Glass design element for the fireplace at the Estonian Embassy

Estonian Embassy, The Hague, The Netherlands

The original painted panel, which was integrated into the wooden frame of the Classicist fireplace in the Estonian Embassy, disappeared in the course of the purchase-sale transaction. The fireplace detail was designed and produced in glass by Studio Raus to replace the missing element. It depicts two opposing maps – a navigational chart of modern Saaremaa and a 15th-century map that depicts the Island of Thule. The maps are silk-screen prints and the crumbling wall, which resembles an abstract map, is visible through them. Saaremaa has been thought to be a possible location of the Island of Thule, which was described by Pytheas, the ancient Greek explorer. Lennart Meri devoted a whole section to the Island of Thule and Saaremaa in his novel Silver White, a volume that can be found on the fireplace mantel.

The Treasure of St. Lawrence within the windows of a Kuressaare church

St. Laurence church of Kuressaare, Estonia

St. Lawrence was treasurer to Pope Sixtus II. After the Pope was assassinated by the Romans, they demanded that St. Lawrence turn the Church’s treasure over to the Roman Emperor. Lawrence, however, distributed the treasure among the poor and then, accompanied by a great number of beggars and cripples, went to see the Emperor and told him, “This here is our treasure.” St. Lawrence died as a martyr in Rome on the 10th of August 258 AC. A platter with gold coins is one of the symbols of St. Lawrence.

Built from the 18th to the 20th centuries, the architecture of Kuresaare’s St. Lawrence church is not noteworthy, but rather eclectic and characterless. Until very recently, it was not even under historical protection. The riches of Kuresaare’s St. Lawrence are not material, but are to be found in the congregation, whose fervent faith has spiritualized this building through different eras.

What this gray and somber church needed was radiance – sacredness.

At the same time, the eclectic decoration required minimal intervention, to avoid adding any dissonant elements, while making it a bit more elegant using only window glass. Therefore, the wooden window frames were preserved in their original form.

I worked with only glass material and glass painting. Abstract glass paintings were painted with gold on 4-millimeter window glass and thermally fixed at 780 degrees. In total, I painted 300 glass details using various methods, from which the compositions of the stained glass windows were composed by trial and error on site.

In daylight, the richly toned golden paintings resemble ink drawings, which echo the patterns of the Saaremaa marble-dolomite and marblizing which has been used sporadically in the church. In the sparkle of the chandeliers, however, the choir windows create a golden frame for the altar, becoming ever more golden as the exterior light dims.

Hotel EVE

Grand Hotel Viljandi, Viljandi, Estonia

The hotel-restaurant EVE, the first city-like building in the Southern Estonian town of Viljandi, was completed in 1938 according to plans by architect Eugen Sacharias.

Art Deco details decorate the interior of this functionalist style building.

In 2002, the building was totally renovated and in the course of the renovation, I was asked to design a concept for seven contemporary stained glass windows for the hotel’s restaurant and reception area.

The mystification of women’s names and their use in poetry and music is very typical of the 1930’s. Some of the most vivid examples, in the Estonian context, are the songs that the songwriter Raimond Valgre dedicated to his sweethearts.

Compositions with poetic and enigmatic women’s names are also the pervasive theme of my glass wall project. Medallions of cast glass with women’s names run in a horizontal line, traversing the partition walls in the restaurant and reception area.

On the glass wall between the reception area and dining room, reliefs form the name EVE in different variations. On two of the restaurant partitions, the names MAR and NINON run along a horizontal axis. The name ANGEL, formed by reliefs, runs across the glass panel on the front wall of the bar.

I used names which have a personal meaning for me. I lived in Barcelona while I was working on my first large stained glass project; windows for the St. John’s Church in Tartu. It was the local bar and restaurant culture that helped me discover one of the most genuine aspects of Mediterranean life – nightlife.

For the project, I used shining brownish-purple cast glass medallions, which are polished on one side. The letters on the reliefs alternate in positive and negative. The purple-toned glass panels, which have medallions placed in cut openings, are made of laminated tempered glass.

A Tribute to Leonardo da Vinci

Reaalkool, Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn’s Scientific Secondary School (Reaalkool) was built during the 19th century in the neo-Renaissance style, and is a school teaching scientific subjects with the goal of educating future engineers. Bringing Renaissance elements into a building intended as a school, the architect also symbolically brought the ideals of the humanist era: rationality, the exact canons of beauty and the human thirst for knowledge.

The school’s dining hall is located in the half basement and, with its relatively small windows, is rather dark. Due to the climate and geographic latitude of Estonia, the weather is gloomy and dark for a large part of the year and therefore artificial light must often be used in the room. The gloomy period coincides to a great degree with the school year.

I set myself a goal to unite the three important aspects: the essential and formal suitability of stained glass to the totally restored building, to thought-provoking pedagogical themes and the conservation of legibility when the windows are downlit.

The school’s stained glass windows are small in size and in the refectory they are often viewed close up. I, therefore, thought it important for the design to be rich in detail and small in scale. I decided to reproduce Leonardo Da Vinci’s manuscripts, sketches and treatises on the windows in gold using a silk printing technique. The gold acts as a mirror when downlit and, in the absence of background light, it is legible on the blackish surface of the glass. The different windows depict the topics investigated by Leonardo: symmetry, botany, technology, architecture, hydraulics, flight, mathematics, and optics. On the ninth window, some of Leonardo’s thoughts have been translated into Estonian.

Since many of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions were rediscovered and applied during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, at the time when the Tallinn Realkool was built, the use of his manuscripts in this context is especially appropriate.

To complete the stained glass windows, I used four colors of hand-blown glass from the Saint-Juste glassworks: reddish-orange, honey yellow, purplish-brown and green.

Stained-glass windows project for St. John's Church in Tartu

St.John's Church of Tartu, Estonia

Throughout the ages, churches have evolved, each epoch adding its own aesthetics and knowledge. Some of the best examples of this phenomenon are stained-glass windows. These are the most fragile elements of church art and are always the first to fall victim to plunder and destruction. They  must often be replaced and restored. In West European cathedrals  we encounter stained-glass windows from various centuries, right up to the present day. During periods of decadence, styles are imitated from periods with which the artist has no direct spiritual connection. The St. John’s Church stained-glass windows raised the question of whether to restore the windows as imitation-forgeries, or to create something new and contemporary that would reflect the spirit of our times.

I have, right from start, been a proponent of the latter solution, mostly because we lack any information about the original windows and their stone surroundings. If a person from the Gothic era had the technological solutions of our day, he would with out a doubt, have chosen something similar. The Church has a collection of priceless Medieval terra cotta sculptures. To oppose the pseudo stained-glass windows, imitating the era, to the sculptures would certainly detract from their uniqueness.

My idea at the outset was, therefore, to find a solution which would follow one of the basic principles of Medieval art – the surface invites one to discover another, hidden layer.

I wanted the stained-glass windows to be very simple and contemporary, but at the same time deeply multi-layered. My aim was to use the best solutions available in glass technology today, and yet encode in them a memory of history.

In addition I considered it important that the windows form the backdrop to the terra cotta sculptures on display in the church, so that together they would create a pleasing and harmonious whole and help invoke a meditative atmosphere in the church.

The request of the client to construct double windows gave me the idea to use the two layers of glass as light filters, forming an optical unity. The outer glass is monochrome treated glass that acts as a graphic filter. Its central element in glass relief , containing an authentic piece of the leaded surround of the Medieval stained-glass window.

The inner glass is coloured and functions as a picturesque filter.

When light shines through the window, the graphic shadow of the most beautiful stained-glass windows of Western-European cathedrals appear on the coloured inner glass surface. The shadows are the authentic contemporaries of the terra cotta sculptures. Two basic colours have been used: green and purple. The windows have a base of green tones which move across the spectrum to purple in the southern part of the church. The colours are generated by the body of the church and should create a harmonious whole with the red brick of the church structure. The window structures have been designed in architectural scale, representing stylised derivations of Medieval stained-glass window structures. The geometrical ornamentation is of red copper in the interior and carries symbolic meaning.