Glass Art - March/April 2001
What is a design but an idea waiting to happen?
This composition of paint, pencil and paper can only suggest what
a window will look like. The work itself, built from glass and
lead and placed in site, with the whole world as its background,
is truly a separate creation, for which the design was but a seed.
This transformation of an artwork from design
to reality requires a delicate blend of artistry and craftsmanship,
materials and techniques. Many stained glass artists start out
building their own windows, which gives them total control over
this process. However, there comes a point when the works are
too large or too complex for one person to do alone, and outside
help is needed. In North America, artists have usually responded
to this situation by expanding their business, taking on more
space and hiring craftsmen as needed. Of course, problems do arise
when the artist finds the demands of administering a shop full
of employees have overshadowed any chance of actually doing art.
One solution would be to contract out the work,
but with no tradition of independent fabrication studios (as is
common in Europe), it has been difficult for an artist in North
America to find a studio that will create work to the standards
they require. Fortunately, some of the European studios have started
offering their services to North American artists. One studio
that has moved its primary operations to this side of the pond
is Sattler Studio, and since setting up business in Nova Scotia
in the 1990s, it has quickly established itself as one of the
best fabrication studios in North America.
Nova Scotia is well known for its natural splendors,
and highway 332, which winds along the South Shore region of the
province, treats the traveller to a sampling of these. One can
see dramatic ocean vistas and white sand beaches, interspersed
with tidy fishing villages, antique stores and country churches.
One also sees a number of artist's studios and workshops - drawn
here by the beauty and the relative affordability of the area.
At the village of LaHave, just past its popular (and very unique)
bakery, the highway turns north and west to follow the river toward
West LaHave, and the home of Sattler Studio.
Since its establishment in 1993, Sattler Studio
has steadily built a reputation in North America for its ability
to work with artists, and for its uncompromising dedication to
quality. But its story began long before this, in the Rhineland
of Germany. There, at the age of 15, Norbert Sattler began a three-year
apprenticeship in a small, family owned stained glass studio in
his home town of Ahrweiler. He enjoyed the work, and finished
his apprenticeship with diplomas in the disciplines of Glazier
and Artist Glazier (stained glass), in 1971. With his journeyman=s
papers in hand, he set out to continue his education in the wider
He spent the next seven years in what he refers
to as "Die Walz" - working with various stained glass
studios in Germany and Switzerland. As he gained more and more
experience, he began to dream of owning his own studio. He recalls
that at the time, he still considered himself primarily an artist:
"wearing my hat at a tilt, with a scarf placed carefully
around my neck." Although he sold some works, he began to
feel that his true profession lay elsewhere, and after seeing
some powerful works done by other stained glass artists, he decided
that his destiny was to bring others' work to reality. It was
around this time that he met his future wife, Helga, who is the
other half of the Sattler Studio equation.
In 1977, Norbert and Helga Sattler settled in
Scheuring, Bavaria, Germany, and there he opened his own studio
in 1980. By 1982 he was able to expand the business, building
a workshop and studio with three floors and an exhibition gallery.
Although "Glasmalerei Sattler" was in competition with
much larger and more established studios (some dating back more
than 150 years!), it managed to survive, and then to thrive. Norbert
attributes this success to the studio's emphasis on serving the
artist: "We always maintain an extensive stock of materials,
so that there is a broad selection of glass to choose from; and
we consistently provide the artist with the highest level of craftsmanship,
combined with a knowledge and appreciation of the art."
In 1993, the Sattlers immigrated to Nova Scotia,
Canada, and opened a studio. Norbert knew that with his abilities
he could have moved anywhere in the world, but says he chose Nova
Scotia because he loves the landscape and the country. Furthermore,
from this location, he can serve clients across North America.
As the new studio continues to develop and expand, the Sattlers
also maintain the original studio in Scheuring.
Sattler Studio in Nova Scotia overlooks the beautiful,
broad, LaHave river. Like his first workshop, it was designed
and built by Norbert himself. Along with a gallery, office space,
storage and work space, the studio includes a private apartment
for artists to stay in while working on their projects. Sattler
Studio places great importance on the artist being present during
the glass and color selection, the glass cutting, and the various
glass treatments. The decisions made here will affect how the
final product looks, and from the selection of lead widths to
the painting of the glass, the artist's input is essential. Norbert
points out that each painting on the glass is original; it is
never a reproduction. Depending on the size of the project, the
artist will spend anywhere from one or two days, to a couple of
weeks at the studio.
For Norbert Sattler, the relationship between
the artist and studio is key. He considers it his mission to devote
all of his energies, and those of his studio, entirely to transmitting
the artist's ideas into glass. This is not a passive process,
where a design is mailed in and the finished window is shipped
out six weeks later. Rather, it is a partnership - one that provides
the artist with an environment in which they can focus entirely
on their design, while leaving the technical considerations and
the fabrication work to the studio. This collaboration requires
patience, trust, and an ongoing commitment to quality. It also
requires a willingness to experiment - to take risks in order
to achieve the best work possible. For many artists, this level
of dedication is a dream come true; at the same time, it can be
overwhelming, as they are suddenly confronted with a variety of
possibilities that might in the past have been unknown or inaccessible
to them. An artist who has difficulty making decisions may want
to be sure their design intentions are clear in their mind before
they begin work with Sattler Studio. (continue
Although Norbert Sattler claims to have put his
artistic identity behind him, it's clear from the way he works
that he still has the artist's eye. He has the rare ability to
see each detail of a project at the same time as he is considering
the artistic whole. He is meticulous in preparation and in his
attention to detail, but throughout the process, the focus is
on supporting the art, not displacing it with technique. The design,
and the creative process, remain in the forefront.
Early in most projects, Norbert travels to the
site to investigate the location of the window, the framing and
the surrounding area. He takes measurements, taking photos as
needed, and sketching the framing profile. He notes important
factors: What is the light like? Is there a busy street to be
neutralized in the work? He explains that these observations,
combined with his knowledge of the artist's design, will help
him to make the right technical decisions as the windows are built.
Once in the studio, Norbert's attention to detail
comes through in his constant effort to improve the window as
it is being made. It is common to see him at the glass easel in
front of the large studio windows, working with the artist to
check the colors before the glazing begins. Beyond the colored
glass pieces on the easel, one can see waters of the LaHave River,
moving out to the ocean with the tide. Norbert points out a piece
whose color doesn't quite "fit" with its neighbors.
He brings out a sheet of glass with a slightly different hue;
this one is better, but will necessitate a change in another adjacent
piece. Norbert quickly cuts the two pieces and makes the substitutions.
Satisfied with the changes, he and the artist move on to choose
the glass for the next panel.
Watching the Sattler Studio in action, one begins
to see the other ingredient of its success - the dedicated people
who perform and support the studio's work. Foremost among these
is Helga Sattler, who directs her many talents toward making sure
the studio and all its projects go smoothly. In effect, she performs
the same role for Norbert that he does for artists: setting up
and maintaining the conditions that will let him do his work.
Calm, organized, and blessed with a wonderful sense of humor,
Helga keeps it all going. This means doing everything from organizing
and scheduling, to bookkeeping, to cutting glass, to convincing
a supplier to get a spare part to them today, and not tomorrow.
Norbert admits that he usually feels drained
after weeks of intense work with an artist, and he will usually
engage in somewhat less challenging work like restoration or building
projects to help him regain his balance. Thus restored, he can
then prepare to immerse himself fully in the next artistic glass
Although the studio concentrates on fabrication
of stained glass, Norbert Sattler has maintained an interest in
other types of glass work. One of these is the development of
original designs for sculptural glass lamps. Many of these are
large-scale pieces, intended to be installed in churches. Over
the past decade, Norbert has created and patented two major design
programs for these lamps.
In conversation with Norbert Sattler, one senses
an active and informed participant in the creation of fine art.
He knows that he and his studio are part of a long and respected
stained glass tradition; but like the artists he works with, he
understands that the stained glass tradition includes - even demands
- artistic innovation. Although he is able to fabricate and restore
traditional windows, Norbert does all he can to encourage and
support contemporary approaches in art, seeing this as a natural
and essential part of living in the modern age.
To this end, he remains active and involved as
an international exhibitor of stained glass. He also helps artists
to create exhibition pieces, and will invest large amounts of
time, knowledge and resources to pursue an idea, even when it
takes him "to the limits of the glass itself." This
work and experimentation has often led to wonderful results, and
each year, works fabricated at his studio are exhibited in various
national and international exhibitions. Most recently, eight artists
working with Sattler Studio were chosen by Helmut Kaestel, president
of the Munich Secession, to exhibit in "Das Farbige Licht
2000" in Hans-Reiffenstuel Haus in Pfarrkirchen, Germany.
This exhibition has now been invited to the prestigious Museum
Moderne Kunst (Modern Art Museum) in Passau, Germany.
Asked about the stained glass scene in North
America, Norbert Sattler notes the constant pressure to reproduce
older styles of work. As he sees it, the public tends to try to
apply their own personal preferences - what they would like to
see in their own homes - to the commissioning process, despite
the fact that decisions on public art need to be based on a very
different set of considerations. Thus, the continuing nostalgia,
and demand for traditional 19th century stained glass windows.
"Many people," he says, "do not have the respect,
nor do they have the capacity for abstract thinking to admire
contemporary (religious) art, and regrettably, those who do, often
don't have the power to commission it."
Norbert continues to hope for a breakthrough
in North American tastes; a maturing appreciation of contemporary
art, such as he has witnessed over the past two decades in Germany.
In the meantime, he continues to do what he does best: helping
stained glass artists to realize their vision. The last word goes
to Mimi Gellman, a well-known designer whose recent work at Tanenbaum
Shul, in Toronto (see figures 6, 7, and 8), was built in collaboration
with Sattler Studio:
"The Sattler Studio is everything that one
would want in a fabrication studio. They have a deep understanding
of the art making process and an intuitive grasp of the individual
artist's needs. The masterful craftsmanship of the studio combined
with their keen interest in experimentation challenges the visiting
artist to see each new project with a fresh perspective and makes
working with the Sattlers a totally satisfying and inspiring experience."