A Philosophy in Glass
Q&A PROFILE: Victor Briere '08 has been sharing his love of stained glass window making with the Pitzer College community since arriving on campus as a first-year student. A philosophy major from West Los Angeles, he has learned that each precise cut of the glass provides a glimpse of truth.
How did you first become interested in stained glass?
My high school, Brentwood High, offered a stained glass class that I took first semester as a freshman and I absolutely loved it. I was going to do ceramics, but for some reason my mom convinced me to do stained glass, so I credit her. There wasn't a special attraction at first. I didn't realize how important it would become. I took stained glass every semester I could at Brentwood. During one summer in high school, I worked at Lighthouse Stained Glass in L.A. and that'’s when I really started to develop skills because you have to complete work to a customer's satisfaction. I got really into it then and I have continued to work for Lighthouse through college as well.
What are the steps in creating a stained glass piece? What type of pieces do you create?
Basically, I take pre-made sheet glass of different colors and textures and I cut it up with a glass cutter while following a bunch of restrictions and methods to make precise cuts. Then, I either wrap the glass in copper foil or I assemble it with lead. If I wrap it with copper foil, I then solder the pieces of foil together, which are connected to the glass, so the glass becomes connected. If I create it with lead, I basically build it into the lead. You can create anything you can imagine. I usually have my students start with a suncatcher, which is a small window of fifteen pieces or less, to learn the basics. Some students who have taken the class more than once have built 3-D pieces—one student built an aquarium.
With my own work, I usually stick to windows with abstract patterns. I use water glass, which is a single shade of a color with very subtle ripples in it. I tend to shy away from textures like confetti glass because it makes it more difficult to complete a piece successfully. You have to make careful decisions when you choose your glass. I tend to stick to solid colors with simple textures and that’s my style—the patterns I create call for that.
How would you describe your style? Where do you draw inspiration?
I don't believe that a stained glass window in and of itself is anything particularly special. What really makes a stained glass window great is how it interacts with its surroundings. My style involves constructing windows that complement or enhance their surroundings—they're not just windows. You can take all sorts of artistic freedom because “surroundings” can be interpreted in many ways. When I envision building a window, I not only imagine the window, but what's around it.
For example, one piece I built for my parents is meant to be seen in moonlight. A certain effect is achieved when the moon is in the right position; light reflects off the window and gives it a bright center and a very dim outline.
Similar to other handcrafts, it's almost guaranteed that you'll make a unique piece. When I want to build a stained glass window and I just can't think of anything, all I have to do is look around myself to recognize some interesting pattern that I can turn into a window. The human eye also makes for good inspiration. Anything with complex lines will make a good window pattern.
How long does it take you to complete a piece? How many pieces have you created?
For my personal use I have created approximately ten pieces. At Lighthouse Stained Glass, I have completed thirty to forty pieces. Usually a fifteen-piece suncatcher takes me about four hours to build from start to finish. My favorite window that I built was about a thousand pieces and that took me at least twohundred hours. The time spent on any given piece depends entirely on how many pieces you work with and the complexity of the pattern.
Why did you begin teaching stained-glass art to students from The Claremont Colleges and most recently to a worker from the Pomona Day Labor Center?
I began teaching stained glass classes my second semester as a first-year student. It was naturally important for me to teach because why work alone when others can learn and enjoy the same craft. I have approximately two to eight students each semester and some return for additional classes. I have taught stained glass to approximately thirtyfive to forty students during my four years at Pitzer. This semester Professor José Calderón approached me and told me about the Pomona Day Labor Center and the workers. He said one of the day laborers, José Díaz, was interested in learning to create stained glass windows and asked if he could join my class. José has been one of my best students because he is so focused and interested in learning the craft.
How will you continue to share and practice your craft after graduation?
I see my stained glass work as something I will continue to devote time to. I'm still learning from it. I would also like for this class to continue at Pitzer after I graduate. I am working to have one student hold the class once a week and show people the ropes. I don’t see why the class should stop just because I leave.
After graduation, I'm planning to walk the Pilgrim Trail in Spain and then I plan on more traveling. I'm considering pursuing philosophy in graduate school, but I'm not sure yet. I'm definitely considering, wherever I end up, renting some space and continuing to teach a class. I'm curious to see what it would be like teaching outside the context of Pitzer.
Is there a connection between your stained glass window work and your philosophy major?
There's definitely a connection. When you're working on a window for many hours, you have plenty of time to think. Stained glass is very much a meditation for me. When you're cutting, if you want the line to be cut in exactly the way you desire, you have to be able to focus on very specific points. The room for error is a 64th of an inch, which means if you make a cut within that margin of error, then your window will come out looking the way you want. Any larger of an error will result in flaws, which force you to adjust your window.
The connection between that and philosophy is that philosophy is much the same idea but with words and concepts. In philosophy you're trying to split concepts like you split glass to get to the truth about them. And once you have the truth about those concepts individually, you can place them together into a larger, more meaningful scene or argument. It matters how you cut up the concepts, just like it matters how you cut up the glass.
If you really want to build a good stained glass window, you have to appreciate every step of the process and every single cut. You can't expect to have a great window “pop up;” each cut is for each cut. I think this in general is a good way to live life—you can’t expect your life to end up wonderful if you don't pay attention to each moment.