In Recess

A View to Kiln

From out of a kiln in a studio in Dallas, attorney Stephen Weinberg shapes disparate glass pieces into brightly colored patterns

Interview by Eric Quitugua

Stephen Weinberg Standing Next to Some of His Glass Pieces
Dallas attorney Stephen Weinberg largely works with fused glass from his own kiln at home. Photo courtesy of Stephen Weinberg.

Where did your interest in glass art come from?
I’ve had an interest in art since I was a child. Seeing stained-glass works, as well as Dale Chihuly and his blown glass art, got me into glass art in general. I found a local community college and glass gallery that taught stained-glass classes and took several and enjoyed them. With glass, you can get nice vibrant colors. You can get structure. There’s context that is immediately appealing. I’ve always loved Legos. With glass, you’re putting together a puzzle to create something new, like with Legos. The challenge with stained glass is it takes a lot of room and a lot of precision with glass cutting.

Stained glass—think temples and churches—is two-dimensional and held together by soldering and using either copper foil or lead came. Fused glass is warm glass. You create the product by using a kiln to transform the glass. The heat melts the glass allowing the different pieces to fuse together. There’s nothing to “break up” the work as with stained glass. While that can have a nice aesthetic effect and be more complex to create, it is not as fluid, forgiving, or multidimensional.

What supplies do you need to work with?
Lots of glass and some simple tools. Glass used for fused glass is expensive, which is one reason many people start with stained glass before moving to fused glass. Blown glass is the highest level and most intensive type of art glass. You need large industrial furnaces, which, unlike kilns, are not designed for home use. You also will need at least one assistant to help. It’s a hot, sweaty, and physically demanding environment, but it’s very rewarding. You can make incredibly beautiful art works. For me, and many others, fused glass is the happy medium between stained and blown glass.

Stephen Weinberg Standing Next to Some of His Glass Pieces
Harmony Across the Sun, Sky and Sea is another example of Weinberg’s penchant for bright colors of rhythm. Photo courtesy of Stephen Weinberg.

Is your art a solo venture or do you have someone helping or guiding you as you make a piece?
One reason why I’ve opted for fused glass is because it’s solo. With fused glass, you just need glass, some simple tools, and access to a kiln. I have a large 26-inch kiln intended for more “professional” artists. It costs about $2,500 but smaller, less expensive kilns can be bought for far less—especially used ones. Often these are great for jewelry and small, entry-level projects. Also, owning a kiln is not required. Most places or artists that offer classes have kilns for their students to use.

How does something like Crossroads II come together?
Sometimes I’ll sketch something out in advance. Other times, much like Legos, I look at different pieces I have and see how I can work them together. Or perhaps a word or title like “cross-roads” fits because there are glass “stringers” in the lines that, as they “crossover,” are indicative of crossroads, as does the overall design of this work. Usually these designs and title have personal meaning. For example, this work reflects that, in life, you may be at “crossroads” but crossroads don’t have to be “defining” moments. What looks to be one path or another, are multiple paths that work together in the journey of life. The work shows that there can be harmony and opportunity at and in them.

Is lawyering subsidizing your art?
In my case, yes. With many people, their hobby is their passion. If they could make a living from it, they would, but if they can’t, they look for ways to subsidize that.

Stephen Weinberg Standing Next to Some of His Glass Pieces
Of Crossroads II—the second in a series—Weinberg said, “Usually these have personal meaning like in life of being at a crossroads and showing there can be harmony and opportunity at them.”

How do you put a price tag on your work?
Is that a tough thing to do? Yes, it’s difficult because with glass art, the glass itself is expensive. Then you add the time it takes to formulate and create the piece—every single one is hand cut by me and placed together. After that, you fire it in the kiln—often three separate firings are required to get the desired look and shape and after three firings, electricity costs add up! Once the kiln firing process is complete, additional “cold working” is needed to make the work smooth, polished, and professional quality. What looks like a simple piece can easily be 12-24 hours, excluding the 24-hour waiting time for the kiln to work its magic. I also have to take into account how complex the piece is and how much glass is used. Finally, there is the sanity check. If I’m looking at a piece, I ask, as a buyer, would I pay $1,200 for this? Or $400 for this? From those queries I come to what I deem a reasonable price. One complicating factor is gallery commission, which can be up to the 50%—so either the selling price goes way up or my profit margin disappears.

Why glass art?
It’s unique, especially fused glass. The creations are multidimensional. With fused glass you can mold and form it and provide color and texture—a sculptural aspect to it. It’s one of the few art forms closest to engaging most of the sense—something to see and touch. And it being art, it conjures feelings on emotional and intellectual levels. There’s a visual appeal to grab the viewer’s attention. From there, I hope my work strikes chords in their life that draws them to it on a personal level.

For more information and images of Weinberg’s art, go to sjweinbergart.com. TBJ

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