Crystal Canvas

Manifested into colourful patterns, paintings on glass breathe life into the world of decor. Alisha Roy explores the history behind the translucent canvas which now thrives as a popular hobby.  

What seems to be attracting hobbyists in the city is staining glass with paints and even painting on it; an ancient form of art which made its debut in 19th century Vizag. In days gone by, its presence had already taken root in Gujarat where, Chinese artists who had settled in the state were the first to produce delicate designs on glass. Internationally, stained glass paintings gained popularity in Europe’s Gothic period. Intricate details of biblical characters illustrated through large displays flourished in Cathedrals across Europe. This was an improvement from the older form of ‘mosaic art’ where shards of glass were stained with pale colours – a practice during the Renaissance in Venice and Italy.

Today, the architectural magnificence of churches anywhere in the world seems incomplete without stained glass art which has now made its mark on home decor too. From Victorian windows in churches to modern decor stores, the art embellishes windows, cutlery and mirrors.

City hues

church painting (1 of 1)
PC: Omar Roy

In 1844, Sir Arthur Cotton, a British General with the Dowleswaram Barrage to his credit, introduced stained glass panels to dispel the darkness in the city’s churches. Although the art continued to thrive in the eras that followed, the craft could never take root professionally in Vizag. Only in the last decade was there a painstaking attempt to restore bits of the glazed panels in the city’s prayer houses which helped revive this medieval technique.

Secretary of the St John’s Parish Church, Vijay Pradhan says that re-establishing this Gothic art couldn’t be sourced locally as skilled professionals didn’t exist anymore in Vizag. As a result, panels were brought in from Jaipur in Rajasthan and from artisan communities in Mumbai to refurnish Vizag’s churches. The quality of strong design and choice of rich colour approached that of the medieval glaziers which can be seen in St Paul’s Church in Siripuram and St Peter’s Church in Bheemli.

Hobby hues

The art of stained glass may have disappeared in the city, however what did thrive was its corresponding handiwork of glass painting: which is closer to drawing than painting. Etched on the surface of any thick sheet of glass, a dark colour liner is used to outline a drawing on the surface and special ‘stained paints’ are used to fill in colours.

Besides decorating the crystal canvas another technique called ‘glass-soldering’ became a popular parallel. Its craftsmanship requires different pieces of coloured glass that fit together like a puzzle. These pieces are attached using a strong adhesive and then painted on; quite similar to the European art of stain glass which soars in the city’s churches even today.

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