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Stained glass; New form for an old art

Stained glass, in the hands of a few dozen innovative artists in this country , begins to look completely different from any such glass that we have seen before.

Shelley Jurs, a young San Francisco Bay area designer in glass, explains it simply: ''Current trends in glass continue to evolve, just as they do in any other art form. I view the kind of contemporary architectural glass that I make as a new building material which becomes part of the geometry of the building facade.'' Her designs tend to be elegant and understated modern graphics that make use of strong geometric shapes and soft flowing organic forms.

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She terms them ''inner visualizations,'' although each is a highly disciplined response to the needs and desire of her client, the architecture itself, and the surrounding environment. She does work hard to persuade people out of their preconceived notions of what stained-glass art should look like. For the most part, she uses little color, and sometimes no color, explaining, ''The linear design is important, not overpowering color.''

Through the use of mirrors, prisms, and bevelled glass, she achieves imaginative illusions of depth and layered light. She also utilizes sandblasting , etching, and leading of both opaque and transparent hand-blown sheets of glass imported from Germany to get her own unique interplay of design, light and color.

''In glass,'' she explains, ''you use and work with the quality of light, texture, shadow, pattern and movement. In sunlight, the glass reflects the movement of pedestrians, clouds, cars, rain, wind, plants, and trees.''

Miss Jurs develops glass windows, doors, and skylights for individual homeowners, but she likes best to work directly with architects, interior designers, and space planners. ''In that way the art glass is not just added decoration, or an awkward intrusion into an already existent setting,'' she says. ''It is intrinsic to the building, and the art and the architecture work together in unity.'' She says she can tailor her work to control light and heat into a space, block out an eyesore, restructure a view, create privacy, or set a mood.

Since she set up her studio in an old Victorian Oakland firehouse in 1978, she has completed over 100 commissions for architectural glass works that have been installed in homes, banks, shops, galleries, churches and offices. One house developer in San Jose asked her to design special art glass windows as a super feature that would help sell the $200,000 homes he was offering for sale. She works in any scale, from transom windows over doors to room dividers, doors, skylights or entire walls, and has even set her decorative glass panels into garden walls.

Once she receives a commission, she checks the blueprints and the actual construction site, studies the surroundings, determines what direction the window will face and what the available light will be. Then she sits down to design the window, finally making a cartoon as pattern for the finished piece. She then selects the colors and textures of glass. On small pieces she herself cuts the glass pieces, according to pattern, and assembles them with leading strips to hold them together. For large pieces, she sub-contracts out the cutting and assembling. She supervises the making of the frames. She charges from $85 to $100 per square foot for her work.

Shelley Jurs is a native of Berkeley and graduated in 1972 from the California College of Arts and Crafts. She has also studied at the Pilchuck Glass Center, at the Swansea College of Art in South Wales, England. She studied glass art in France and the Netherlands and worked for a time with Ludwig Schaffrath, a dominant figure in Germany's contemporary glass movement. She was also aprenticed at the Willets Stained Glass Studios in Philadelphia.

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