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Modern Living in the Old South

Modern Living in the Old South

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Catching the Light

Summerville, SC artist and stained glass master, Bruce Hippel, sheds new light on an ancient art.

By Eliza Chapman Bailey
Photography by Bianka Lamb, Bruce Hippel

Tools of the Trade
Bianka Lamb
Tools of the Trade
Bianka Lamb

Since the 12th century, sheets of colored and textured glass have been cut to create pictorial images to form abstract or figurative pictures illuminated by reflective light. Held together by strips of lead supported by a frame, Middle Age Gothic Cathedrals utilized stained glass to heighten spirituality through the visual senses. The light cast through the thematic representations of biblical narratives, patron saints, or symbolic motifs profoundly affected people who, unless wealthy, were uneducated and did not have access to art, text, and imagery. Employing the same techniques perfected centuries ago, Bruce Hippel, a stained glass master artisan, and glazier, continues the tradition of elevating space with imagery and light. He has created many site-specific windows over the course of 40 years. Recently, he completed the restoration of a large window for St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in St. Matthews, South Carolina. 

Originally from Cape May, New Jersey, his windows, doors, transoms, floor-to-ceiling walls, and domes can be seen in private residences, places of worship, and businesses. Well-versed in glass, stabilization, and construction, Hippel considers the aesthetics and structural framework that will house each piece. He recognizes that his work represents his client’s style, personality, ideology, and substance. Humbly passionate about the art’s form, he also presents and teaches the principles and techniques of stained glass composition. 

Wave Structure 2
Bruce Hippel

A self-studied artist, Hippel stumbled upon stained glass by happenstance. Early in his career, he watched a friend repairing a window; the fluid interaction between light and glass piqued his curiosity. He found the interplay produces continuous movement that breathes life into an image.  The colors and textures of glass channel the flow of light that dances throughout the day. He explains, 

“The separation of color, including the use of clear glass pieces within the lead matrix, can be very important. Too much strong color, if not thoughtfully placed, can be overwhelming to the eye. The source and strength of the light helps to determine which type of glass will work to achieve the desired effect.”

As with any commissioned work of art, Hippel consults with prospective clients. Afterward, he creates a template of their vision and selects colors and textures to form organic, traditional, or abstract works of art that delight the spirit.  Collector and patron Gail Schmidtchen affirms,

“Bruce’s designs have exceeded our expectations. He is a remarkable self-effacing artist who has actualized his own destiny to become, perhaps, the best-stained glass artist in Cape May’s tri-county area and beyond. By stripping layers of color, his technique achieved the variegated pastel colors we wanted to capture. Whether designing or restoring a piece, he listens to his clients and accommodates their thoughts. Working with him as a collector, educator, and community member has been a privilege.”

Sunlit from heaven, Hippel’s work transcends the material. It inspires a primordial awe that has resonated for centuries. Intrinsically crafted, they are not only seen but felt. The Lowcountry is fortunate to have such an accomplished artisan in its fold.

A Summerville resident,  his website highlights Hippel’s renditions of this ancient art and the architectural atmosphere it embodies. He can also be reached through email at  AM

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