Stained Glass Plating – Poor Craftsmanship or Not?

“Plating” is the leading up of two or more glasses of the same shape, one behind the other.

Here’s what E. Liddall Armitage has to say on the matter:

“Some artists resort to plating and even tend to boast about it, but it is best avoided” (Stained Glass, Leonard Hill Books Limited, London, 1960, p. 130).

He presents two arguments. First, that it is unsound craftsmanship. Second, that medieval glass is beautiful and never, ever plated.

Before discussing these arguments, we must make an admission of special interest here.

Namely, that the soon-to-be-installed Hereford window is plated over maybe one-third of its area.

Painted, silver stained and plated glass on the glazing shelf, awaiting glazing …

Even stained glass moves on …

We can easily side-step Liddall Armitage’s second argument.

After all, it is too general. This is now the 21st century. We can all admire medieval glass without being honour-bound never to innovate beyond that which was achieved during the 12th and 13th centuries.

But unsound craftsmanship – that’s a serious charge to make.

Unsound – or not?

Liddal Armitage raises three concerns:

  1. There is always the risk of one of the pieces cracking
  2. It is difficult to prevent cement from running between the two pieces of glass
  3. There is likely to be condensation between the two pieces of glass

Here are our thoughts:

  1. There is always the risk of any glass cracking, whether plated or not. Plating in itself does not increase this risk (whereas, of course, poor firing and/or clumsy handling certainly do)
  2. It’s easy (although time-consuming) to seal the glass with copper-foil or similar, and thereby stop cement from running between them. Context permitting (see below) it is also possible to use putty, not cement, to give rigidity to the window
  3. Most modern buildings, unlike medieval churches, are double-glazed. So, once you’ve settled the question of how to fix the stained glass against the double-glazing on the inside, condensation is not likely to be a problem, least ways when the double-glazing has been properly done

Context

More and more, all of us who design and paint stained glass will have to come to terms with fixing our work against double-glazing.

Yes, it often impoverishes the outside aspect. But there’s no point being precious here. It’s the way the world is.

As it happens, the outside aspect is not a consideration in Hereford’s case: the keepers of the crematorium don’t want people peeping in while others mourn. So we can use the glazing in our favour.

Also, the external glazing exactly means we have little to fear from condensation, so therefore plating is an option (as is hand-puttying, because the external double-glazing is protecting the stained glass from weather and wind).

And why then did we chose to plate? Why might you sometimes choose to plate?

Why plate?

Here’s the commonest reason:

People most often plate because that’s the best way to achieve a very particular shade or tint

This is perfectly understandable. So much glass is machine-made that there is not now the accidental and lovely variety we once found when all glass was made by hand. We have sacrificed beauty for predictability. Plating, in some measure, can restore the subtle vocabulary that modern production methods have lost.

But that wasn’t our reason.

Our reason was all to do with design, painting and silver-staining.

By “design”, we don’t just mean the physical cartoons which convince the client and which serve as our map and compass whilst we are cutting and working the glass.

No, “design” also has a larger meaning here, because no drawing or painting on paper can fully express what must eventually be done on glass in order for the glass to be faithful to the underlying artistic idea.

Here’s what happened with us on this specific project.

As we worked the glass, we saw that some painting simply had to be pushed back further than could be achieved simply by painting on the back of a single piece of glass.

Thus, whilst the traced lines and some shading were painted on the front of the first piece of glass, some shading simply had to be painted on the front of the second piece of glass.

With silver stain, our argument was different.

You see, we have a range of clear, slightly-textured Polish glass which stains exquisitely and with as much subtlety as you could desire.

What’s more, it’s also predictable.

Now predictability is useful exactly because some glass and colours, by virtue of their chemical composition, range from being difficult to impossible to stain.

But, with the help of this clear and subtly textured Polish plating, we knew we could chose whatever colour we needed for the first piece of glass – and always be confident that we could add the effect of silver stain to the second piece.

Installation

Stained glass for Hereford Crematorium

Glass on the easel awaiting glazing, and it’s “wait and see” for now

This happens in a few weeks’ time.

We’re confident of our assessment. But we’re just the designer-painters. It’s other people who count. And what really matters is the effect of the glass on their emotions.

Yes, crematoria are difficult. Unlike churches, whoever heard of something happy happening there?

So it’ll also be interesting to see if the donor gets his way and is allowed to hold a “swinging party” there – which will be after-hours of course.

Comments

  1. says

    Hello Friends!

    Yes, plating is beautiful – but full of pitfalls.

    I have had to restore several stained glass windows that were plated. In those windows the church had been coal-heated. Coal soot had built up between the plates.

    The church also had condensation problems. (On some of the photos you will see where the condensation has dribbled down the coal soot.)

    These windows are mainly opalescent glass. The artist had painted some black lines on the front of the first layer. And then painted shading on the front side of the second layer of opalescent glass.

    On the faces, the artist had used clear window pane for the first layer; painted window pane on the second layer, and the third layer had ‘ghost image’ painted on the front side. Amazing work!

    I have written about that restoration on my blog – here, and here, and also here.

    I have also posted other restoration photos on Flickr.com right here.

    All the best,
    Laura Goff Parham

    • says

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your contribution.

      Plating and possible pitfalls – certainly.

      Plating and craftsmanship – well, I think your example proves the point. When a technique is properly used in the service of a design, then the technique is in its proper place. Techniques go wrong mainly when they pretend that they are masters and forget they should be servants.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  2. Mike McElhattan says

    Hello Stephen,

    Thumbs up to plating!

    I have to admit, I was terrified to read the article after scoping the title.

    Plating, whether disregarded or incapable in the past plays a huge part in glass life today. Glass matching alone, as you stated, is the only way to make a suitable replacement to the more extinct variety.

    Above all it is just fun to make that one-of-a-kind color, texture or effect that single glazing won’t do.

    Thank you from your plating community!

    Mike

    • says

      Hello Mike,

      Your point is perfectly made about colour-matching; if the single sheet of colour is no longer available, then plating is certainly a responsible response.

      And, in new work, yes, the one-of-a-kind colour – a colour that fits the design and the architectural setting – is just what’s required.

      Here’s to plating, and we don’t mean that boastfully!

      All the best,
      Stephen

  3. Jackie Carey says

    I use plating a lot, for all sorts of reasons, but I’m always exceedingly careful to clean the glass as thoroughly as humanly possibly before soldering. And also, when soldering, to look out for any tiny pinholes which could allow moisture, mildew, spores etc. to creep between the plates.

    The pieces are small-scale, so copper-foiled and soldered (rather than leaded).

    If I were leading a large plated window, I think I’d be quite nervous about the potential for ‘seep and creep’ between the plates.

    I’d definitely want to foil them first, or use some other sealing method.

  4. John Kilpatrick says

    Stephen
    Happy new year!
    I really enjoyed this new Brit artist that I discovered on the web:
    Neal Fox. He has a show of stained glass in Germany. I wonder what your thoughts are.
    The best to you guys and Thanks for all the priceless info.

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