Everyone's seen one -- those cute mini stained-glass designs hanging from a small suction cup hook in a window. On a sunny day, from just the right angle, the sun shines on them, dispersing the light in a rainbow of colors. They are called suncatchers, and the glass they are made from has a long and rich history.
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History of Glass
Although glass has existed in nature since the beginning of time, in the form of rocks that have melted and solidified under high heat and pressure, it was "discovered" by Phoenician merchants in Syria about 5,000 BC. Legend tells how they cooked in open pots over blocks of nitrate, that when melted by the heat of the fire, mixed with the sand below and formed a liquid. When the liquid cooled -- opaque glass!
Through the ages, the craft of using glass advanced. The earliest glass beads date to around 3,500 BC, and fragments of glass vases from the 16th century have been found. Hollow glass pots appeared around 1,500 BC in Egypt. Tablets found in Assyria dating back to 650 BC show instructions for making glass. A significant achievement occurred between 27 BC and AD 14 , when glassblowing was invented. But it wasn't until around AD 100 when glass was first used for decorative and architectural purposes by the Romans, who made crude glass windows. Another major achievement happened between the 11th and 13th centuries with the discovery of how to make glass sheets. During this period, the art of making colored glass appeared and stained glass had its origins.
Stained glass is a series of smaller pieces of clear and colored glass joined by lead strips, first used widely during the Middle Ages to depict religious scenes and saints in churches. As the craft developed, color and construction techniques advanced. Stained glass was seen less and less in new churches and more in commercial and residential settings, and in much smaller works than ornate windows. In America, perhaps the most well-know user of stained glass was Louis Tiffany, creator of the famous Tiffany lamps.
First believed to have been made by the Southwest American Indians, suncatchers, or light catchers, are small stained glass pieces designed to be hung near light sources (usually in a window) as decorative pieces. Today they are either mass-produced or available as craft kits for making a single piece. They have become popular as a children's craft, or as a method in science classes for teaching about the light spectrum.
Type of Suncatchers
The most common suncatchers are the small single pieces mentioned above, depicting anything from animals to flowers to fish. Besides pieces that hang in windows, they can be found tied in series to make wind chimes. On a larger scale, glass that acts as a suncatcher is found in doors and windows in homes and commercial buildings. Some are not stained glass, but various shapes of beveled glass that act to catch the sun's rays in the same way. Stained glass windows are still found in modern churches, although the designs tend to be more artful than religious.
Advancements in the field of plastics has seen the invention of clingable plastic, a thin plastic that adheres to glass and metal without adhesive. Most people are familiar with the plastic wrap used in the kitchen for covering plates or dishes of food. But made a little thicker, the same type of plastic is made into flat designs that cling to glass windows. If made transparent enough, the plastic also catches and disburses the light that passes through, accomplishing the same thing as a glass suncatcher.