In a simple twist of fate, Robert Oddy went from teaching information science to teaching stained-glass technique. It may seem like a stretch for some, but for British-born Robert, it was a natural progression. He started working with stained glass purely as a hobby, about a year and a half after he transplanted from the United Kingdom to Syracuse, New York, in 1981 for a professorship.
“I have done virtually no artistic training in any media,” Robert says. “That was something that was rather deficient in my earlier education. And then when I started working with stained glass, I taught myself.” It was lucky that he did. Without any formal background in art, Robert didn’t realize he was breaking new ground in the stained-glass art world with his first window piece, which depicted bamboo plants in the moonlight. Unlike the two-dimensional pieces of old, Robert uses more the one layer of glass to illustrate shadow and depth. Another hallmark of his work is the copper foil that he uses to frame the pieces of glass in a window, opposed to the lead channel that you might find in a medieval church window.
Artists in the 19th century began using copper foil because it allowed for much more delicate detail, which is very important in Robert’s work. “Because I had no formal training, I was willing to try all kinds of unconventional methods. And that window has created a lot of interest over the years,” Robert says. “It wasn’t like typical stained glass — more like a painting.” As a result, he has spent the following years writing papers and giving workshops to educate fellow artisans on his technique. Robert’s art remained a pastime for about 10 years until he took his new passion full time.
Now, he spends his days doing work commissioned for people’s homes. Much of his art depicts natural settings, like flowers, trees or landscapes. And his clients respond to his lifelike detail. “I’m trying to achieve the subtlety in natural subjects, and I was also interested in giving them some depth,” Robert explains. “Essentially, my work is done on flat windows. But they give the illusion of depth — flowers look like they’re coming out at you; landscapes recede into the distance.”
Much like a painter, Robert even sets out his pieces of glass on a bench according to hue, which he likens to a painter’s palette. Though he sketches out a design for each piece beforehand, he works on creating depth in the piece as he goes, carefully selecting the right piece of glass and testing what it looks like in natural light. Not surprisingly, such attention to detail is time-consuming. Robert estimates that a 6-square-foot window takes about three months to complete. But the time is well worth it. “I suppose my favorite part of the process is when I see the finished window, and I’ve actually managed to capture the image that I had in my mind when I started,” Robert says. “It’s really satisfying to see that final product.”
Want one of Robert’s final products for yourself? Check out his web site at robertoddy.com.