BOM is especially proud to share an artist interview from local stained glass artists Kajetan Nowakowski and Aleksandra Nowak! The married couple owns and operates Kay’s Stained Glass Studio in downtown Beverly, MA.
BOM: What is stained glass and how is it different than traditional art?
Nowakowski: Stained glass is a form of an art where the main component, colored glass, is cut into small pieces to form patterns or pictures. Held together by strips of lead or copper foil and solder, each piece of glass is carefully hand cut and then worked into beautiful stained glass windows. A window must fit precisely into the designated space and must withstand wind and rain, and be able to support its weight. It takes years for a stained glass artist to not only develop engineering skills to assemble the window together but also the artistic skills to create an exquisite design.
Traditionally, stained glass windows were made only for significant buildings, such as churches or libraries. Modern stained glass art includes also glass sculptures and three-dimensional structures.
BOM: What are some of the difficulties working with stained glass?
Nowakowski: Because all of the glass pieces are hand cut and because glass is a very fragile medium to work with, it is often difficult to cut small pieces of glass without shattering it. Sometimes it takes several cuts and hours to get the right piece of glass into right place. I also often cut my own hands when creating my art.
BOM: What inspires you and what do you do to get into the creative mindset?
Nowakowski: Everything around me inspires me to create glass art because, just like stained glass pictures, everything is made out of shapes, colors, and patterns.
BOM: How long have you worked with stained glass and what drew you to glass as a medium?
Nowakowski: At the age of 18, I started my first real job at screen printing studio that belonged to a well-known political party. The studio was collaborating with many fascinating artists as well as influential officials. It was a very interesting and vibrant place to work, especially for a young curious guy. In a short period of time, my network of friends and associates grew fast which lead me to another job. Because I liked (and still like) working with my hands, I accepted the job as a precious metal worker, working mostly with silver and Baltic amber creating beautiful jewelry. It took me few months to learn the patience and acquire precision skills necessary to be a respectable jeweler. In 1986, somehow I met a stained glass artist who invited me to his studio. The artist was looking for a full-time assistant and that is how I began my journey with stained glass. I fell in love with the colors and the way the glass changes hues when exposed to light. In 1989, I was fortunate to open my own stained glass studio in Gdansk, Poland. A few years later, I began collaborating with stained glass studios in France, Austria, and Germany. Then in 2007, I moved to United States where I continue with my passion for colored glass.
BOM: From start to finish, what’s the process of making an item?
Nowakowski: There are few basic steps to build a stained glass window. The first step is to create an overall sketch of a window. The shapes of the glass and colors are chosen and put together into a full-size drawing. Then, we begin hand cutting individual pieces of glass into rough shapes using a diamond blade cutter. Next, the edges of the glass are being polished and formed into final shapes using a glass grinder. Lastly, a lead or copper foil and solder techniques are used to join together all of the pieces of glass into one final picture. Depending on the complexity of the project, this process can take anyway between few hours and few months.
BOM: What materials and special skills do you need in order to make stained glass?
Nowakowski: Before you start any art project, you need to purchase basic equipment. Stained glass art requires quite a bit of equipment and luckily, most of the tools are available online. The following tools are needed to begin crafting new stained glass project:
- Project pattern and drafting supplies, such as pencils, ruler, paper, etc.
- Safety glasses
- Pliers – to break the glass.
- Glass of your choice
- Glass cutter
- Glass grinder – to grind away and smooth out uneven edges of glass.
- Copper foil – to wrap each piece of glass in the project before soldering. Comes in several sizes.
- Soldering iron
- 60/40 solder – to hold foiled glass together
Working with glass requires lots of patience and commitment. It takes years to develop craftsmanship skills and to be able to put together large glass projects. Some jobs take me weeks or months from start to finish, especially when working on reproductions of Tiffany’s lamps. However, the longer you work on something the more you appreciate the final result.
BOM: Do you have a favorite piece you’ve completed?
Nowakowski: The “Unity light” project was one of the most meaningful and challenging projects that I have had a pleasure working on. The main idea of the project was to create a light fixture for the main lobby of a non-profit organization that helps people with developmental disabilities. After a couple of brainstorming meetings, we came up with an idea of “Unity Light” project. Here is the story of the “Unity Light” project expressed by CEO of NuPath Inc., Daniel Harrison:
“NuPath’s Unity Light project is one-of-a-kind work of art comprised of 733 unique pieces of colorful stained glass – each piece representing an individual, employee, consultant and other person directly connected with NuPath at the time of its inception.
The Unity Light project began during the week of Thanksgiving, 2014 under the skilled oversight of Kajetan “Kay” Nowakowski, a stained glass designer. Kay spent one day in each in the NuPath’s day program to support the NuPath family in bringing this unique creation to life. Upon conclusion of the final day-long workshop, every person associated with NuPath had been given the opportunity to select a distinctive piece of stained glass which was tagged and marked for specific placement in the illuminated marvel.
This cherished beacon now shines brightly in our lobby with the LED radiance of over 700 watts of luminous power- ever reminding us that while individually we are all different shapes, sizes, colors, each with our own flaws, imperfections and rough edges, when united together we are transformed into a thing of magnificent beauty and purpose, casting warmth and light onto anyone fortunate enough to find themselves in our glow!”
BOM: If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?
Nowakowski: Travel more, stress less and learn new languages and cultures.
BOM: Besides your website, where can people find your art?
Nowakowski: We are specializing in custom commissions and in restoration and repair of stained glass windows and lamps. In addition, we create beautiful glass mosaics and fused glass pieces. Currently, my art is available for sale in my studio at Porter Mill Studios, 95 Rantoul St Studio 103 Beverly, MA 01915. You can find us on Facebook and the studio has a website.
BOM: Anything you’d like to add?
Nowakowski: It is sad that lots of stained glass pieces available in retail locations or online is mass produced south of the border or in Asia, and sold for a fraction of a price of a real craftsmanship art piece. I wish that people could understand and appreciate an original stained glass work that is handcrafted with passion and requires time and commitment.