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Behold! A mosaic of colours

HUES OF varied colours capture the attention of onlookers through an eclectic display of figures and patterns that seem to burst forth amidst a gush of light. Colours of blue, red, green, violet, and yellow that adorn the windows of an old cathedral, atop doorposts or simply as a piece of art perched upon a shelf for some quick admiration.

Stained glass art, as it is known, is still in its infancy, in Kerala and in the country too. Cyriac Antony of Moyalan Stained Glass, the only creators of this art in Kerala explained that stained glass alone is known to have the unique property of lighting up, creating a feeling of space, and that too with the help of refracted light. "The intricacy of this art lies in the precision of fusion." Said Mr. Antony.

Stained glass dates back to almost a thousand years, when a couple of monks meditating by a river side found pieces of coloured glass along with the ashy remains of their bon fire. The burning wood and sand combined to produce an interesting form of coloured glass that eventually had a tendency to break when cooled. Thus the first forms of a peculiar sort of glass were observed that was soon modified to develop into an appreciative art.

Very much like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, stained glass objects are made by cutting pieces of coloured glass, wrapping them in copper foil or lead strips called `came' and soldering them together to form the finished product.

Sketches of the required design are made and the colour to be used is noted and approved. The glass is then cut into shapes as per the design, placed on the sketch for a final approval from the artisans. "The cutting is done manually with the help of imported diamond tipped cutting tools specially meant for stained glass" he says. "The glass used is not made in India, but is imported from manufacturers abroad who have been holding the secrets to this glass making over the centuries".

The edges are then ground, washed, dried and eventually joined together using metal. The copper pieces are coated with solder, cleaned well and stained with `patina' that come in colours of black, copper and brass. They are then thoroughly cleaned with glass wax and cloth to protect them from oxidising. As simple as it gets, but the catch is in leaving sufficient gap after grinding for the metal! Earlier the metal channels were more obvious in a picture as importance was given to the strength and longevity of the object.

However, today manufacturers feel clients opt for visual appeal and aesthetics that tend to reduce the thickness of the metal channel subjecting the piece to easy breakage. " The less copper we use, the less strength is obtained so we very often leave the decision of quality, strength and design to the architect or client concerned," adds Cyriac.

The beauty behind stained glass is in its capacity to remain unchanged, without any fading of colours. "The colours are obtained with the addition of metals in the composition before placing them in the furnace- cobalt for blue, gold for red, copper for green. Besides they need not be necessarily replaced but a damaged piece can be repaired and adjusted." says a proud Mr. Antony as he narrates the restoration of the 70 year old stained glass work from Spain at the St. Joseph's seminary at Aluva.

Shadings are obtained using powdered glass on pieces of stained glass that are literally painted on it. This is passed through the furnace once again. "This is a time consuming job and very often we try avoid it if there is a time constraint", he says.

The beauty and appeal associated with this art form is often related to sophistication and class. "It is expensive work, but the advantage we have here is of cheap labour when compared to those outside India, so much so that a piece for $250 per sq. foot is available for Rs 1000- 1500 per sq. foot" explains Mr. Antony.

To many stained glass manufacturers dismay, this art form is often confused for glass painting where glass is etched and paint poured on it that is cheap and easily available. Architects like Monalitha of Design Combines feel that transparent glass can never have the qualities of stained glass. "Today what we often see is not original stained glass but painted glass that has an opaque effect and not translucent" says Monalitha. "This is not exciting and nor is it dramatic in terms of light and quality of space", she adds.

Manufacturers like Mr. Antony hope that the richness and value of stained glass would be realised by all. Although often referred to as an art for the flamboyant, stained glass has however proven to survive over the newer modern glasswork with its own charm and drama, successfully filtering down the ages.


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