Over the next few days, Downtown Pittsburgh will be filled with people craning their necks to look up. They're not looking at a bird or a plane. They're looking at stained glass.
The American Glass Guild will hold its seventh annual conference here this week, bringing artists, appreciators of glass and art historians from around the country. It's one of several events this weekend in the Pittsburgh area celebrating glass as art.
"Pittsburgh has some of the finest stained glass in America," said Rona Moody, a local artist organizing the conference, which runs today through Sunday.
Visitors will stay at the Omni William Penn Hotel and spend their days attending workshops, lectures and tours of the city's decorative glass. One of the anticipated workshops is a stained-glass painting lesson by Nick Parrendo, who runs Hunt Studios on the South Side.
Mr. Parrendo, who has been working at the studio since 1950, said he is excited to be able to share his methods with other artists.
The work stained-glass artists do involves delicate painting and precise cutting. The pieces are sometimes heated in a kiln, which fuses the colors to the glass. Artists may use different kinds of brushes or air guns, and the conference will give them a chance to discuss their distinct techniques.
"It's sharing that joy of the creative process," said Mr. Parrendo, who also offers classes to the public.
Mr. Parrendo does much of his work for houses of worship, including the aisle windows at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Downtown. Increasingly, he's being commissioned for projects in individuals' homes. He said the art mirrors each environment.
In a place of religious worship, color and light help people worship, he said. "Light is pure and light is color and light is God."
In a home, he said stained glass represents the love felt within that family.
Pittsburgh has a long, distinguished history in decorative glass manufacturing and in stained glass. Al Tannler, a glass historian with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, cited many of the glass greats who spent time in the city. They include: Charles Connick, who designed the windows of First Baptist Church, Oakland; George Sotter, who did the ornamental windows at Church of the Epiphany, Uptown; and Ludwig Grosse, who designed the windows of Protestant Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Hazelwood.
"When I was offered the opportunity to come to Western Pennsylvania to work on architecture, what I found was extraordinary," said Mr. Tannler.
He said he began focusing his interests on glass when he discovered Pittsburgh's beautiful windows and skylights.
Most stained-glass artists working in Pittsburgh tend to work in the European Gothic-influence style, said Ms. Moody, who prefers more modern styles.
The city also has a growing glassblowing movement associated with the Pittsburgh Glass Center in Friendship.
At 4 p.m. Saturday, artist Mark Hall will hold an event linked to the glass guild conference that is free and open to the public. He does glassblowing in a kiln and will demonstrate his unique process at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave., 15206. The conference will also host an auction of stained-glass pieces at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the William Penn Hotel, 530 William Penn Place.
Another key part of Western Pennsylvania's glass legacy is the Duncan & Miller Glass Co., which started on the South Side and made hand-blown pieces such as dinner plates and wine goblets. This weekend, the company's museum in Washington, Pa., will hold a show, sale and auction of rare pieces at the Washington County Fairgrounds. Volunteers will also be present to help identify inherited glassware. Tickets cost $4 and are good for both Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; proceeds benefit the museum.
But you don't have to attend any of these events to appreciate Pittsburgh's glass history. Mr. Tannler's walking tour of the city for conference attendees includes places Pittsburghers pass every day, such as these on Grant Street: the Frick Building, with an impressive stained-glass lobby window; First Lutheran Church with Tiffany windows; and the Union Trust Building with its stained-glass dome.
"It's always so striking because of the colors," said Mr. Parrendo. "This kind of glass is just pure color."
Sanjena Sathian: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1408.