Monthly Archives: October 2013

Stained glass: not just for churches

Have you ever wondered why stained glass windows are called stained glass? According to Wikipedia, “…stained glass is glass that has been coloured by adding metallic salts during its manufacture.” And while stained glass windows were originally made from that glass, Wikipedia notes that “Modern vernacular usage has often extended the term “stained glass” to include domestic leadlight and objets d’art created from came glasswork [as] exemplified in the famous lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany.” Rather than leave you scratching your heads, Wikipedia defines came glasswork as, “…the process of joining cut pieces of art glass through the use of came strips or foil into picturesque designs in a framework of soldered metal.”

roger graf windows slant

No matter what you call it, I have always loved stained glass. When Hannah was born, Andrew presented me with a little Tiffany-style table lamp. It’s a beautiful thing, even if it doesn’t give off much in the way of light. And a few years ago, we splurged on art glass inserts from Andersen for two casement windows we added to our study. Andersen did not have many designs to choose from and the inserts were wildly expensive, but we assumed that commissioning the work would cost even more.

This year we made extensive modifications to our family room, including moving the door to the deck, adding three windows, and rebuilding the deck. Andrew redesigned the interior to include built-in bookcases and a stone surround for a new gas fireplace. We fantasized about adding art glass to the new windows, but discovered that Andersen didn’t make inserts for the double-hung windows we had ordered. And thank goodness for that, because then we met Roger Graf, the owner of Winchester Stained Glass.

Roger has a little shop, tucked away down an alley in the center of Winchester, MA. The shop sells small pieces that you can hang by a filament attached to a suction cup and an assortment of glass jewelry, but the real business is the work Roger does in the back of his shop. He repairs original stained glass art, matches existing pieces, and works on commissions. He’s a friendly man, always happy to have visitors to the shop, never seeming to mind the interruptions to his work. He will gladly take the time to discuss a project, even if you’re still at the stage where you’re simply speculating about the viability of it all. When we met Roger, Andrew had already come up with several possible designs.

The two of them discussed the design options and when they settled on one of Andrew’s designs, Roger took over. There are several types of glass in each window; colored glass is used sparingly; smaller pieces are beveled; alternating vertical bars are dense and corded; and the larger expanses have a subtle texture that makes you think you’re looking through water.

roger graf window single

Roger is such an artist that he cut the glass to fit around the hardware on the sash, and he installed the windows using cut-to-size horseshoe nails that blend into the came on the perimeter. His attention to detail spilled over into his billing practices as well; he is a scrupulously honest person.  If you’ve always wanted stained glass windows, but thought you couldn’t afford them, you should talk to Roger.

And if you want to see his work and I’m not home, you can always skulk around my back deck and admire the windows from the outside.

roger graf windows outside


Tanzania, albinos, and middle grade fiction

Our local public radio station was having one of its ubiquitous fund raisers, offering as an incentive a twelve-day photo safari in Tanzania. Each time they promoted the safari, I sat up a little straighter, not because I thought for a minute that I could be the lucky winner, but because I’d been meaning to write a Tanzania-related blog post and the constant reminders made me feel guilty. So, without further procrastination, here it is.

According to Wikipedia, although East Africa was handed over to the British after World War I, “In the late 19th century, Imperial Germany conquered the regions that are now Tanzania (minus Zanzibar) and incorporated them into German East Africa,” which might explain why there was a particular German doctor living there at the beginning of World War II. That doctor wanted to return to Europe and was willing to barter the medical practice they had in East Africa for property in Austria. And that’s how my mother-in-law came to spend a number of her childhood years in East Africa. It’s a fascinating story, but it’s hers to tell so I won’t go into it now. However, because of her story, I am particularly intrigued by all-things-Tanzania.

Tara Sullivan recently published her first Middle Grade novel, Golden Boy, about a thirteen-year-old albino in Tanzania, named Habo. His father abandoned the family after Habo’s birth. They are evicted from their home and forced to leave their village to go live with relatives in Mwanza. During a harrowing trip across the Serengeti, Habo learns that there are people who believe that albino body parts bring good luck, and that there is a market for those parts. After an encounter with an albino hunter in Mwanza, he fears for his safety and flees, making his way to Dar es Salaam where the rest of the story takes place.


Golden Boy has gotten wonderful reviews. Kirkus described it as, “A riveting fictional snapshot of one Tanzanian boy who makes himself matter,” and gave it a starred review, which is considered high praise in the publishing industry. School Library Journal also starred their review, saying “Readers will be haunted by Habo’s voice as he seeks a place of dignity and respect in society. An important and affecting story.”

Tara knows about alienation and it is clear in her writing. She was born in Calcutta, to international aid workers, and lived in South America and the Caribbean before moving to Virginia at age fourteen. An ivory-skinned red-head, the bright sun of her childhood damaged Tara’s eyes and precipitated her family’s return to the US. Her experiences clearly inform Habo’s story and his voice, which carries all the wonder and pain that comes from being so different.

It’s interesting to note that while Habo’s plight sounds like a made-up horror story, it is not; albinos are hunted in Eastern Africa, and for some reason, the number of incidents is higher in Tanzania. You can read more about that at Tara’s web site. You can also learn how you can help albinos in Africa, from simply sending sunscreen, to supporting advocacy groups focused on human rights.

When Tanzania was East Africa, it served as a safe haven for my mother-in-law. After reading Golden Boy, you will wish the same for albinos who live there, as well as marginalized people everywhere.