What is “House of Rats”?
My fake business name.

Can I be added to your mailings list?
I do not maintain a mailing list at this time.  Please subscribe to my frequently  updated  blog  HERE

How long does it take to make one of your windows?
On average, about two or three months.  If I didn’t change my mind it would go a lot faster.  To remake one would only take about a month.

Is everything you’ve ever done in glass on this website?
No. Since 1983, I have made 175 “official” stained glass pieces... but who’s counting?

How are your windows made?
The glass I use the most of is a type of stained glass called  "Flash Glass”.  Flash glass is a type of hand made glass with a paper thin veneer of intense color.  
I use a regular steel wheel cutter and I also use the standard stained glass equipment of a grozing and running pliers.  I do have a ring saw, which is essentially a jig saw for the really wacky cuts.  After the glass is cut, I grind ALL the edges on a router type grinder. 

The next step is to do any sandblasting that needs to be done.  Sandblasting is a process by which one can remove the flash, or colored, layer.  The glass is usually stage blasted--meaning I take different amounts of color off in stages.  After sandblasting, sometimes I engrave smaller details with a flex shaft.  Lately, I have been filing into the flash with diamond files--this makes very beautiful tonal variations in the color.
The next step is painting with fire on enamel.  The only color I use is black.  I paint it on and fire it (like a ceramic glaze) at 1250˚ F.  I usually do 2-5 firings per piece of glass, as that is the best way to get rich blacks and tonal variation.  After the firings are all done, I get a little additional color with thin washes of yellow or carmine transparent oil paint.  This is all the paint I use--all the other color is the flash glass.
One reason there is a lot of color in each section of my pictures is that the flash glass is layered--sometimes up to 5 pieces deep.  www.civilwarinteractive.comSome of the faces I’ve made have used a layer of blue on clear flash, a layer of brown on clear, pink on clear, and red on clear.  

Once all the parts are done for a window, I assemble the piece using copper foil.  In the layered areas, I use really, really FAT copper foil (and for this reason, using lead would be impossible--although I have been taught how and almost all my work from before 1990 IS leaded).  Then I solder the thing together.

Do you do commissions?

Where can I see your work?
I exhibit the work at Claire Oliver Gallery.
513 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001 / Tel: 212.929.5949 
Also, my work is represented in some public collections--check my resume for where.

Do you teach classes or workshops?
I teach at University of the Arts in Philadelphia in the Crafts Department. I don’t teach stained glass there.  I occasionally do teach stained glass workshops, but not often.  If you are interested, check the “events” section for updates.

Do you need an assistant or intern?
Probably not.  I started working with an assistant in 2005. If I am looking for help I will post in “events”. 

Is your work craft or art?

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What inspires you? What are your influences?
The history of stained glass, evolution, the history of civilization, the history of the English language, slang, mistranslations, etymology, British history, European history, U.S. History to 1900—the Civil War in particular, Ulysses S. Grant, researching my family tree. 
CATS, and all types of domestic animals and most wild animals, too. I prefer mammals to fish and birds and all the above trump insects any day.  Although insects are fascinating from a distance…a huge distance. But mostly I like cats. Watching horse racing, doing NYT crosswords in pen are good ways too pass the time. I teach at UArts in Philly and I am happy to say, it interests me greatly.  I LOVE my house. I used to play the guitar  (I played in two bands) and wrote a lot of songs. The apotheosis of this activity was live performances on the radio and at the Trocadero.  Then I quit.  I like food—particularly Vietnamese and all manner of sweets—but I don’t like to cook. Fortunately, I also like exercising—especially aerobics.   I like the idea of nature—but I prefer not to spend too much time in it. Psychology interests me—but perhaps in a dilettantish way.  Likewise, tales of neurological weirdness captivate me.  Tell me all about Capgras delusion!
I probably have A.D.D. and dysgraphia and body dysmorphia and a general anxiety disorder.  Maybe O.C.D. too if my obsessions with my kitchen floor, my iPod play count and this type of list making are any indication. But I don’t smoke or drink.  Any more.
VISUAL ART is a primary interest of mine, not surprisingly.  Specifically, fine arts, antique children’s picture books, photography (not just art, but also particularly aerial views at night, some fashion photography, pictures from outer space, mortuary photography), painting, a lot of genre painting (lately I’ve been obsessed with paintings of burning ships, hunting scenes and Civil War painting), printmaking, esp. Japanese ukiyo-e prints, charts and maps of all sorts, alchemical and esoteric imagery, old food labels, old cigar labels, Victorian ephemera, textile design, Le Petit Journal, Russian Lubok, Krampus cards, playing cards, tarot cards, Chinese propaganda posters, old magician posters, circus posters, game boards, old pulp fiction covers, emblemata, old weird allegorical prints, and much contemporary illustration and underground comics. The second dimension interests me tremendously—meaning I not only like to look at PICTURES—but I am fascinated by the human ability to abstract into flatness.  Preferably non-moving flatness but I do like animation, I admit it. I am absolutely driven to learn the Maya 3-D animation program—to what end, who knows?  I am also interested in Ancient Egyptian art, ancient Mesopotamian art, ancient Minoan and Cretan art, ancient Greek art, pre-Columbian South American art, Mexican masks, Byzantine art, Gothic art, Renaissance art (particularly Flemish and Dutch), tapestry (till 1600 and after that I only like Jean Lurcat), mosaic, crystal chandeliers, jewelry design, weaponry design and armor, clothing design, furniture design, old decorative ceramic tile (esp. Delft), Inca textiles, manhole covers…. IN FACT: I like most decorative art--period. More than fine arts.  So there. Greek, Egyptian, Islamic, Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Celtic, Gothic, and Renaissance ornament  (that’s “design motifs” to you), radial patterns like snowflakes and kaleidoscopes TURN ME ON. Weird fantastical visionary architecture, people who trick out their homes, cars and yards with all manner of found objects do too. Adam Wallacavage’s house in South Philly, Henry Chapman Mercer’s house Fonthill (in Doylestown, PA), the Mutter Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary, Kirkbride buildings, ruins, contemporary ruins (like old hospitals and industrial sites) are high on my list of things worth experiencing over and over again.  Same with the Hung Vuong Supermarket. Cemeteries and cemetery art—transi tombs, mummies (esp. bog mummies), spontaneous roadside memorials and old New England graveyards, Gettysburg Battlefield, of course, but also lots of other stuff related to death piques my interest--I am interested in death in general. I mean, aren’t we all on some level? Victorian mourning art is a fave—wreaths and jewelry made of hair—you can’t beat that. Victorian purple prose—Civil War letters are amazingly beautiful and a tonic to all that is cynical and ironic in our world today…and old CDV’s are cool too. Victorian sentimental kitsch is wonderful, absolutely wonderful.  Lots of sentimental kitsch is great and so is cute stuff like Hello Kitty and that ilk. I check Cuteoverload.com everyday—sometimes twice if I need an extra oxytocin rush.  I like glass eyes and fake teeth, weird taxidermy, but not so weird taxidermy is good too (although I do not condone the hunting and killing of animals for sport), old toys, dollhouses, dioramas (I used to want to be a diorama maker…when did that dream die?), carnival and/or fairground art (including sideshow banners, carousel animals, etc, etc), crazy Xmas light displays, wax museums, weird museums of many types, cabinets of curiosity, Victorian interiors, shrunken heads and “Outsider” art—whatever that is.  Mexican shrines, actually, just about any type of shrine or catacomb fries my burger. Grottoes aren’t bad, either. Eccentric, passionate geniuses like Robert Fludd, Jakob Boehme, Athansius Kircher, Nicola Tesla, Lewis Carroll, James Burke, Jung, etc etc all interest me—as does the fine line between visionary and total crackpot. I am also interested in the future of stained glass.
More under the cut

How did you get interested in glass?   Why glass?
I took a stained glass elective at Rhode Island School of Design in 1981. I was a painting major at the time. The stained glass class was taught by German artist Ursula Huth, who was a graduate student there at the time.
I am not sure why I took the class, but I remember seeing interesting stained glass work by the previous elective class.  Before that, as a child, I had a “LiteBrite” toy I loved and I made melt in the oven pseudo stained glass suncatchers.  Freshmen year I made at least one project with cardboard and colored acetate. 
My glass professors at RISD were Richard Harned and Bruce Chao (in addition to Ursula).
I have often wondered if I had a predisposition to the medium or if it’s all coincidence.  All I can say for sure is that I knew instantly in that class that that was what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life.
Ultimately, what became interesting to me was that I felt “in sync” with glass--I like to keep my nervous hands busy, busy, and busy and the tedium factor and the variety of processes allowed me focus my mind. The time it took to make a piece fit better with how often I had ideas worth making.  Ironically, I found my “artistic voice” was liberated by technical restrictions and by losing the inhibitions I associated with the high seriousness of the painting tradition.

I have a crisis about every three years or so when I not only feel I am in a rut with glass but actually tell everyone I am quitting.  Like anyone who’s ever truly loved something, I regularly DESPISE IT WITH ALL MY HEART.  But I always go back to it.  The fact is I feel my medium is a separate and living entity with which I have a relationship not unlike a marriage.  Glass seems to love me back unlike anything else I’ve ever worked with and therefore, no matter how bad things get, there’s always incentive to “try to work it out”.  For some reason, my medium HAD to be glass and believe me, I tried other media! (the only other medium I work in is digital)  I truly thought and wanted desperately to be a painter--but it was not to be.  Glass was the only thing I could bear to work with long enough to become fluent in.  I strongly believe that stained glass is an unlimited expressive and virtually unexplored technical medium--when I get bored with glass it’s something wrong in my own head, a failure of my own imagination which would translate to any medium--so switching would be not only futile but also a cop out.

Why are most of your subjects female?
Being female, I identify with female figures.  I think my work is like Cindy Sherman’s photographs to some extent--trying on new identities, playing dress up.  When I do images of men, I must imagine I am in love with them.  They are more like porn for that reason.

How do you design your pieces? Or describe you creative process:
I don’t have a set way.  I occasionally keep written lists of ideas but usually I don’t draw them as they end up looking a bit forced—so I wait until I have a drawing that suits them. 
Nothing is more inhibiting that the pressure to come up with some Brilliant Artistic Idea.   I doodle all the time and I get most of my inspiration from doodling in front of the TV.   This distraction frees me to screw up royally which seems to be the single most consistent way of producing excellent results.  All my best drawings are accidents and mistakes.  I draw mostly faces, bodies, animals and flowers. I choose which drawings to use carefully; I have done millions of faces at this point it seems, so I only pick the most interesting ones to make a finished piece out of--the most interesting seem to be a combination of the familiar and the unexpected, the absurd and the ordinary; “all wrong in all the right ways”. 
Once I have achieved some kind of emotional transference on a face I have drawn, it needs a context in order to make a finished piece.  This includes a body and the position, gestures and clothing (or lack thereof).  These elements suggest a greater context (a.k.a. the “background”) that becomes the “narrative”.  
I have always been fascinated by patterns—I often find them hypnotic, mesmerizing as well as “decorative”—meaning, they enhance a composition by adding rhythm.  Ornamentation suggests to me the practice of enhancing an image with detail (whether it be patterns or something else). I am also inclined to this aesthetic. 

I don’t have clear narratives in mind and am trying to be deliberately vague--telling a story is never as fascinating as snatching a moment out of time and freezing forever in space.  

What is your “artistic philosophy”? 	
I have written dozens of artist’s statements and I still find them frustrating.  Talking about my artwork from an omniscient point of view, as if the whole enterprise was the result of organized forethought seems, inaccurate.  To reflect on my artworks as if they have some shared meaning would be untrue to my experience--although I can see that as a set, my pieces do seem to belong together.

Bearing in mind the above, if there is any driving force that unites my work, it would be my desire to make work that is good and interesting--to others and myself.  I get bored fairly quickly and I always want some new thrill from my work.  So I strive for excellence (whatever it may mean at the time) and learning.  I should add that it is also my desire to contribute to the history of the medium of stained glass.

If one of the functions of an artist’s statement is to give the viewer some insights, here’s what I think will help when looking at my work.  First of all, I have a centrist point of view.  Rather than aspiring to be avant-garde I wish to resuscitate some of the babies that were thrown out with the Modernist bath water.  Furthermore, I consider my work to fall under the category of “Decorative Arts”, its primary function being to decorate.  Unfortunately, this type of artwork has been accorded lower status (usually the word “decorative” is modified with the word “merely”)--presumably because Fine Art’s primary function is presumed to be more philosophical.  One might suggest that those who believe in this hierarchy might take a good long look at the history of decoration, ornament and embellishment.  It’s anything but superficial or frivolous.

Second of all, my work is open to interpretation--like a Rorschach blot.  I don’t have a specific story or person in mind when I make these images.  In fact--a lot of the time, the subject matter is an excuse to get involved with design, materials and technique. This may seem a bit disingenuous--but it’s my hope that people will create their own meanings for the pieces.  I don’t want them to be meaningless, certainly!

I start each piece hoping it will be a magic combination of brilliant design and deeply profound subject matter.  I want the mood they describe to be funny and sad and glorious all at the same time. Hopefully, each new piece will suggest exciting new avenues of technical exploration. Furthermore, I try to make the relationships between the aesthetic, the subject, the material and the mood rigorously entertaining, harmonious (or disharmonious, sometimes) intelligent and enlightening. Finally, I want the results to be surprisingly unexpected and at least one or two notches above the last one I completed.    What actually happens when I am in the hands on phase of making a piece?  Lots and lots of compromise!

Here are some of the “rules” that I use or abuse for many of my pieces.

	Rule number one--aesthetics must trump everything.  I want them to be beautiful at all costs.  I will toss a good concept if it looks crummy.   Even if the result is a mishmash of ideas that makes no sense or even if it means something I don’t endorse, if it looks great, then it is worthy. My contention is that beauty IS meaningful.

	Rule number two--I must not repeat myself.  This may be surprising to those who find my pieces to be very similar to each other, but I set out to do something that represents a radical change every time.  Often I fail!  

	I don’t set out knowing what the pieces should look like when they are done--in fact, I want to be surprised.  The pieces tend to develop organically from a starting point (usually a doodle) and change as the material interfaces with my intuition.  They are almost always very different than how I imagined them at the outset.

	Rule number three--The piece must be as “universal” and “eternal” as possible.  I want my work to be able to be adaptable (thus maximizing my chances to go down in history!)

	Rule number four--The piece must further the possibilities of stained glass technique. 

Beauty is very, very important to me as an artist and I cannot separate that from my feelings on the subject as an artist from those I have as a person in general.  I always felt l was not beautiful enough (for what, I don’t know!)—Perhaps I am able to compensate by creating beauty. I do not believe beauty resides exclusively in the eye of the beholder—I believe there are some pan-human qualities that are collectively found attractive—and when tweaked just so?  They are beauteous.
The biological qualities we find universally appealing are symmetry, recognizability/familiarity, bright color, pattern, and shape. They are “beautiful” when they are emphasized, ornamented, enhanced, exaggerated and celebrated. When they are made WRONG in the RIGHT way (as mentioned above).  Artists draw your attention to these qualities by working them a bit so they are unexpected.  There is something about beauty that is familiar, yet unique.  Obvious, yet mysterious.  Easy, yet difficult.  Comfortable yet disturbing.  Pretty, yet ugly.  Lovely, yet hateful.  And in every case, a lot in between.
In order for an artwork to transcend pretty and become beautiful the object must invoke a sense of...of...of what? Imperative desire? Deep emotional longing?  Shock and awe?   Mystery and/ or the miraculous? Love? Hate? All the above and more?  Beauty is powerful because it trumps logic, it is threatening because it is amoral.  
Beauty is MORE than the sum of its parts and it’s a lot more than just pleasure...Beauty is to art what love is to life.  Something without which, you suffer.  Something you will go to great lengths to feel.  Something you will abandon common sense and safety to have. Something that makes you feel out of control. Something whose sacrifice causes pain, whose death causes more pain.  In this way, the pleasure one gets from beauty is always threatened by its loss. 

What is the function of beauty? Perhaps its ability contain ugliness (and vice versa).  Something about beauty suggests a triumph over death--but this creates a lot of anxiety.  If it is a triumph it is always close enough to defeat to be constantly calling attention to failure.

So, back to my work—of course I want this quality to be in my pieces!  I find though, that relentless perfectionism sabotages all my efforts.  My work either ends up beautiful or not, despite my wishes. To make it I must surrender to the notion that it might be an utter failure.

Why is your work so depressing and negative?
People often tend to focus on the subject matter and many times I have been called to task for its “negativity” or “difficulty”.  Personally, I don’t find my work negative or difficult at all.  But since it gets brought up a lot here’s my thoughts on the matter.  In the January 17, 2005 “Happiness” issue of Time Magazine, they had an essay called “The Art of Unhappiness” by James Poniewozik, which contained the following passage:

”What we forget...is that happiness is more than pleasure sans pain.  The things that bring us the greatest joy carry the greatest potential for disappointment.  Today, surrounded by promises of easy happiness, we need someone to tell us that it is O.K. not to be happy, that sadness makes happiness deeper.”

I want to be that someone!
all images copyright 1984-2010 Judith Schaechter