Step into almost any cathedral around the world and you’ll see beautiful stained glass windows.
A craft that started thousands of years ago can still be found today. We met with one local man who continues this colorful tradition that’s more than just windows.
For the past 21 years, Naperville resident Tom Carroll has had a passion for stained glass.
“I had gone out to shop and I had seen a stained glass store and I went inside and just thought it was so beautiful and I wanted to learn how to do stained glass windows,” he said. “I went home and told my wife and for my 30th birthday I got lessons and all the tools you need to do stained glass.”
Carroll started out with leaded glass. To make a window using this method, he starts with a black and white drawing of an image, called a cartoon. Using sheets of colored glass, he lays it down on the image. He then traces the design and, using a diamond tipped pen, cuts along his line.
“What happens is you stretch lead, lead came it’s called, and you pull it, and you can cut it into the shapes you need,” said Carroll. “Then any pieces where the lead intersects you have to solder it. You then cement each glass pane into the lead channel you put down and then you color the lead black with a patina and that finishes the window.”
Another method is using copper foil to wrap all the pieces, with solder in between.
Over the years, his hobby has expanded. He discovered he could mold the glass into things like plates and bowls. While I was there, he made a bowl using two different sheets of glass in a method called fusing.
“You cut the glass in shapes and sizes or whatever you want,” he said. “Then you put it into a kiln and heat that glass up to 12 to 13,000 degrees and it fuses or melts together. Then when that’s done you can take that piece and you can slump it. So you’re taking a flat piece of glass and you’re putting a piece of green wear in the kiln with it and you’re slumping the glass into the green wear, so it takes the shape of the green wear.”
From there he realized by cutting the fused glass into smaller pieces, he could make jewelry and beads.
“When I was making jewelry I discovered you can make lamp work with it using a blow torch and melting glass rods and then you’re melting that glass to make beads,” said Carroll.
Like many hobbies, it isn’t about selling his work. For Carroll, it’s the alone time and relaxation that stained glass provides.
“This is kind of a quiet hobby, a creative hobby and envisioning a beauty and having alone time. It’s therapeutic in that sense of escape and relaxation,” he said. “Then when you’re done you’re looking at something and you’re like ‘Wow that’s so beautiful.’”
Carroll says inspiration is everywhere if you just know where to look. His favorite place to see stained glass is The Smith Museum at Navy Pier.
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