Copper in the Arts

February 2014

Harnessing Natural Beauty with Copper

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

tree sculpture“Tree of Life” by Michael Kane.

Cherry table top, spalted maple arch, quilted and curly maple structural underside of table, stain glass within the wooden arch.

After tiring of working in the motorcycle industry, artist Michael Kane decided to seek out an apprenticeship in stained glass at Willet Stained Glass Studios in Philadelphia in 1999.

“They are still there and have been there for over 100 years,” Kane says. “It was the largest employed stain glass studio in the nation at one time.”

With a formal education in graphic design, Kane’s artwork prior to his stain glass apprenticeship typically centered on wood after being inspired by George Nakashima, the Japanese-American woodworker, architect and furniture maker,  when he was a teenager.

Whether working with glass or wood, Kane’s primary inspiration is nature, which stems from his proximity to the ocean in his youth.

“Being a navy brat  and growing up as a kid at Virginia Beach and Maine and being in the ocean all of the time,” he says, of how his initial bond was formed.

Kane recalls a stained glass panel he made using various natural, found objects from the sea that were so small, copper foil came into play.

“I incorporated sea glass into the sand dollars I collected – I used drift wood from the outer banks (as the frame). My brother sent me the pieces of sea glass from Okinawa, Japan that he would find on the beach,” Kane says. “I tried to keep that ocean theme continuous in the whole panel.”

Kane typically uses copper foil for his more intricate pieces.

“You are able to wrap it around the edges of the glass – it is almost just like tape but it’s copper,” he says. “You can trim it back as close to the edge of the glass – if the piece is very small, you will still be able to get light to shine through it after you solder it together.”

In contrast, Kane discusses how lead covers too much of the glass when working with small pieces.

“Tiffany was very famous for using copper foil because he used a lot of small, intricate pieces,” he says.

stained glass“The Ocean View” by Michael Kane.

Sand dollars captured in stain glass panel, cedar drift wood frame.

In some cases, Kane merges his loves of glass and wood to create functional art such as a wood table he made that has a stained glass tree emerging from its center. The inspiration for the piece stemmed from an image Kane had seen in the book The Soul of a Tree: A Master Woodworkers Reflections by George Nakashima.

“There was this image of an historic tree – the Penn’s Woods Tree,” he says. “It was struck by lightning and he was commissioned to make furniture out of the tree. I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be awesome to create that in glass’, and I wanted to incorporate wood with it. I really enjoy marrying wood and glass together.” Copper foil was a key component needed to help Kane fulfill his vision. “All of the small branches were copper foiled,” he says.

Most of Kane’s work is either commissioned or shown at art festivals, such as the juried Bethlehem Fine Arts & Craft Show in his hometown of Bethlehem, PA, held annually in May.

“I have a client right now that wants me to do panels in their dining room,” he says, noting they requested a floral design theme. “It’s quite large – there are six different windows. They don’t like to look at their patio and they want a gradation in light from the center panel to the outside panels.”

Kane discusses his main goal through his work.

“I seek to simulate the beauty that nature provides with the materials that I use,” he says. “I’m trying to harness the natural beauty it is by attempting to capture it as a functional and visual art form. I’m trying to get close, but I’ll never achieve the natural beauty that nature provides so easily.”


Michael Kane explaining the importance of copper foil as a joining agent for his most delicate stained glass pieces. 

Michael Kane Designs, Bethlehem, PA, (484) 633-4220

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