Coastal Artist: Cassandra Godbold

View Gallery 7 Photos

Photos and story by Kristina Domitrovich

Stained glass is a bit of a dying art. One of the most threatening pieces of the equation is its expense. The labor costs alone is enough to discourage potential customers, which in turn is discouraging to potential artists.

So why did Cassandra Godbold pick up this craft, especially in retirement?

When she and her husband moved from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Diamondhead, Mississippi, for retirement, they mostly did it for golf.

“My priorities are number one, my husband, number two, my dog; number three is golf,” she said. 

Diamondhead is a neighborhood on a golf course –– “the best-kept secret down here on the coast” –– and she and her husband usually go golfing every day, depending upon weather. But when she moved down, she wanted to see if there were any stained glass courses. She had a few pieces hanging in windows in Chattanooga that she loved, so she wanted to see if stained glass could be her new hobby.

“I’m not going to tell you I’m creative as far as an artist, but I’m very crafty. I love doing all kinds of things,” she said. “I was retired; I wanted to see if there was a stained-glass opportunity somewhere.”

So, she signed up for a continuing education course.

“I thought, you know, I’ve always wanted to do this or look into it,” she recalled. “ I had these two side light windows (on either side) of the front door, ‘I’m just going to see if I can just make two pretty, colorful stained glass windows.’”

And she got hooked. It wasn’t long before she started expanding her arsenal of equipment and supplies and realized how expensive the hobby was. She hoped if she started selling a few pieces, she could at least break even. She wasn’t too serious about it though; after all, she was retired.

“I’m not trying to make a career out of this, what I’m trying to do is pay for my addiction,” she laughed. “Pay for the glass and all the tools that it takes to do this.”

But that would change.

Godbold has found Facebook to be a great place to grow her collection of glass sheets and tools. When she was visiting her daughter in Nashville, she saw a large collection for sale. She called to inquire about the materials, “glass and tools and supplies and everything,” and learned the seller was retiring from his career of making pieces for country musicians. 

“‘I want you to think about what you would sell the whole thing for,’” she remembers saying to the seller. 

Her daughter tagged along to get a look at the collection, and the seller became a little enamored with the two. 

“He just thought we were two of the cutest things since sliced bread,” she said laughing.

He offered to sell his whole life’s collection to her for $500. Godbold was shocked, and couldn’t pass up the deal. 

Once figuring out the logistics of transporting it back to Diamondhead –– a Uhaul and custom-built crates were involved –– Godbold had to call her husband to give him a heads up.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to tell you how much this is, because you’re going to freak out if I tell you,’” she said with her eyes wide. “‘Get everything out of the garage, and when I get there, just know that I’ve decided to take this seriously.’”

The seller has become somewhat of a mentor to Godbold, and she has drawn inspiration from his work and techniques. 

“What he did with his glass was unique and different than anything I’d ever seen,” she said. “I just was overwhelmed at his skill level.”

One thing she was enamored by the most was how he taught her to use clear glass.

When people think of stained glass, oftentimes a church window first comes to mind. These are large windows made of a pattern using a lot of very small pieces. While she appreciates these windows for what they are, it doesn’t quite fit Godbold’s style: First because “I don’t have that kind of patience,” but she really prefers the one-of-a-kind pieces that tell a story. She’s learned she can depict just about any scene by “paint(ing) with clear glass –– the wallpaper, the floor, the banister, the stairs.”

It sounds confusing, because stained glass is supposed to use colorful pieces to guide the viewer, right? Yes, but by making the background clear, and using a textured clear glass, the subjects stand out in color. One commissioned piece Godbold created demonstrates this perfectly: A client came to her with a photo of her daughter dancing with her husband and wanted it in a stained glass form. Godbold used clear glass for the floor, a different textured clear for the walls or backdrop, and put the two dancers in color. The outcome is powerful and clean, while still telling a story. The figures don’t seem to be floating in air; instead, they become the center of the room and of the story. 

This can be accomplished in part because of the varying glass textures she can use. Some of her clear glass sheets have patterns on them, like fleur di lis, flowers and different squiggles. Some glasses have sweeps of color streaking through, overlapping each other, called baroque glass; if it’s white, Godbold loves to use this glass for imitating the sky. Some glass can even be iridescent. And that’s barely scratching the surface. Sometimes, the glass variety can be “totally overwhelming.”

“You start going crazy,” she said. “The worst part, and the best part, is that glass is so diverse. And the problem with that is landing on what you like to do.”

Glass can be tricky, too, and its colors are hard to read. Godbold has some sheets that look almost black at first, but in front of a light, they could be a dark purple, red or green –– there’s no telling what a sheet is until it has light shining through.

But before she can begin choosing colors, she has to choose a pattern. Some glass artists sell their patterns for people to copy their designs, while others will sketch out their own images. Godbold says she does a combination of both: She designs her own work about 50% of the time, and for the rest of it, she’s looking at other artists’ designs to figure out which elements she likes. She then creates her own version using a hodgepodge of things she’s seen elsewhere. 

“It’s a nice art form that, if you fall in love with it, you can use your own creative side,” she said. “Or, you may just want to (use) other people’s.”

If she’s making an animal, she prefers to look at real images instead of stained glass so she can create her own accurate depiction of an animal, like an egret, haron or cardinal, which are popular designs for Godbold.

Once she has sketched a design, she will place a sheet of glass over the paper, and put that over the top of a lit table. She traces out the sketch onto the glass using a marker. Then, she will use a scoring tool –– the trick is “it’s basically your shoulder you’re working from” –– paired with oil as a lubricant, and she’ll score the glass. The whole time, she’s carefully listening to the sounds the glass makes, because it will tell her if she’s scoring with too much pressure. Scoring the glass allows Godbold to tell the glass where she wants it to break.

When she’s done scoring, she’ll grab pliers. There are a lot of different options when it comes to pliers. Which she chooses is dependent upon the different sizes she’s trying to cut, or the textures of the glass. With long skinny pieces, she’ll do a tiny “break” at one end, “then go to the other side and come back and slowly crimp toward the center.”

The next step is to grind the glass’ just-cut edges to smooth them out. Then she washes each piece with water and vinegar to remove any particles from sanding, followed by rubbing it down with an alcohol wipe to dry it faster. Then she wraps the edges using copper foil.

“Nothing’s going to stick to glass, so this is sticky along one side,” she said, “so it sticks to the glass, and then you have to do what’s called burnishing.”

Burnishing is a process of pushing the foil onto the edges to make sure it’s really secure, and then folding it over on both sides of the glass. Eventually, the copper foil is where the soldered lead will adhere, so if there are any flaws in the burnishing process, she has to trim and correct it, so lead won’t accumulate later on. She’ll brush the foil in flux, an acidic base that helps the lead adhere evenly to the foil and prevent oxidation.

Then, Godbold will use thumbtacks to pin pieces in place on a horizontal foam board. She gets the pieces as close together as possible, so the lead will adhere easily between the two. If it’s a larger piece, it may need weight reinforcement. So she has to run a metal strip between each of the glass pieces before soldering. She will then take lead and her soldering iron and will add little dots here and there along the two edges. She will add just a few dots of lead initially to secure the pieces enough so she can remove the tacks; then she goes through and solders the whole seam. She does this whole process for every piece that goes into her image, and at the end, she usually wraps the whole outer edge in more copper foil, followed by more lead to give it a finished, encased look. 

Then she has to thoroughly wash the entire piece again to remove any residue or leftover flux. Then she has to patina the soldering. Traditionally, most stained glass uses black patina, but Godbold prefers her pieces to have a silver finish.

“The glass itself lends itself to silver to me,” she said.

After patinaing, she has to wash the piece again, and then polish the silver solder lines to have a bright finish. 

By the time she has a finished product, she has completed about 10 steps on individual pieces before she even begins soldering. This art form is very time consuming and rather meticulous, which lends to why stained glass is so expensive. Even a small piece may have taken hours of details, and customers can’t always imagine the justification of the costs. Another factor, outside of the labor, time and equipment it takes, is the material is expensive, too. Between the different textured glasses available, each piece of glass can push the final bill a little higher. Especially, if it’s red or pink glass, which gets its color because it contains gold. 

Despite these challenges, Godbold is excited about the future of her craft. She sees an uptick in people being attracted to stained glass because of the endless possibilities for each piece. 

“What’s happening in the stained-glass world is you’re seeing a lot more unique pieces that paint a picture or tell a story,” she said. “People are going to collect anything from their trip or their vacation, so we’ve got to change our way of thinking.”

On a typical day, Godbold can be found on the golf course in the morning, and in her studio in the afternoon into the evening. She said it’s hard to leave her work when it’s 11 o’clock at night because she loves it so much. While her husband, dog and golf are her top priorities, glass now comes in at a close fourth. 

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.