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Stained glass window showing a nautilus


'Paradoxically simple in its beauty and complex in its engineering.'
By Nancy Norton
Spring 2012 2.15.12

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Nautilus. © Nancy Norton. Stained glass with oak frame, 36 x 24 inches.

For Nancy Norton, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Blacksburg, Virginia, the nautilus is “the epitome of elegance in the world of shells, paradoxically simple in its beauty and complex in its engineering, a representation in nature of Fibonnaci numbers.” Norton writes:

My adventure with stained glass began in 2003 with a serendipitous choice of a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School. I was immediately captured by the beauty and the endless possibilities of colored and textured glass and fortunate that my first teacher encouraged exploration and experimentation in both design and technique. Back home, my husband outfitted a wonderful studio for me, even knocking a hole in a brick wall and installing a fan to vent soldering fumes, and I began to enhance my skills and expand my understanding of design and the physical engineering required to execute striking and lasting pieces of glass art.

I came rather late in life to this pathway for expressing my creativity (truly better late than never) and find joy both learning and teaching the use of stained glass in large and small panels, sun catchers, ornaments, mosaics, and mobiles. I am currently working on a 3 foot by 6 foot clerestory window for the entry to my UU congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia. I hope that through organic design and selection of glass I can share with others the joy of light passing through the form, texture, and color of stained glass.

This piece is more traditional in design than most of my work. Made of “streaky” brown and “wispy” gold stained glass, it measures 36 inches by 24 inches and is surrounded by an oak frame crafted by my husband. I am a native of Miami, Florida, and so it seems natural that shells have always been a source of wonder and awe for me. I sometimes incorporate real shells in my stained glass pieces. The nautilus is for me the epitome of elegance in the world of shells, paradoxically simple in its beauty and complex in its engineering. The nautilus is a representation in nature of Fibonacci numbers. The application of the mathematical concept to this piece results in a Fibonacci spiral, created by drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares, each of which is related to the next smaller square by an equation known as the “golden ratio.”

Nautilus was commissioned by a Tennessee woman as a housewarming gift for her husband. With its combination of beauty and mathematics, it seemed like a perfect fit both for her husband, a retired math teacher, and for their sunlit home on Norris Lake in Tennessee.

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