Bruce Armstrong: A 'Glass' Act
Stained glass is a 1,000-year-old tradition largely associated with vast windows in places of worship. For one Huntley man, crafting these colorful windows is a passion that gives him much satisfaction and something beautiful for his recipients to proudly display.
Bruce Armstrong, 69, a Prospect Heights, Ill., native who resides in Huntley’s Del Webb community, has been crafting stained glass windows for 40 years. A retired project manager for Disney’s hotel reservation system, Armstrong’s love affair with stained glass began while living in California where he took a class in the San Fernando Valley. He resided there for six years.
Since then, he has created thousands of pieces, from basic, two-color windows to intricate works featuring flowers with dozens of tiny thistles. His pieces span in size from small English cottage windows to windows for full-length doors.
Armstrong’s work can be found in homes, businesses and churches nationwide. Work he’s completed includes decorative roses and pink ribbons for a Del Webb breast cancer group auction; two pieces for a Bishop’s Ball hosted by an Episcopal church in Chicago; a lobster for St. Ann’s Episcopal Church’s (Woodstock) Lobster Fest raffle; arched windows for a client in Hilton Head, S.C.; and the score of “Amazing Grace” for a client’s piano room in Algonquin.
The small pieces — such as the “ribbon” windows he makes for cancer survivors and organ donors — take about one week. Larger, more intricate designs can take up to three or more weeks.
He began crafting the ribbons (pictured) in 2006 after his heart surgery — projects he calls “relaxing and satisfying.”
“I’ve done about 85 ribbons since late 2006,” he said. “When I meet a cancer survivor or someone who has lost a loved one to cancer, I ask for their address and mail them a ribbon window. It’s a good feeling to make these ribbons.”
The ribbons are not commissioned; his payment is in kind notes of gratitude from surprised recipients. “If people benefit from what I do, that’s great,” he said. “I put a lot of care and love into it.”
Armstrong also creates fused stained glass art, which involves fusing glass pieces together and using those pieces in a stained glass project. These pieces add amazing 3-D texture and detail to stained glass. He also crafts fused glass pennants and earrings. “Glass projects are only limited to the imagination,” he said.
Making a stained glass window requires a lot of planning, and special tools and materials. For a beginner, it’s about a $100 to $150 investment, Armstrong said, but he has about $1,500 invested in his workshop. His workshop — a spare bedroom in his home — is dedicated to an inventory of glass and other materials, patterns, a soldering iron and other tools, and a workbench.
Before any glass is cut, Armstrong creates a detailed sketch that notes shapes, sizes and colors of the glass pieces and where they go. Glass is then cut to size and the edges are ground. A border of copper foiling is placed around the edges. Copper has largely replaced the use of lead for this step because it is stronger and does not stretch with gravity over time.
Glass pieces are soldered together and a patina is put on soldered lines to bring the focus on the glass and design. Armstrong finishes each piece with a black patina, which changes the silver solder to black.
While Armstrong does not offer classes, he has given individual lessons and has demonstrated stained glass making to Boy Scout troops. “I like teaching kids because they are really fascinated by the process,” he said.
His goal is to “keep busy” creating ribbons and other works of glass art.
Sidebar: To Learn More
Classes: O’Reilly’s Stained Glass Co.: 58 North Williams St., Crystal Lake, 815-444-1797; Classical Glass: 1217 South Main St., Algonquin, 847854-7701; and A Glass Act: 144 Tyler Creek Plaza, Elgin, 847-888-6075.
Supplies: Armstrong Glass; and Classical Glass and A Glass Act.