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Liberating the handmaiden

This article appeared in Glass magazine, Vol 5 Number 3, April, 1977. I've made minor edits for its 20-year anniversary. The liberation is of a woman and a medium.

I don't remember when I first encountered the phrase, "stained glass is the 'handmaiden' of architecture". The idea, which permeated the stained glass world, got stuck in my mind like a porcupine quill. After all, painting escaped servitude years ago. It finally dawned on me that glass needed not only to become portable, but also to become revolutionary.

In 1967, after seven years of designing for studios, doing stained glass free-lance and for fun, I was profoundly dissatisfied with what I or anyone else had done in the medium. Stained glass might be a wonderful medium for color, but what is color? Color is vibrations, the light from atoms and stars, a basic language, the stuff of communication! You can touch stained glass and the fingers receive communications. The color shines into your eyes, penetrates the skin, and even colors up your shadows. The colors seem to float in a thick space. It is an unusual space.

What a great idea, I thought, to surround myself with this inside-out space. I wanted not to look at a window, but to be in a window. I needed control of all the light. I would make panels on the arcs around me. The radius of the arc was seven feet, the distance my fingers reached up while standing on tip-toe.

Because it would be just a sort of walk-in, be-in sculpture, I could postpone considerations of architecture and patron. Here, I knew, I had the basics of a revolution. Traditionally, the architecture and the patron came first. Now I was free to consider with complete integrity, the pure potential of the leaded stained glass panel.

The process of making the panels had to be revised to correspond with what I felt was important. The sequence became: [1] content, [2] purchase of glass, [3] study of glass, [4] artwork, [5] fabrication, [6] architecture, [7] patron. {1997, still no patron.}

Of prime importance to me (or to any viewer) was the meaning I got. This affirmation negated the idea that stained glass was a "craft." Stained glass, for me, was going to be the highest of fine arts. The first step in my process was to know my message. It involved an interview of the aura.

My struggles as a woman grew entwined with "Stained Glass Lib." I was fed up with Womanhood at the time, or rather, I foresaw a radical future for women. Woman's real evolution would be to mutate the race. The new species would not need the earth's atmosphere for survival and could not be blown up by an atomic bomb. To do this, women would first have to become aware of their processes of reproduction, familiar with their minds, and party to the functioning of their inner selves. Now I am not sure of these assumptions and sorting bins labeled male and female. It's hard to figure out in words that which has been done in a creative act. I present them not as finished philosophy, but as suggestive poems.

Ever since I was a baby, I had allowed my consciousness to be dominated by a "male" vision of reality. My "female" intuition only flourished unconsciously. Actually, it might be a perfectly valid mode of consciousness--more direct. In man's world, intuition was only admitted after it have been proved by outside verifications and demonstrated as acceptable by an enervating crust of concepts obscuring Universal Mind. It was exceedingly indirect.

That is why Taoists (probably mostly male) found their own mode of thought feminine. I quote from the Tao Te Ching:

"The Valley Spirit never dies. It is named the Mysterious Female. And the Doorway of the Mysterious Female is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang. It is there within us all the while; Draw upon it as you will.

Without looking out of his (her) window, He (She) knows all the ways of heaven. Therefore The Sage (The Sagess?) sees all without looking."

The Tao was advice to a ruler, but man's world didn't use it well. Mystics often insisted that enlightenment is not communicable. Was it true? Was women's intuition just an orifice of the nagual, the separate reality taught by Don Juan in Castaneda's Tales of Power? I became insulated from all concepts, I made an abrupt decision. I could make babies with my body. I was in creative good stead with reality. I asked my mind to give me, via the imagination, some reliable information about reality.

I asked it to envision how my name occurred in my mind. This I would visually transmit. As I vowed to "see directly", a whole new vision world opened to me. My artworks were primitive maps with which to explore ever deeper into the territory of my being. I reconnected with Universal Mind. These insights flowed right into stained glass images. I began to pay attention to very tiny signals.

In stained glass, the viewer gets the message primarily and most potently in small hits of mixed colored light. The second step in my process was to go buy sheets of colored glass. Since there were plenty of greys and opaques in the outside world, I chose rainbow colors for articulation, transparent glass for deep space.

The sheets of glass were put up in windows facing all kinds of light and backgrounds. "Handle With Care" was the motto I learned to recommend. This was to prevent sheets of glass from using the gravity design, which often results in slivers too small to lead. Endless jokes about "eating glass" amongst the glass workers I had known had helped develop a tough sense of humor.

It came in as handy, as did the dust pan, during the inevitable sweeping up of the color that had fallen and smashed. As I moved the sheets around, I went into step three: to reconsider the visions anew by dreaming in the colored light I had here now.

Step four was artwork. It was painting, sketching, writing, collage, sculpture, and models. That is, whatever I could use in developing my visual idea of significant patterns of colored light. I considered each color in itself and in a suspension with neighboring colors. All was very relative, so I pondered long the cumulative effect. After much fumbling, at long last I arrived at the lead lines, making full-size cartoons (lead-line drawings), although I often cut into the glass spontaneously.

Craft skills were in order. At step five, I gathered my tools and readied a workshop with all the materials necessary to fabricate leaded stained glass panels. I built curved tables that were cast of clear plastic and topped with vinyl tubing. They were concave and convex with the curvature of a seven-foot-radius sphere.

After twenty panels were done, I had to take step six. A structure was needed to hold them up. This involved environmental and structural considerations proper to engineering or architecture. Since architecture occupied a convenient position in my process, its duties were simple--no greater than those of a "handboy."

Web publishing note, 1997. I don't mean to undervalue the structure I chose. I value it highly. It has always performed as needed. Now I would prefer to not confuse providing service with the integrity of a person. The terms handmaiden and handboy are now part of history, in my view. You can see the Wholeo Dome on this site.

Glass magazine cover

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