BURRILLVILLE/GLOCESTER – On a gray March day, sunlight shines through stained glass art in the upper floor windows of the Chepachet Art Gallery. The sparkling glass works of art are created by Tom Randall. The gallery is located on the second floor of Old Stone Mill Antiques & Treasures on the Chepachet River at Putnam Pike/ Route 44 in this historic village in Glocester.
Artist Randall seems delighted to exhibit his work at the Old Stone Mill.
“This art gallery is just starting,” he said. “In northern Rhode Island, outside of Providence metro there is no gallery for artists to share their work, so this is a huge opportunity for me and other artists.”
He and his wife, knitter Paula Lusignan, are both artistically-inclined. Her Sunzup Creations are featured as part of the local Chepachet Chicks artisan cooperative and at The Hen House store, also in Chepachet.
“A couple of years ago, we started exhibiting,” Randall said.
Working at Fancy Pants Glass Studio in Harrisville, Randall has displayed art at the Burrillville Arts Festival, Lovett’s Fine Cigars and Arts art gallery, and at Rhode Island College.
He is also professor emeritus of psychology at Rhode Island College, where he was department chair and taught from 1974 until 2008. Randall grew up in Chicago, and was educated in Chicago and New York.
His stained glass art is custom-handcrafted, and he uses American materials.
Although in the past his focus was largely on the world of academia and psychology, he says he, “always enjoyed glass, the bright colors it gives.”
“Everyone is captivated by it,” Randall said.
He also is attracted to how light changes throughout the day.
What started as a hobby turned into a business as well as his art. It began years ago when Randall was in the “hip artisan area of Chicago – Old Chicago.” He was in a shop in an alley where he saw a stained glass lamp kit for sale.
“I took it home to the basement,” of his rented home, he recalls.
The kit “had no real instructions,” and he made a big lamp from it.
He gave the lamp to his mother.
“I thought it was a masterpiece,” he says of his first creation.
Years later, as he learned about stained glass, he had a different perspective on the lamp, which he now calls, “a hunk of junk.”
Today most stained glass one finds in gift shops is junk, he says.
“One can find lots of low cost stained glass creations at big box and at flea markets. Mostly this stuff is imported from China,” Randall explained.
At first, it looks good, but closer inspection shows the sloppy solder lines found in, “slapdash,” factory low-wage production.
“These pieces will never increase in value,” Randall said on his website, adding, “Do not settle for slipshod construction.”
Some 20 years after finding that stained glass lamp kit, Randall created a custom work of stained glass art for Thomas Cobb, author of the novel Crazy Heart , from which the 2010 Academy Award-winning feature film of the same title was adapted.
“He went to the Met [Metropolitan] museum and was a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright,” Randall said.
So Cobb wanted Randall to make a window in Wright’s style.
“I had to learn a whole new technique,” says Randall.
For the geometric shape of the design, Randall needed to work with zinc strips, rather than copper.
The lines in a geometric design, “have to be precise,” he said, adding that it’s more difficult to create than, say, an organic, flowing, or curvy design for which copper is the more flexible metal.
For some projects, Randall chooses a mixture of metals, such as a skull design for which he combined copper and zinc. Copper was one of the materials employed by artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.
“Louis Tiffany pioneered the ‘Copper Foil’ technique,” Randall explains on his website. “The Tiffany system makes possible beautiful intricate designs that cannot be done using the classic lead ‘came’ procedure.”
He notes, “most contemporary windows and almost all the smaller hanging pieces use the Tiffany technique,” and “the foil technique allows for much more complex shapes to be crafted.”
The Hartwell Memorial Window, a dramatic 3 x 16 foot scene of rural New Hampshire formerly located at the Community Church of Providence – created for when it was Central Baptist Church – is the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
In contrast, “The rigid zinc or brass channel strip technique is especially useful for the Prairie-style window treatments made famous by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright,” explains Randall.
Randall, too, created a large and eye-catching stained glass window, “a major piece” he says, which is located in the chapel at Home & Hospice Care of RI in Providence.
Titled The Emergence of the Spirit, the window is about 2 feet by 3 feet, and was a donation in honor of his former late wife, and as a thank you to the staff of the hospice.
“Stained glass is organic in a sense that light changes slightly as the direct sunlight or ambient light is coming through,” Randall says in a video, Tom Randall Artist Biography.
“If you have a not-so-great view from one of your windows, and it’s always covered with curtains – get rid of the curtains; get a stained glass art panel, and you can view art at the same time the light is coming through. You don’t lose the window because you can still see through it if it has the right kind of glass in it.”
Stained glass widows – and the art – date to at least the later Medieval period – 1000-1400 – and seem most associated with great Christian Gothic cathedrals of Europe. The famous Life of Christ window of Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France, for example, was created around 1150.
Locally, examples of works of stained glass art include Avigdor Arikha’s triangular windows at B’Nai Israel synagogue in Woonsocket. The Angels of the Adoration windows at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Providence, meanwhile, were designed by the famous artist John La Farge.
Randall’s goal is, “to create a work that will fulfill your vision, enhance the beauty of its environment and provide enjoyment to those who view it.”
In addition to creating works of stained glass art, Randall also does repairs. Although some of his art hangs in windows, he doesn’t use the term, “sun catcher.”
Even on gray days, and some 20 years since Randall began his artistic venture, his hand-crafted, quality and colorful glass creations brighten a space – and the light is ever-changing as the day progresses.