectly, not anticipating the weight of stained glass will lead to damage. These are the issues for the hanging committees and their inexperience and seemingly oblivious ignorance is causing damage, as mentioned above. The unfortunate reality is that a stained glass artist who has worked just as hard as any other artist has work damaged beyond acceptance into the show, now looses the potential income from the sale and the exposure that the show would have offered. And when the art group refuse to acknowledge their role in the damage, the artist has now lost the time and money of creating their art.

Stained glass designed as an autonomous panel, to be displayed with natural sunlight, is being hung on an interior walls.

In this situation, for the entire duration of the show, the stained glass artists work, is shown in the worst possible way. What is the buying public to think of this? Are they going to be able to appreciate the work? Will the stained glass sell? And worse, this stained glass artist's reputation has been tarnished, by the very art association that is supposed to support art and artists, because the public will not grasp that it was the art association that displayed it this way, but simply thinking stained glass is just ugly.

There have also been various outright refusals of stained glass into shows. Despite the show having the word glass in it's title, flat panel stained glass was not welcomed.

Some venues used by art groups may or may not have suitable windows.

Or lastly, a popular misconception is that stained glass is not art – and therefore not permitted in Art shows.

Discrimination thinly veiled, wastes the time of everyone. Yes, shows can be specific to specific mediums. However when a show does not clearly state its limitations, accepts show fees, only to reject work at the door, this is deplorable by any standard.

In a effort to be inclusive, art groups do try to find venues with windows for stained glass. Yet often these windows are too small, wrong shape, too high for public viewing, which again, by accepting the venue as suitable, puts stained glass on the fringe of the show. Also, if windows are separate from the primary display space and/or main events are at night, stained glass is again marginalized.

The 'art' verses 'craft' argument is lengthy and will be further discussed in another article. For the moment lets consider by whose authority is the stained glass condemned to be outlawed from such company. The continuum of stained glass is a broad one, from hobbyists to world renowned glass artists. Because there is such a huge variety of skill sets it is very important to educate regarding the differences and what separates quality work from inferior.

This art group ignorance equally accepts student pieces as well as banishes true stained glass artistry from participation, with no particular standard. There is such potential bias, ego and arrogance in this kind of rejecting. In most situations without any challenge, appeal or questioning, the artist has no recourse.

The area of awards and merit for stained glass has left much stained glass without any recognition of advances in techniques or innovation. If the art association volunteers are inexperienced, then the likelihood of the judges inexperience, should also come into question. Remember if the art organization is sympathetic to painters, the committees are going to find judges who will lend prestige and honor to that medium. This may mean that judges know nothing of stained glass and it's technical requirements. This explains why judges often select poorly made or poorly designed work. Without any appreciation of quality craftsmanship and design limitations or innovations, their uninformed choice maybe based on some other intrigue. Or in many cases stained glass is simply and completely over looked as art and worthy of any award or merit.

As we continue to ponder these issues, I hope many of you take the time to share your unique perspective in the forum. There are no easy answers nor a single definitive answer to fit the diverse circumstances, here, in the United States or abroad. However the more we talk about this, the better prepared we will become at avoiding such situations and raising the awareness of stained glass in a good way.

I would like to thank the following AISG members for their contributions:

Eleanor Brownridge - Turtle Creek Art Glass,

June Derksen - Junebug Designs,

Nancy Faust - Touch-o-Glass,

Scotty Giffen – Giffen Stained Glass

Kathryn Irwin - Art Zone,

Bev Hewitt - Gemini Art Glass

Kelly Anne Hooper - Glassworks Studio,

Andrea Kelter - Andrea Kelter Studio,

Julie Laframboise – Concept Art Studio

Lila Linquist - Lila's Glass,

M - Paned Expressions Studios,

Claire Morris - Tyskol Studio,

Jo Perez - Dark Hollow Glass,

Elizabeth Steinebach - Stained Glass Artisan