Freedom Isn’t Free begins

Freedom Isn’t Free

This ensemble of three windows will appear on an interior wall separating the Chapel from an adjacent hallway at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans Center.  I created the design last spring and it took some months for the volunteers who support the center to raise the necessary funds to proceed with the fabrication.  Then it took us some additional months to get around to beginning the fabrication.  How great it is to bee this busy. This view was the initial design version.  The Commandant of the Vets Center requested some modifications which I incorporated into the design.  He asked me to rearrange the seals of the various branches of service to reflect the order in which they were established and he also asked me to introduce the image of the POW-MIA flag.  In my next posting, I show the final version of the design with these changes.

As the designer, I enjoy matching the assignment with the varied talents of my diverse staff of artists.   Jason Hettel is a great choice for this window and what he has accomplished so far confirms this.

  This design is mostly transparent with red and blue obviously in the flag motif.  Many windows we make feature figures but the painting in these will much more resemble the dot-matrix of ink-jet printers rather than the fluid brushwork common to glass painting.  The figures here will be accomplished with the same vitreous painting techniques but the red and blue of the flag involves a rather dangerous process of acid etching.

The flag unfurls through the design and many pieces of glass have either red or blue color and clear in the same piece.  Since there is a geometric pattern of leading dominant through the background, I didn’t want to add extra leading to separate clear from colored glass.  The way to achieve one piece of glass that is both colored and clear is by etching “flashed” glass.  Flashed glass is a particular type of full antique or mouth-blown glass.  The French still make this and so to the Germans.  We use Lamberts German  glass, distributed by our friends at S. A. Bendheim.  (Both companies are the gold standard for stained glass)

Everyone has seen at least a video of glass-blowing.  For flashed glass, they begin with a gather of clear glass on the end of the blow-pipe.  Next, they coat the clear bubble with molten red (or blue, or green, etc).  they continue with the glass blowing process, ultimately folding a large cylinder into a flat sheet.  The “flash” in this case, is the thin layer of color over the clear glass, both in the same sheet.

We can attack this thin layer of color with hydraflouric acid, gradually eating it away to reveal the clear glass underneath.  While the acid eats the glass, it won’t eat plastic, so we can use a plastic mask to protect the parts of a piece of glass we want to remain colored.  The following photos show various stages in this etching process.  You can see that Jason has patterned and cut all the glass for the window, including the six medallions at the bottom that will be the seals of the various branches of service.  He has covered all of the colored pieces with a plastic masking and hand-cut all the various designs out with an exacto knife.  This is very tedious work requiring much patience.  Next he peels up the mask where he wants the glass to be clear.  Now he is ready to apply acid to the glass to begin the etching process, which takes day to accomplish and must not be rushed.  Trying to hurry this process up will result in ruined glass that is pitted.  I don’t suppose there are more than one or two other studios in the world that perform this process.  I learned how as an apprentice but the care and precautions required are very involved.  Even buying the acid isn’t easy.  Viewing the photos in order, you can see how the color gradually disappears over time as the acid eats it away.  This flash of dense color is only about 1/32″ thick over approximately 1/8″ of clear glass.

More to come as the process continues toward painting.  In the meantime, it’s looking great and very exciting.  I can’t remember seen a better job of acid etching.

JoeHere are the six service branch medallions.  These are so complicated that they represent about half the work on the entire window.  Some require two layer of etched flash glass to accomplish all the color changes and imagery.