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John Lamb, Published February 09 2013

More homeowners using stained glass to add personal accents, pleasing privacy barriers

FARGO – With 26 years of experience making stained glass, the medium is as much a part of his surroundings for Robert J. Larson as it is to his wife, an ELCA minister.

So when he and Ann Newgard-Larson designed their home, they incorporated his works in a way that would creatively color their space.

It’s not just artists using this antique form to liven up a living space. Stained glass designs not only brighten up a room, homeowners are using the medium as an aesthetically pleasing privacy barrier and a way to add a personal touch that can be seen both on the inside and outside.

“When you add the element of light, illumination, it can’t be replicated in other forms,” says Larson, who has nine window pieces in his show “Contemplari” at the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo.

(The Spirit Room has its own signature piece of stained glass, installed above its Broadway entrance. The piece was designed by Gin Templeton and made by Fargo glass artist Michael Orchard.)

“It’s a very kinetic art form because it responds to any light available,” says Paul Anderson, owner and proprietor of Stained Glass Workshop.

He explains that the colors and shapes cast from stained or beveled glass will change throughout the day depending on the quality and angle of light.

The glass doesn’t have to be in the window to get that effect.

Fargo architect Kevin Bartram commissioned Larson to make glass panels for room dividers in his Mission-style house.

“The glass adds a nice texture and light quality. It’s in locations where natural light reaches it and creates nice colors and patterns on the floors and walls,” Bartram explains. “We use it to create some sound privacy but not visual privacy.”

Bartram says he’s seeing a lot of people using patterned glass of some sort in architectural work.

Glass from the past

Stained glass goes back as far as A.D. 600, says Anderson. He explains it was used “primarily as an ecclesiastical art form” to teach Bible stories to the illiterate masses.

The art form continued on as a popular architectural element, in not only churches but also residential spaces. Anderson says old Sears, Roebuck Home Builder’s Catalogs included stained glass for windows and doors.

He said the popularity died down a bit after World War II, but then experienced a resurgence in the 1960s.

He and Larson both say the lifespan of stained glass is about 80 to 100 years, until the lead material holding the glass in place breaks down.

“There are windows over 1,000 years old, but every 80 to 100 years, the window has to come out,” and be repaired, Anderson says.

He started Stained Glass Workshop in 1973 and opened its current home in the Hawthorne neighborhood at 615 9th Ave. S., in 1979.

A third of his business is residential, with the rest split between churches, businesses, classes and retail. Smaller windows hang in his big storefront windows and two magnificent transom pieces hang inside. They are priced in the $4,000 range, though other pieces in the shop are a fraction of that cost.

“People think it’s really expensive, and it can be, but it doesn’t have to be,” he says of stained or beveled glass. “It’s the thing that’s most dramatic in a house, and I’ll put stained glass against anything on a wall. But for some reason we’re thought of last, so the budget is shot and people want something cheap.”

In addition to being a visual attraction, it offers some privacy for homeowners. As such, bathrooms, front and back doors and adjacent windows are popular spots for colorful designs.

That said, Larson is careful not to overdo it with his installations.

“If it’s a solid wall of color, I might find it oppressive,” he says.

Larson employs a less-is-more approach, often using good amounts of unstained glass in his work. For the pieces in his own home on Pickerel Lake, just outside of Detroit Lakes, Minn., he used stained glass in the transoms, above eye level, so that the natural surroundings wouldn’t be obstructed.

“I don’t want to obscure the view with stained glass,” he says. “I do like the elements of nature to come through. I don’t want another wall.”

In a different light

While Larson likes to view the natural world outside his window, in urban areas, stained glass can help establish the identity of the house or even those who live in it from the street.

He cites some of the grand Victorian homes in Stillwater, Minn., with large landings and windows that fill the space with color.

“It is the house. It is the statement. There’s a warming glow,” he explains.

Dick and Kathy Zaylskie have been working on restoring their Victorian home on Seventh Avenue South in Fargo for years. One of the things that had to be replaced was an old wood door that didn’t fit the home’s character.

They visited Stained Glass Workshop and commissioned Anderson to make a glass window for a new front door, one that would tie in to the design of an existing stained glass window to the side.

“Once they come to my door, they’ve made the decision that they want something,” Anderson says. “My job is to figure out what that is.”

The finished piece met the homeowners’ expectations.

“It’s the way this house should be,” says Dick. “He’s got a great eye.”

Anderson also did repairs on some stained glass transoms on the sides of the house.

Restorations and repairs are a good chunk of his residential business, and being located in an older neighborhood like Hawthorne, with lots of early 20th-century homes, helps.

But it doesn’t limit his coverage area.

Last Tuesday Anderson returned a repaired side window to Erik Hubbuch in a newer West Fargo neighborhood.

Hubbuch and his wife had Anderson make the window a few years ago. The interior blue glass reflects the colors of Xavier University, where they met. The red border is the color from the University of Louisville, where she went to grad school.

“It gets so bright at times, it looks better than a curtain,” Hubbuch says, explaining the benefit of colored glass over other possible window treatments.

The glass withstood the bounding of their dog and pushing of their toddler son Rowan. But recently a vacuum cleaner tipped, hit just right and cracked the glass, calling for a repair job from Anderson.

On Tuesday he pulled up in his van, unloaded the window and within 20 minutes the restored piece was back in place.

As Rowan and the dog inspected the repaired window, Hubbuch said the other benefit beside privacy from the outside is that it keeps the dog from watching and barking at anything he sees while on the inside. While it calms the dog, it also calmed Rowan, whose living room naps weren’t as restful with a plain window that let in more light.

“Stained glass is also a good dog tranquilizer and a child tranquilizer,” Hubbuch says with a laugh.

If you go

What: “Contemplari: Photographs & Stained Glass” by Robert J. Larson

When: On display through Feb. 27

Where: The Spirit Room, 111 Broadway

Info: Open noon to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. Free and open to the public.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533