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Joseph Aigner has spent his life looking through shards of rose-tinted glass — that, and glass of blues, yellows, greens and just about every other hue you could imagine.
The 62-year-old Torontonian is a stained glass artisan and his work has illuminated rooms the world over, from Ontario to Dubai to St. Tropez. Born in Munich, Germany, he grew up in a house of glass; his father was also a stained glass artisan, as was his grandfather, and there was never any doubt as to what he would also end up doing. “I only realized later on that I could’ve done something else, you know?” Aigner laughs.
After art school, Aigner traveled continental Europe and Israel for over two years, working alongside eminent artists like Theodore Stravinsky. His past projects have included the Basilica of Transfiguration near Nazareth and the Louvre. His hands have also (very gingerly) restored some very old works, such as a window from the Notre Dame in Paris, which dates back to the 13th century. “When you have this in your hands, you think of what it went through,” he says. “It’s overwhelming to say that I’m in the grace of that time and that I can hold this and I can work on this.”
When he moved to Toronto at 24, there was just one company making artistic glass. Since 1969, he has been the chief artisan of his own studio on Dundas West, Artistic Glass, and he says it’s a job he’ll continue doing “until the shovel.”
“I love going to work in the morning because it gives me pleasure to work on beautiful things,” he says. “It’s a very satisfying profession.”
His colourful craftsmanship adorns mostly churches and commercial buildings, but among his bigger commissions have been the five ceilings he and his 11-person team made for the Niagara Fallsview Casino. The grandiose creations took him two and a half years, 285,000 pieces of glass and “a lot of money.”
Apart from stained glass, Aigner also fashions glass art in the form of lamps, sculptures, tables and beveled glass doors, to name just a few. A famous doctor from New York City also once hired Aigner to cast his daughter’s face on large slabs of crystal glass, which was split down the middle and made into the front doors of his house.
There is no one type of glass that Aigner prefers, however, and he refers to them all as “my favourite babies” — babies which he spends hours, days or even years crafting into luminescent works of art.
And in the end, his babies can sometimes be difficult to part with.
“Sometimes it comes out and you just don’t want to let it go,” he says.