Stained-glass splendor. Glass craftsman creates, restores - working translucent wonders

Lyn Hovey's stained-glass images linger in your mind. You gaze at a lamp with a peacock in miraculous cobalt blue wound around it, or day lilies, like wild orange trumpets, and acquisitiveness strikes; suddenly you start to wonder if your own modest place couldn't use a little something.

Mr. Hovey's studio is located in an arty, suburban area of Cambridge, Mass., in three adjoining storefronts, one for each aspect of his work: residential/commercial, restoration, and religious.

``Sometimes they spill over,'' says Hovey, a handsome, easygoing, bearded man wearing a purple knit tie and brown tweed jacket. He has been working in stained glass for the past two decades or so.

The first thing you see when you come into the residential studio is a row of amazing lamps of curved glass lined up along a counter (``as far as I know we're the only ones making lamps of that kind,'' says Hovey). Stained-glass pictures hang in the windows like big pieces of jewelry.

The atmosphere is casual, yet absorbed. A man strays toward the window, holds up a thick piece of glass to the light in a thoughtful sort of way, then returns with it to one of the long, dusty work tables that fill the room. Nearby, a woman in jeans winds a thin piece of copper foil around a small glass circle, until it looks as if it grew there.

``I like the mechanical aspect of glass; it seems so much more solid than a painting or a watercolor; there's a weight to it,'' says Hovey.

Since everything done here at the Lyn Hovey Studio Inc. is a custom job, Hovey's first task is to get a feeling for the customer. ``As we walk around, I get a sense of what you seem to respond to,'' he explains. ``At that time I have to be very sensitive to your reactions to things.

``Also, some things don't work as well in certain settings as in others - that's very important. In the entryway to a home, the architecture plays a very important role. In a private bath, the architecture might not be as important.''

A lot of people nowadays are using stained glass in their bathrooms, Hovey says. ``Americans have been very much affected by the Japanese and the Scandinavians, who have a different bathing ethic.'' This priority of the glamorous bathroom is a recent thing, he adds. ``In the Victorian house, the bathroom was an afterthought. The colonial house didn't even have a bathroom.''

It's all part of the new, high-powered life style, he says, where people are too busy to lounge about in their dining or living room. ``The three rooms that are guaranteed to be used are the bathroom, the bedroom, and the kitchen.''

He shows a photograph of a really spectacular bathroom, its stained-glass wall featuring an Ophelia-like woman floating in the water, her long tresses mingling with flowing plants of a seaweedy green; in one corner is a mahogany sink, and above it, graceful mahogany whorls are incorporated into the stained-glass design. ``See, now you have to change your whole thought about bathrooms!'' he exclaims.

Two doors down, in the studio where church windows are done, Becky Breymann is standing on a stepladder, working on a Gothic-looking piece that she has hung on the plateglass window in front of the shop to catch the gray winter light. ``That's `The Good Shepherd','' says Hovey.

We look at her back as she works; beyond her, outside the window, a bus roars by, followed by several joggers; inside you are in a warm, tidy version of the Middle Ages. ``The pieces of glass are stuck on plate glass with beeswax,'' Hovey explains. ``That's a medieval way, after it's been cut, to see if the glass is the way you want it, and, after it's painted, to check the painting.''

In the back, two young women talk softly as they clean tiny pieces of cut glass with alcohol. Nearby, a wooden tray is laid out with pieces of paper, all numbered, to correspond to the pieces of glass that will form a picture. A halo takes five pieces - 180, 181, 182, 184, 185.

Wooden shelves are filled with ``antique'' glass - that is, glass made in the antique way, mostly from France, Germany, and England. Glass fashioned by this method is blown in a cylinder; then the ends of the cylinder are cut off and the glass is scored on the side, heated again, and gently opened up and laid into a sheet. ``That's the medieval way of making a flat piece of glass,'' Hovey says.

He pulls out a piece, full of bubbles and odd little streaks, about the color of grape jelly spread very thin over bread and butter. It's called gold-pink and is actually made with gold. ``In all the 900 years of making glass, they've not found a better metal for making that color.''

He holds up another piece, this one clear with honey orange streaks swirling through it. ``That's English streaky,'' he says. And then another clear piece with lines of light blue, mauve, and gold. ``That's another English streaky - the English make every color in a streaky.''

We look at a watercolor sketch to scale of two tall, narrow windows destined for St. Andrew's church in New Bedford: one shows Peter being introduced to Jesus by Andrew, the other shows Jesus appearing to the two Marys after the resurrection.

``In the painting, maybe there'll be a little bit more brought out of that face,'' says Hovey, looking down at the sketch in his hand. ``In each major step - the watercolor, the cartoon, then the color selection and cutting of the glass, and then the painting - there's a development going on. It's not a paint-by-numbers sort of thing - the way we do it, anyway. All these processes go back to the Middle Ages; we don't skip any steps.''

In the small round kiln, a few big-eyed, brownish-glass faces stare solemnly upward, awaiting firing; their rather medieval features are picked out in a powdery gray paint. ``The paint that's on there is dirt - iron oxide,'' Hovey says.

Next, a quick visit to the shop where restoration is done. ``We're restoring a bowed window,'' Hovey explains, showing the window in its specially built curved wooden cradle. ``That's kind of tricky to do.'' Then we pop down to the basement for a look at a 16th-century window for a Worcester, Mass., museum that needed repairing: ``That's like surgery,'' says Hovey, holding up a piece of mahogany-colored glass with hairline silver joins where the cracks had been.

We head back to the main studio again, and Hovey starts talking about different kinds of glass: American opalescent glass - ``like Tiffany used'' - versus antique glass.

``This used to be a large controversy, especially in Boston, but we have resolved that ... we work in both. It's not a disgrace in our studio; and it's now come back into favor in the art world.''

We look at at a piece called ``Lady with Dogwood'' hanging in the window; it is about a yard square, and is crafted of machine-made, opalescent, and antique glass. ``Here we unabashedly use them together,'' he says.

The circle of dogwood that surrounds the lady's head is done in pearly opalescent glass, and the lines on the petals are delicately acid etched, a modern technique. The lady's hair is made of honey-colored antique English streaky, which flows in graceful waves; it is braided in a knot in the back, with copper foil - again a modern, American technique - forming the edges of the braid.

As we look, the sun begins to set, in an eerie reddish glare, and ``Lady with Dogwood'' becomes increasingly hard to see. The copper foil in her hair begins glowing like gold.

``When the light fades, you can see the lines becoming very important,'' says Hovey. ``The copper foil line becomes a drawing. And the interior light is bouncing against the opalescent glass, so that doesn't suffer from lack of light. It's very magical that way.''

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