June 24, 2009

Jon Kuhn and Salem Stained Glass

I've been busy recently and I'm only now catching up with this press release from about 4 weeks ago - New Technique Promises to Revolutionize Traditional Stained Glass Windows. The press release announces a collaboration between the glass sculptor Jon Kuhn and Salem Stained Glass.

The press release has generated some buzz. On the AGG bulletin board, there has been an ongoing discussion thread called Cold Glass Artist Jon Kuhn. A smaller thread with some better images of the sample 'Sacred Glass' pieces can be seen on the SGAA forum thread called Kuhn cold glass artist and traditional stained glass.

The press release also brought about this a recent article called Jewels' of Glass: Salem Stained Glass, Winston-Salem glass artist create works to tap into upscale residential market, from the Winston Salem Journal website.

Promotional video for 'Sacred Glass'

full disclosure - I worked at Salem Stained Glass for 3 years (2001-2004), with 2 of those as production manager. They're good people and they do good work. Plenty of flashbacks seeing the shop in the video.

More on Kuhn's work (including another video) and my own take on the collaboration, including a few caveats, below the fold...

Though I never met him or visited his studio when I lived in North Carolina, I've been familiar with Jon Kuhn's work for nearly 20 years. I first saw it on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I find it pretty dazzling though I think I prefer the basic cubes over the later more elaborate shapes. See for yourself. If you haven't seen his work, the best intro I've come across is this YouTube video of Jon Kuhn at the Hawk Galleries. It's about 8 minutes. He talks about his background and techniques, and plenty of his work is shown.

So - what's my honest impression of all this? Basically, I believe that the idea of studio glass artists collaborating with stained glass artists is a very good thing and I would encourage it anytime. Too many stained glass artists live in a bubble, with little interest in art forms outside of what they do.

That said, I do see some challenges for this particular collaboration. Not insurmountable, of course, but the issues are there nonetheless.

1) The Aesthetic Disconnect - a.k.a. the transmitted light thing.
Kuhn's work is sculpture. Though transparency is a key element, it is mostly dependent on reflected light, that is, with the lighting bouncing off the sculpture and back at you. Whereas stained glass windows are mainly, sometimes totally, dependent on transmitted light, with the effect coming from light traveling through the glass to your eyes. I tend to think that elements included in stained glass that rely on reflected light for full effect don't work well incoporated into stained glass.

Will that prove to be a factor here? How will the intricate inclusions look next to the factory created sheet glass? Will the complex crystaline pieces look odd next to factory made sheet glass, especially machine rolled opalescent? Impossible for me to say until I see the actual panels and not just images on the web.

2) The Price Points.
The prices quoted in the press release are very high. The sample they site, $20,000 for a 24" x 37" panel, comes in at more than $3200 a square foot. I know Kuhn gets big bucks for his sculptures, but those buyers are studio glass collectors, not churches. I have seen a few instances where churches will pay a much higher price for the prospect of getting a 'name recognition' artist, but the notion of getting more than $3,200 a square foot for stained glass is a bit hard to believe, at least in this economic climate. Most studios I know of start at around $150-200 a square foot for the simplest of designs (with even lower starting price points in the Southeast) and go upwards of $500-1000 a sqaure foot for more complex work. I suspect the Kuhn/Salem team would do best going for the high end residential market, rather than churches.

3) The Longevity of Laminated Glass in an architectural setting.
The comments on the AGG board mostly honed in on the prospect of Kuhn's laminated pieces not being able to withstand the test of time technically. That the lamination will fail, especially if subjected directly to varied weather conditions. Indeed, laminated pieces are still a question mark over a long period of time. Kuhn's sculptural work has always been in gallery and museum settings, not subjected to extremes of temperature, humidity, precipitation or wind. It might not be such an issue if they were not stating in the press release - 'I want my panels to last forever'.

Posted by Tom at June 24, 2009 09:22 PM