Glass Tapestry with David Alcala

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of taking David Alcala’s Glass Tapestry class at The Vinery in Madison. What an absolute treat! It’s always fun getting to hang out with other glassy folk and be stretched in new directions. To get a good idea of where David’s unique talents lie, you simply must visit his website and watch the video of him working. Like the part of the country he comes from, David’s approach is relaxed and laid back as he generously shared his exciting discoveries in glass. I’m feeling so thankful to have had this amazing opportunity.

Here is a picture of him doing a demonstration using sand, the medium he became famous for working with before switching to glass in recent years. He and his wife are from Monterey, CA and operate a gallery called Sand to Glass near the heart of historic Cannery Row. As this amazing scene unfolded, I instantly recognized the famous “Lone Cypress Tree” that is found on the 17-mile scenic drive down the pacific coast on the Monterey peninsula. Years ago on a solo trip out west, I drove down the coast with it’s breathtaking views from Monterey, to Big Sur. Along the way I saw grey whales during their migration and toured the Post Ranch Inn after making friends with a nice lady who worked there. Great memories!

David also demonstrated all the different and exciting ways to use his Flexi-glass medium which you can see him explain in great detail on his website here. I am so bleeping excited to try out some of these techniques, I can even begin to describe it.

During the class we experimented with sand, as he introduced different techniques to us to achieve different results.  Then we got to descend upon the bottles of frit, and have a go at our own glass tapestries.

For my first attempt, I chose a minimal color palette and simple design. I kind of rushed through the mountain parts, and see ways I can improve them. I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like after firing and adding some more details to the piece. This technique definitely appeals to the little kid inside of me. It’s like heading for the beach and playing in the sand with all it’s endless possibilities! It’s going to be a total blast playing around with this new and innovative approach to working with glass. Many thanks to David Alcala and to The Vinery for hosting such a delightful class!

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Update on Solve the Mystery. Win something.

Here is a picture of what the piece became (before firing). You can see the mystery piece made up the cardinals body.

The next Mystery Piece was just posted on my Facebook Page if anyone would like to take a guess. Remember it may prove helpful to check both places for guesses.

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Two to tango?

It’s quite refreshing to have to different mediums, glass and collage, as dance partners to tango back and forth between the two. If I tire of one or hit a mental road block, the other is always there to welcome me with open arms. My first love and favorite dance partner will always be glass. It appeals to my inner mad scientist and has taken hold of me to want to know it and understand it more intimately. Because of the nature of the material, the dance is more complex to learn and master, making the occasional success I have experienced thus far with glass all the sweeter. But there are things I want to communicate in glass, that I haven’t been able to do thus far. This blue jay was a request from a friend in memory of a dear friend she lost who adored blue jays. It was new territory for me and I learned a great deal bringing him to life.

Perhaps it’s that background and experience in glass, piecing projects together, that naturally lends itself well to collage where I am piecing papers together in a similar fashion, minus the blood loss and bandaids…I have found with collage that I experience a freedom in the process compared to glass. Part of that freedom comes from having any color I need at my disposal with paints and water-soluble pastels. My hope is that the time will come, after much more experimentation and discovery in glass, when I feel that same sense of freedom with my glass work. One can always hope! I‘m most definitely a WIP (work in progress).

There are times when I have come to really enjoy uniting both mediums, dancing with both at the same time. I definitely feel pulled in that direction too.  I had the unique opportunity to participate in a wonderful project last year. It was called the Paper Packets Project put on by Kathy LaRocco at the Studio Art School in McHenry. The theme was, Ecological Ethics in a Global Society and the Studio debuted all the participants work around the time of Earth Day last year. In the fall we wrapped up our papers intended for the project, and placed them outside for the winter months so that Mother nature could have her way with them. In Reverent Reflections, I began to scratch the surface into exploring the subject of stewardship, chosing to use bamboo as the substrate, along with the upcycled papers and glass from a Charles Shaw wine bottle. Being a good steward of God’s creation continues to be a topic of great interest to me…

So shall I tango with glass or paper today? Which one is calling my name? Perhaps the three of us can unite on the dance floor and turn a few heads…Either that or give them a good laugh! This video pretty much sums it all up for me. 🙂

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Stretchy Opportunities

In January I took one giant leap out of my comfort zone to participate in the ever delightful and most talented Kathy LaRocco’s “Whimsical Portrait” collage class at The Studio Art School in McHenry.  The thought of doing a portrait was altogether exciting AND intimidating since it is entirely uncharted territory.  But having taken a couple of Kathy’s fabulous classes in the past, I knew I was in most able and trusted hands.  She is simply wonderful! I wholeheartedly recommend her classes, no matter what your background in art or what your preferred medium happens to be.  I can always count on walking away from the experience stretched and refreshed, as well as awed and inspired by others who take the class.

In this case, it was an exercise in stretching, intended to loosen us up. We weren’t out to necessarily make a frame worthy masterpiece. It was more about learning something new and letting go…Case in point, I went into this class with a very firm idea that my inspiration would be the photo of my great-grandma Marie from 1918 featured in my last blog post. But to my surprise, our beloved instructor had us sketching with our NON-dominant hand on phone book pages, and working as she described in an intuitive fashion. Instead of great-grandma, what emerged from my left-handed-chicken scratch attempts at sketching a face, was the portrait of an asian man my 1st grader could have made.

It wasn’t difficult to let go of my own expectations, and open myself up to where this piece was taking me. As things evolved and the composition of the piece developed, my asian man became an asian woman. Sorry for the poor quality of these photos.

I could have very well stopped here, because I was appreciating the simplicity of her face in the context of the rest of the composition. However,  wanting to explore more of the techniques that Kathy was sharing with us, I kept going forward.

For a first ever attempt at a face, the nose gave me the most trouble. I can see how the more I attempt them, the less intimidating they will become. It’s simply fun trekking into my own uncharted territory and making new discoveries along the way.

If you have ever seen the amazing work of artist, author and possibilitarian Kelly Rae Roberts , you can totally understand the appeal and allure of working in collage. Her work, as well as that of my teacher Kathy LaRocco’s, continues to inspire me to stretch and challenge myself to go places I haven’t gone.

My whimsical portrait of an asian girl may not be a whopping “masterpiece”, but I do rejoice in her birth. She represents conquering a fear of the unknown ( a face…Eek!), opening myself up to new possibilities, staying flexible during the creative process and delighting in a more intuitive approach toward creating.  I do sincerely plan to make another attempt at great-gram’s portrait in collage. However, there is NO telling who she may end up looking like next time!  🙂

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Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

For Christmas a dear friend surprised me with a copy of  Clara and Mr. Tiffany  by Susan Vreeland. What an absolute treat! It was a fascinating read I simply couldn’t put down.  Not only would I highly recommend this book to glass art or Tiffany fans, but it would also hold the attention of anyone interested in historical fiction and American cultural history in the amazing setting of New York at the turn of the twentieth century.

Vreeland offers an insightful glimpse into the life of glass artist Clara Driscoll, a talented, freethinking and courageous woman of her time, who was head of the women’s division for Tiffany Studios in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Only recently has it even come to light that Driscoll played an instrumental role in the design and execution of all of the iconic leaded glass lamps Tiffany is so famous for. Vreeland does a masterful job of weaving real life events and details she was able to gather from extensive letters that Driscoll had written and with her own creative genius, pieces together a most intriguing human interest story.

Though Tiffany was ahead of his time in regard to even employing women to the degree he did, his company imposed a strict policy against hiring married women, as was common practice for this time in history. Without public recognition or acclaim, Ms. Driscoll served and collaborated with Tiffany for more than 20 years until she left Tiffany and married at the age of 47. In Vreeland’s storyline, Clara’s departure happens to come at a time in the companies commercial concerns are smothering the freedoms which had allowed Clara to thrive as an artist. For a reader like myself, this book has me chewing on the subject of commerce vs. art. It is an interesting theme that Vreeland weaves into the storyline.

The reader is taken along through the an extravagant construction of an innovative project that helped put Tiffany’s name on the map on an international level when he took part in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago . It was a chapel whose design departed from the traditional religious motifs popular up until that time. As Tiffany was strongly influenced by nature, he chose to emphasize a landscape which would bring the viewer’s attention to God’s creation in their worship setting, as opposed to the more biblical imagery that had been very much a part of the medieval churches across Europe until then.

The Tiffany Chapel has a most intriguing life from its conception, up through its restoration and journey to its current home at The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, FL. I had the great pleasure to see the chapel several years ago when in Florida for a conference with my husband. It was in one word, stunning! A visit to the Morse Museum is an absolute must for anyone interested in Tiffany’s work. Also,  The New York Historical Society Museum has an extensive collection of Tiffany lamps worth mentioning as well.

What is clear after reading Clara & Mr. Tiffany is that Clara was a strong woman who challenged the strongly held societal rules of her time. Though she relied heavily on Tiffany’s extensive resources as well as his creative support and encouragement, to bring her designs to life, she had earned his respect and trust through her track record of excellent design and her strong leadership of the women’s department at Tiffany Studios that brought the designs to life. To her credit, she served for the pure joy and art’s sake, without much glory or major accolades for her design efforts during her lifetime. In the end, as the companies drive for profit appears to smother the artistic freedoms she had so enjoyed, she chooses love and marriage, and a life apart from Tiffany.

It’s definitely a thought-provoking, human interest story of historic proportions I would LOVE to see up on the big screen some day perhaps!

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Remembering a Heart Toucher

I can’t let this Christmas slip by without sharing the story of one of the most unexpected gifts I think I have ever received and the heart toucher behind it.  To say that I felt unworthy of this gift is an understatement, as I had only met the gift giver a single time. Though we had kept in touch via email as he was most dedicated and determined to keep me in the loop and encourage me at a time when I was serving as a leader in children’s ministry at our church.

After confiding to him that our church had experienced difficult times and that our family had made the painful decision to start over and move on elsewhere to a new congregation, much to my astonishment, a gift showed up on my doorstep that simply blew me away. It was most remarkable. I can’t even describe it to you…The timing of the gifts arrival was uncanny!

Baby Jesus, Mary & Joseph

It was the most tangible form of encouragement I think I have ever received in my life at a time when I really needed it.

My gift arrived in early August of 2010 in a humble shoe box with a very professional cover letter which introduced its contents to me. Jack explained that he recognized it had a “certain primitive appearance” and that though I may or may not use it, it was a labor of love with memories and pride. He hoped I would enjoy it as much as he had in making it for me. He signed the letter with appreciation, friendship and respect, Jack Gilmour.

Then he gave me Unpacking Instructions which gave very specific, detailed suggestions on how to unwrap my gift which involved copious amounts of clear 3M packing tape and lots of rubber bands. As I opened each piece and realized exactly WHAT this gift was, tears welled up and poured down my cheeks as I was overcome with gratitude and a feeling of total and absolute unworthiness.

Jack had kept a meticulous accounting of his “Nativity Set Production History” and shared an in depth two page description of how my new handmade creation came to be. Though it appears he worked with stained glass in the past, and credits Willet Studios in Pennsylvania for supplying the lead came for a previous project, these figures were made with “cooking crystals” which he and his wife became aware of in the early 70s.

Each figure has a lead (came) frame which is shaped and soldered together and took roughly 4 to 5 hours to complete. The crystals were cooked in a kitchen oven at 375 to 380 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.  Once cooked, additional repairs of sagged joints and removal of overflowed crystal reside was necessary.

To Jack, the nativity project represented a lifetime of memories of sixty years of living and rejoicing with his beloved wife Peggy. All told, he estimated 85 sets were produced. That is a lot of hearts to have touched!

I can’t remember what I babbled on about in my thank you note, but I know it was most heartfelt. Once he received it, he called and left a message on my voice mail and with emotion and deep appreciation in his voice, said it was one of the best written thank you notes he had ever received.

It was a true blessing to be on the receiving end of a gift that has left such a lasting impression. The Lord works in mysterious ways. It is most definitely my most beloved Christmassy treasure. I am inclined to leave it up all year round! It inspires me to attempt my own version of a fused glass nativity set “some day” and in Jack’s memory and in the spirit of giving, share it with some unsuspecting person.

Mr. Jack Gilmour was called to the Lord and his beloved wife Peggy this past May at the ripe old age of 89 and his obituary can be found here . Incidentally, all those who took time to comment on his page,  specifically mentioned his “cooking crystals”.

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Luke 2:10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy, Joy-filled 2012 from me to you!

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Seek and ye shall find: Part II

Bois Blanc Island visitors and appreciators of art history might be very surprised to learn that an artist who made an impressive name for himself in Alaska has familial roots and an intimate connection with this special island.

Eustace Ziegler, known for his ability to capture the true spirit of Alaskan frontiersman in the early twentieth century, was very much a part of the birth of a most delightful church and stained glass window found in Pointe Aux Pines on Bois Blanc Island. With its unusual location and cobblestone bell tower, it has to be one of the most charming, picturesque churches I think I have ever seen.

Church of the Transfiguration located on Bois Blanc Island, Michigan

It only remains open for 2 months out of the year, in July and August when the island is at its peak of island visitors. Bois Blanc Island resident Mike White shared that the rose style window was brought over on the steamer Duluth in 1906. It was the design of Eustace Ziegler and constructed in Detroit by the firm Fredrick & Wolfrum.

Florida resident, Sally Babler Sperry, whose grandfather was a cousin of Eustace Zeigler helped explain Eustace Ziegler’s connection to this window.  “He was an Episcopal minister and artist of Alaska. His father, Paul Zeigler, founded the church on the Island with Rev. Howard Buckley (not sure of spelling). Carl Zeigler (his brother) was the minister of the Church of the Transfiguration for many years.”

In researching the history of this charming window, I contacted Michigan stained glass artist, historian and consultant, Barbara Kreuger who volunteers with the Michigan Stained Glass Census which is a part of the Michigan State University Museum. She most generously shared information about the stained glass firm Friedrich & Wolfrum. According to Kreuger, this firm played a very major role in stained glass in Michigan and the surrounding Great Lakes states. She also notes that the firm has been in the same family from 1860 to early 1970, and is still one of the stained glass firms longest owned by people in the same family.

Those interested in additional history of this firm are invited to visit  www.michiganstainedglass.org . If you scroll over “Registered Stained Glass”, click on the Studio/Artist link. Then scroll down to Detroit Stained Glass Works, where there is a short history of the firm.

It is clear that Eustace Ziegler, his brothers and father were instrumental in the construction of this quaint island church. With such an intimate connection with this project, Eustace Ziegler, with his divine gift for painting, just may have indeed painted the image of Jesus on this window.  The window was recently registered by Christine McAffe with the Michigan Stained Glass Census where she indicates it was “painted” by Eustace Ziegler and made by Friederichs & Wolfram in 1905.

Image source: Susie Hopkins Photography

The Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington holds a large collection of Eustace Ziegler’s work including eight “oil on glass” painted windows from the interior of the Alaskan house that Ziegler lived in just after he left his Michigan home in 1909. He lived with friend, Ralph C. Stewart, in Cordova, Alaska. According to Cory Gooch, Frye’s Collections Manager/Registrar, the condition of the windows is very delicate, as there are problems due to the poor paint adhesion since these were not fired. Typically when painting on glass, the paint would need to be fired on for permanency. Therefore they have restrictions on handling these unusual works.

The timeline does seem to add up, and there is growing evidence to suggest that indeed Eustace Ziegler painted Jesus on the rose window of the church of transfiguration on Bois Blanc Island. This would be especially fitting as he, along with his family, demonstrated a deep faith and roots established in Christ. Further research needs to be done to explore whether the painting on this particular window was “oil on glass” or if more traditional stained glass techniques were employed. Otherwise, its longevity may be a concern. Conservation should be explored as Gooch suggests, by finding the right conservator here or by contacting the Corning Museum of Glass in New York and see if they have any recommendations or referrals.

Bois Blanc Island, with its rustic charm and humble island appeal, is a little slice of heaven on earth as it brings travelers face to face with nature, and thus God’s amazing creation.  This intimate connection to a most remarkable little island in Michigan’s upper peninsula, undoubtedly helped to shape and influence a young artist’s love for God, while also igniting in him a sense of adventure, which led him to the far and distant frontiers of Alaska to leave his mark on art history.

Image source: Robert Stephens @ http://www.theworldinlight.com

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Seek and ye shall find- Part I

In the Straits of Mackinac there is an island who lives in the shadows of its more famous cousin. Those who know this island might prefer it would remain fairly anonymous. Which is exactly why I hesitate to speak its name! As is the case with anything one comes to have a love and affection for, it has become a place I wish to guard and protect from those who would do it harm. So I am trusting you, my faithful reader, with this privileged information!

For decades now, members of our family have come to crave connecting with all that this precious island has to offer. Taking the 45 minute ferry ride over to this very special remote place, the hypnotic hum of KristinD’s engine begins to soothe weary travelers as they journey forth in joyful anticipation and expectation of what’s to come.  The ferry ride alone, helps visitors begin to mentally disconnect from life’s worries, as you can imagine leaving them all behind on the mainland.  As you arrive on its humble shores, there is no red carpet or Grand Hotel to greet you. Better still, there are welcoming smiles and hugs of family and friends you hold dear.

In some cases it may take days before you sense life’s burdens begin to fully lift off your shoulders. But eventually the therapeutic effects of the sights and sounds of Bois Blanc Island eventually take effect, and you have truly arrived. You begin to slow down and notice and delight in the small things: The shifting winds as the white caps on Great Lake Huron grow more pronounced. The low rumbly engine sounds of a ship freighter in the distance. Sitting on the front porch, nearly unheard of in these modern times, you find yourself waving at strangers as they drive by. Nothing is sweeter than seeing it all through a childs eyes as they go from one island adventure to the next, one minute chasing butterflies or rattlesnakes as the case may be. The next minute, capturing crayfish, dreaming of ways to trap a turkey, or creating mosaics in the sand out of drift wood and stones.

In these modern times, there is a growing sense of urgency to slow down the pace, dig down roots and establishing a more intimate connection with a place, that can consequentially give life a deeper, richer meaning. While I have done my share of traveling and do enjoy the excitement of visiting new places, there is nothing that quite compares to the power of roots! Our family has shared history and memories on this island that we forever treasure. It’s something we wish to share and pass on to our children and our children’s children. You could say with any family, as roots grow deeper, like a hardy prairie plant, each generation is anchored down and able to tolerate extreme shifts in climate. It’s interesting to note, that 70% of a hardy prairie plant is the root system!  These plants must have hefty underground “bank accounts” to weather the bad times that would put lesser plants out of business for good**. This allows them to laugh in the face of drought and continue to grow even under extremely trying conditions. Behold, the power of roots! I believe the same holds true for us humanfolk. Every investment made in developing healthy roots, can help to make us that much more resilient. How awesome is that!

There’s just something about the allure of an island that once experienced, gets into your heart and soul. For my family, it is a treasure of a place to reconnect with ourselves, with all God has created, and with each other. It’s that combined experience and history that has given my life a deeper, richer meaning. It has been a huge blessing beyond measure. I can’t think of a better place to invest time in developing my families roots!

**From the Prairie Nursery website.

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The Evolution of a Higgins Glass Collector

OK…It’s time for brutal honesty and total transparency. It time for me to fess up like an alcoholic at an AA meeting. My name is Brandie, and I am truly captivated by Higgins glass.

Exhibit A

When I saw my first Higgins glass dish I was hooked.   Out antiquing with my mother-in-law, we happened upon a dish and bowl that caught my eye at once. It was reddish-orange and had a stained glass look to it. It was beautiful and I found myself wondering how it was made and who made it?

I went home empty handed to research the subject further. Much to my amazement I discovered the Higgins Studio was in Riverside, IL, right next door to the town I grew up in. It triggered a memory of happening upon their studio way before I had ever developed an interest in glass. I can’t remember who I was with, either my grandmother or my friend Kim perhaps…But upon entering the studio I was completely enchanted by everything I saw.  I remember experiencing a genuine sense of warm southern hospitality when, Frances graciously invited us and shared cookies and a cool drink with us back in the studio area. On that day I remember the side (garagelike) door being open to the studio and enjoying a quiet, peacful visit with this lovely person.

Needless to say, after realizing this connection, I couldn’t get those Higgins dishes off my mind, and I trekked back over to the antique shop the next day to purchase my first Higginsware.

Next I went about educating myself further and purchased “Higgins: Adventures in Glass” and then, “Higgins: Poetry in Glass” both by Donald-Brian Johnson & Leslie Pina. These are wonderful, must have books for not only collectors, but those who appreciate fused glass art, or students of glass. I had the great fortune to get Frances’s signature in my Adventures book which is part of my little collection that I especially treasure.

I went through a season of time when I was glued to Ebay always watching for Higgins glass every chance I could get. This was a time when I’m embarrassed to say I became very dedicated (borderline obsessed…lol) with collecting. During that time a variety of pieces were acquired…My favorite was this precious little piece from Higgins early studio years (Exhibit B), I’m hoping.

Exhibit B

I especially love Frances’s work with trees and birds, and she has mentioned always wanting to include the sun in her work. My guess is she would have made this charming piece??

I probably would have kept going with my Ebay collecting efforts if there were endless time and funds available…But instead my interest eventually began to shift to trying my own hand at fused glass. I’m enjoying developing a voice of my own in glass, though I’m mostly singing in the shower at the point. 😉  However, my biggest inspiration is most unabashedly Higgins glass! Witness Exhibit C to below.

Exhibit C

It adorns my humble studio space and surrounds me while I’m in there dreaming and playing around with glass. It’s one of my favorite places to be. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the pioneering work and distinctly modern mark Michael and Frances Higgins made in glass in their lifetimes, and that their legacy lives on in the Wimmer’s, their chosen successors.

To further illustrate the fact that when I see Higgins Glass I have no will of my own and require a 12 step treatment program, I give you exhibit D: This past Friday, December 2nd, Higgins Glass Studio held their 63rd! annual Christmas Open House event. It’s historic. It’s epic. It’s something like a shark feeding frenzy as collectors jockey there way to their latest and greatest treasure.  I attended with every intention of spending no more than $50. When it was all said and done I couldn’t escape without spending four times that much. It looks like I better start selling more of my own work to be able to sustain my Higgins habit!

Exhibit D
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Oh Cappy! My Cappy!

Image source: Tiffany Tong PhotographyI have huge and growing respect for what I see Cappy Thompson  accomplishing in glass! I became aware of her work when my nose was glued to the pages of Richard LaLonde and Friends. (Great book for anyone fascinated with glass!) Cappy’s work is a visual feast for the eyes and soul. What’s so supremely cool about what she is doing, is that she is taking an ancient art form of glass painting which we observed in Adam Delving c. 1176 from my last post and creating awe-inspiring contemporary work in a beautifully evolving narrative/mythopoetic style of her very own. She infuses images and themes from her own life into what she calls “picture poems” which take on a life of their own.

Though she received a B.A. in painting and printmaking from Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA in 1976, Cappy is self-taught when it comes to a special technique called “grisaille”. It is a gray-tonal painting technique on glass. In the following picture, a thin wash of vitreous black paint has been applied.  Once dry, various bristly, dry brushes are used to create shadowy details and textures. The glass is fired again before colorful vitreous enamels can be added. Thank you Tiffany Tong  for permission to share pictures!

On my bucket list would be to fly in through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just so that I could get an up close glimpse of Cappy’s dreamy/majestic/drool worthy installation there entitled “I Was Dreaming of Spirit Animals…“. Completed in 2002, it measures an astounding 33 ft. x 90 ft. For more detailed information on this modern masterpiece I recommend checking out the 33 min. DVD documentary by Sally Cloninger available here. It takes the viewer from its dream inspiration, to its fabrication, and finally its installation.

Now THAT’s a most splendid and awe inspiring piece of glass!

Source: Sea-Tac Airport Website

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