Stained Glass Art a Labor of Love

Thursday, October 15, 2015
Johnny Williams scores glass for a 58X28 pane decorated with a cross he is making for a Warrens Chapel Methodist Church near Walcott.(TD photo/Jessica Rainwater)

Making stained glass art is a labor of love. Johnny Williams of Rector has been creating stained glass windows for 30 years.

He began in McComb, Miss., where he saw an ad for lessons. "I had always liked stained glass," Williams said. After the class he began making glass for all kinds of items, which turned into a hobby he sells.

"My first piece after lessons was a piece with lights inside it," Williams said. "My teacher Gary thought I was crazy, because it had never been done before." However, the piece turned out wonderfully beautiful with intricate flowers and a full moon encased within, properly titled "Moonflower."

After retiring from Levi Strauss, he moved to Hardy where he and his wife opened a bed and breakfast, Oakwood Place. He added several windows to the small cottage he rented out on the property. His original moonflower piece can be seen there today. He also made glass art for several of the churches and homes in Cherokee Village, Ash Flat and Hardy.

He begins by drawing a "cartoon" or blueprint. He makes three -- one to use as a stencil for each piece of glass, one to lay out the glass to be put together and another to keep for himself. He buys glass in large sheets. "There are many colors and textures of glass," Williams said. "There are endless varieties." Examples are opalescent, clear, smoky, glue chip, etc.

The next step is to trace the outline of the shape he wants to cut. Using a pistol grip glass cutter he scores the glass with an oil. He then takes running pliers and snaps the glass. "Sometimes it comes out just right, and sometimes the glass does what it wants," Williams said. It can be tedious trying to get the right shape, size and angle, sometimes causing Williams to go through more glass than needed. For more complex designs he uses a wet saw, which allows him to move the glass freely with his hands and also grinds the edges as it goes.

Often the edges need to be ground down to fit as needed. The frames of his art are made of zinc, but the pieces of metal that hold the pieces of glass in place are lead. He first strengthens the lead by pulling it and then cuts it into the size of pieces he needs with pliers. Copper foil is often used too, but is much harder to work with then lead, because of the amount of soldering needed, Williams said.

After every piece is in place he uses a soldering iron to connect the edges of the lead so the piece stays together.

With every piece in place he uses putty to waterproof the backside, black patina to darken the solder, and whiting powder is applied to both sides. He uses a large brush to rub in the powder, which helps the lead and glass colors to come together and blend. A vacuum is used to remove the excess powder before the glass gets an adequate cleaning.

Another measure to reinforce the glass is taken at the very end when he places rebar across the backing. Lexan glass is placed over every pane upon installation to keep the glass from breaking.

Those interested in ordering glass from Williams simply need to approach him as each job is different depending on the intricacy, glass, size, etc.

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