Discover Copper Online

Winter 1993

Copper and Brass Strengthen Stained Glass

To strengthen his costly stained-glass pieces against inevitable impacts (such as errant balls from Little Leaguers), Michael Pilla substituted copper and brass channels for the customary lead and zinc channels in his windows and doors. The channels are the long structural elements with "H" or "U" cross sections into which the glass is fitted.

"In contrast to colorless lead or zinc," Pilla commented, "copper or brass also add distinct colors." The St. Paul, Minnesota-based artist first experimented with copper channels ten years ago. Copper and brass came (the trade name for the channels) are more difficult to work with than those made from lead or zinc. That's why it takes Pilla and his three helpers at Monarch Studios weeks if not months to complete one of their many commissions.

One of the 28 stained-glass windows from Monarch Studios at Hesburgh Center for International Studies, University of Notre Dame.

To add even more strength to his creations, Pilla developed what he believes is a unique way of joining channels. Tiny, U-shaped reinforcements of either copper or brass (corresponding to the came material) are snapped on at the joints. They are then soldered to the came to create stronger joints.

Pilla also uses narrow adhesive-backed copper tape to join some of the pieces of glass. A little gap left deliberately between the pieces is then filled with solder. The copper remains on the back of the glass.

Most of Monarch Studios' output is installed in "high-end" residences, he noted. Pilla's most famous installation is at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. He designed and made the 28 windows installed high up in the walls of the main hall of the Hesburgh Center for International Studies. The project was completed in 1991.

Pilla buys his came from Chicago (Illinois) Metallic. The adhesive-backed copper tape is available from many sources.

Monarch Studios: 612/644-7927
Chicago Metallic: 800/323-7164

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