Since the only stained-glass windows I ever saw when I was growing up were the ones in church, I never thought they'd be much of a hit inside a home. A bit too reverential. It would be tough, I thought, to whip a New Year's Eve party into the proper holiday frenzy with the pious visage of St. Stephen beaming into the room.
I changed my mind a few years later, though, when I was told that if I could come up with the cash I could have a life-size stained-glass window of Harpo Marx. In fact, I learned, I could have just about any scene I wanted--Koufax delivering the heater, Katherine Ross on Paul Newman's bicycle, Bugs Bunny singing Wagner--anything.
None of that stuff sounds unusual to Darrell Wickstrom. He's the owner of The Stained Pane, an Anaheim shop specializing in custom stained, beveled and etched glass and he's been at it for 17 years.
"We've done every subject you can think of," he said. "We've worked on some homes where we've done every window in the house, but I generally try to talk people out of that."
Good idea. A living room that looks like the interior of the cathedral of Chartres may sound nice if you have "St." in front of your first name, but your guests likely would rather see one window with the image of, say, Charlie Brown in it.
Wickstrom can do it. In fact, he said, he's done Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and hordes of other cartoon characters dozens of times. If he can cut the shape with a glass cutter, he can put it in a window.
Or a door or a transom or a skylight. The only requirement is that light shine through it. And the designs and colors--Wickstrom said there are literally thousands of shadings of glass--are limited only by the customer's imagination.
It's common practice, said Wickstrom, for customers to bring in greeting cards with favorite designs or scenes and ask that they be duplicated.
"We've done so many doves coming out of rays of the sun, you wouldn't believe it," he said.
(That scenario may be older than even Wickstrom suspects; the only large stained-glass window in St. Peter's basilica in the Vatican--it's above the main altar--is a dove emerging from golden rays of light.)
Wickstrom's method is the traditional one, essentially unchanged for nearly 400 years, he said. After a design is agreed on, he draws a pattern to actual size and uses it as a guide to cut the colored glass (most of which is imported from Europe). If etching, carving or beveling is to be done, it is performed on machines. The pieces are then fitted together over the pattern like a jigsaw puzzle.
If the pattern is particularly delicate, the pieces are joined with copper foil and then soldered, a process--known as the Tiffany method--that permits fine detailing. If the glass is to be exposed to direct sunlight, leading is used. This allows the joints between the glass pieces to expand when the sun heats them. This prevents the glass from cracking.
There is another, less expensive, method of producing colored windows but, technically, it isn't stained glass, and Wickstrom doesn't use it. Called the overlay method, it involves coating clear glass with adhesive colored cellophane-like material and applying a type of dark paste at the edges of each color to simulate leading.
What does it all cost? The most accurate answer would be: How high is up? If you've got a bunch of picture windows but you hate your view and would just as soon blot it out with a life-size reproduction of the Battle of Hastings, you'd better tell your accountant to sit down.
If, on the other hand, you'll settle for a multicolored carousel horse about the size of a small bedroom window, you can have it for a little more than $350. And remember Charlie Brown? You can have him, in a frame about the size of a TV screen, for about $135.
In actual practice, said Wickstrom, the price of any given piece depends on the intricacy of the pattern, the cost of the glass itself, and whether the glass is also to be etched, carved or beveled--all exacting and time-consuming processes. One piece on display at Wickstrom's shop, a stained-glass eagle with a 4-foot wingspan against an etched background of mountains and a glacier, goes for $6,400. He said he has done extensive glass work in single houses that have cost between $30,000 and $40,000.
If there is such a thing as an average cost for installing stained glass in a house, said Wickstrom, it would be between $8,000 and $10,000 and would likely involve a handful of pieces distributed throughout the house.
But no churches. Hardly. Maybe one job in a thousand, he said, will end up in a church. Apparently, all the appropriate religious subjects have already been done, and repairs are rare.
Of course, there is a chance (roughly the same as that of Donald Trump paying retail) that Harpo Marx will be canonized one fine day and orders from churches will start rolling in. I'm going to send a letter of support for the idea as soon as I figure out what the Vatican's address is.